Obama's speech, his first as president devoted to education, struck a tone of urgency at a time when public education is slated to receive about $100 billion in new federal money under the recently passed economic stimulus package. The money may give Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, more influence in reshaping a public education system traditionally guided by state governments and local school districts.
That pretty much summarizes a huge problem with our education system -- it's tied to a giant federal bureaucracy that's spends more and more money, and gets less and less results. Spending another hundred billion of taxpayer money to have the federal government tinker with our educational system is completely insane -- I don't know how else to describe it. But let's look at Obama's specific suggestions.
Merit pay for teachers. Rewarding employees for doing an excellent job -- what a radical concept! This should already be the case, and it isn't because of unions -- something the government encourages, since public school teachers are obviously government employees. Good luck getting merit pay that's based on actual performance instituted.
National standards. This is something that in my opinion is a reasonable role for the federal government in education.
Extending the school day. Unnecessary. How about spending more time actually teaching important material, and less time screwing around with various fluff? How about reducing the number of school closure days?
Expanding charter schools. A good idea, as long as they are producing good results.
Expanding federal grants and aid. A bad idea. Still more spending. Cut grants and eliminate student loan guarantees entirely.
Overall Obama's education proposals rest on the false notion that the federal government needs to take a huge role in education. But unfortunately that idea is now so ingrained, that we can't get away from it. We will continue to spend massive amounts trying to improve education, and continue wondering why it isn't working. Some of Obama's tweaks might be helpful, but no one should expect great strides in education any time in the foreseeable future.