Research Project Proposal
As the widening gap between America’s haves and have-nots continues to cast an ominous cloud over a nation that allegedly provides it’s members with hopes and dreams, how can education be utilized as a tool capable of eradicating income inequality? More specifically, how has the Obama administration elected to reform the American educational system, a system that is plagued by an achievement gap that directly helps to perpetuate the nation’s grotesque rates of income inequality? How the Obama administration aims to narrow the achievement gap, and how their plan differs from previous reform efforts, is the question that I wish to explore and hopefully answer with my research project. I believe that a thorough exploration of the Obama administration’s reform efforts is not only worthy of my research pursuits, but it deserves to be examined because of the rising income gap between working-class and upper-class Americans over the last thirty years. It is my belief that we can narrow this gap by providing every American with a fair shake at getting a good education, and in doing so, we’ll become a more humane society that other nation’s can learn from in our interconnected world. In 1848, prominent American education reformer Horace Mann said, “When we have spread competence through all the abodes of poverty, when we have substituted knowledge for ignorance in the minds of the whole people, when we have reformed the vicious and reclaimed the criminal, then may we invite all neighboring nations to behold the spectacle, and say to them, in the conscious elation of virtue, ‘Rejoice with me,’ for I have found that which was lost” (Mann 666). With Mann’s poignant words in mind, I wish to explore what the Obama administration is doing through educational reform to discover what is lost in this country. Before Obama took over office in 2008, the Bush administration’s polarizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act dominated the educational reform efforts of the early 2000’s. NCLB expanded the federal government’s role in public education by creating standards with which it would hold schools accountable. In describing NCLB, writers from edweek.org said, “At the core of the No Child Left Behind Act were a number of measures designed to drive broad gains in student achievement and to hold states and schools more accountable for student progress” (edweek.org). These measures included annual testing for grade-school students in mathematics, reading, and science, while states were also required to bring one hundred percent of it’s student to federally defined proficiency levels by 2013-2014 (edweek.org). If an individual school failed to make “adequate yearly progress” towards the overarching goal of one hundred percent student proficiency in back-to-back years, students would be offered with the opportunity to attend another public school. If a school continued to fail to make federally defined progress, the school would possibly be faced with “governance changes.” Furthermore, states were required to develop report cards that charted student-achievement progress while qualifications for teachers in core content areas were also raised. Lastly, NCLB established a competitive grant program called Reading First that focused on bolstering state’s reading programs for grades K-3 (edweek.org). While many supporters of NCLB praised the bill for placing a greater degree of accountability on states to improve test scores and make “adequate yearly progress,” many critics of the bill protested it’s unrealistic expectation of one hundred percent proficiency by 2013-2014. NCLB was developed with the intention of helping underprivileged American youths get a better education and a better life, but former U.S. assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch believes that NCLB has done just the opposite. In a 2012 interview, she said, “After 10 years of NCLB, we should have seen dramatic progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but we have not. By now, we should be able to point to sharp reductions of the achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic groups and children from different income groups, but we cannot…many children continue to be left behind, and we know who those children are: They are the same children who were left behind 10 years ago” (washingpost.com). So if NCLB has not worked towards eliminating poverty and closing the achievement gap that perpetuates income inequality, what has the Obama administration done to address this very serious issue?
The Obama administration’s educational reform efforts have in large part been defined by the Race to the Top program (RTTT). In describing the goals of the program in a 2009 speech, President Obama said, “We’re going to raise the bar for all our students and take bigger steps towards closing the achievement gap that denies so many students, especially black and Latino students, a fair shot at their dreams.” (whitehouse.gov). But how would the President do this? For starters, while NCLB federally mandated that schools make changes, RTTT simply provides schools with the incentive to make changes (cga.ct.gov). Under RTTT, Congress set aside over four billion dollars for states that are willing to “create robust plans that address the four key areas of K-12 education reform” (whitehouse.gov). The four key areas of reform that RTTT focuses on involves developing better standards and assessments, adopting better data systems to track student progress, developing support for teachers and school leaders to become more effective, and increasing the amount resources that the lowest-performing schools need to improve (whitehouse.gov). In conducting research on NCLB and RTTT, I found that educationweek.org and various other websites were most helpful in the research process. I did not look at any books in the research process although Diane Ravitch’s text that was assigned for Ed 300 would probably have been a valuable source to draw information from for this proposal.
Mann, Horace, 1796-1859. Life And Works of Horace Mann. [Boston: Walker, Fuller and co., 186568.
Strauss, Valerie. “Ravitch: No Child Left Behind and the Damage Done.” Washington
Post. The Washington Post, 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 06 Apr. 2013.
“COMPARING NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND AND RACE TO THE TOP.” N.p., n.d.
Web. 06 Apr. 2013.
“Race to the Top.” The White House. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2013.
“The White House Blog.” Speeding Up the Race to the Top. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2013.
“No Child Left Behind.” Research Center:. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2013.