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September 18, 2014

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Choice in November should support education reform

A quality education provides a sturdy ladder to the American dream and can lead to widespread economic growth for our country. But we’re at a crossroads — a make-or-break moment for America — and in November, the country will choose between two very different paths. Our decision will determine whether we move backward or continue the forward course set by President Barack Obama — a bold path that spurred reform in schools while preparing students to be the innovators, job creators and workers of tomorrow.

Our children rank in the middle of the pack in reading and science and far behind their global peers in math. In just over a generation, America has fallen from first to 16th in the world in its share of young people who hold a college degree.

To achieve better results, each of us has a role. As parents, we’ve got a responsibility to make sure homework gets done and instill a love of learning. As a nation, we’ve got a responsibility to provide students the critical tools they need — from the latest textbooks to science labs that actually work.

In return, we should demand better performance and reform. That was the idea behind Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve spurred nearly every state to adopt higher standards for teaching and learning. Now, reform and resources are closing the achievement gap at America’s lowest-performing schools, and double-digit proficiency increases are already evident in schools across the country.

When it comes to fixing what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind, Obama said, if you’re willing to set higher, more honest standards, we’ll give you the flexibility to meet those standards. We combine greater freedom with greater accountability because what might work in Nevada may not work in Kentucky, but every student should have the same opportunity to reach their potential.

And we know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. That’s why the president is fighting to keep good teachers in classrooms despite state budget cuts, and proposing to reward the best ones, improve teacher preparation and performance, and replace teachers who just aren’t helping children learn.

Since Day One, Obama has set our nation on a forward course through stronger schools and better teachers. Gov. Mitt Romney, however, offers a different course for the country that takes three big steps backward.

For two decades — and on a bipartisan basis — we’ve made a national commitment to intervene in persistently failing schools. Yet, Romney would replace reform with a duplicative school report card that already exists in every state. He would wash his hands of the problem entirely.

Obama and Romney both support public school choice, but Romney proposes to make funding portable for students from low-income families or who have disabilities. But federal funding is already based on enrollment, and it’s less than $1,500 for each poor child. Romney’s idea will not only divert some funds to private-school vouchers — undermining public schools that always will serve the majority of students — but it won’t be nearly enough for a parent to pay for private school or produce the results our most vulnerable children deserve.

Romney also misses the mark on teacher effectiveness. His teacher tenure and evaluation system reforms are already under way in most states. And by naming Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney endorses the extreme Ryan budget that would make deep cuts to education, putting teachers’ jobs at risk and increasing class size. And Romney rejects what parents and teachers know: that smaller classes help students learn, especially young children.

As our economy recovers, we need a president who understands that education is an investment in our future — an economic imperative that should be within the reach of every family, not a luxury. Many details remain missing from Romney’s education proposals, but we know he would turn back the clock on reform and leave our country without the tools to prepare our children to compete and succeed.

Obama believes every student should have the opportunity to rise as far as their hard work and initiative will take them. That’s why he is working with Republicans and Democrats; teachers, parents and students; business leaders and advocates to ensure America out-educates the world. In November, we must choose course wisely. We can’t afford to turn back now.

Melody Barnes is the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and helped oversee President Obama’s education reforms.

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  1. "That's why he is working with Republicans and Democrats; teachers, parents and students; business leaders and advocates to ensure America out-educates the world."

    Why think about out-educating at this point? Isn't it enough of a goal to just get on a par with education in some other countries?

    The mentality that we must best everyone else is not realistic at this point. That will perhaps take some generations, and some very good educators to reach that goal.

    It will also take a means of employing young people who will continue learning in their fields of endeavor within the U.S.

    Add to that a strong middle class that can purchase products and services that relate to the employment of those gaining higher educational abilities, or pay taxes that support all the efforts at educating at a higher level.

    This isn't a one note issue, and we need to be united as a nation in this endeavor, not trying to compete with other countries that are way past us in educational results now.

    We have wasted too much time with ideological partisan arguing. Start with the basics and upgrade expectations. Test scores are only one part of education. If kids don't really understand well, and are studying just to pass tests, that will not get us anywhere.

    Rethink the application and process. Rethink the discipline and expectations. Rethink how and where the money is spent to provide high level education.

    I don't support privatization of schools because profit making adds another layer on the difficulties that already exist. It also divides people and resources into haves and have nots, promoting greater class separation and wars.

    Meet the challenge within public schools. This requires the commitment of all, government officials, school management, teachers, parents and students, and business.

    The thinking of all has to change to help children and young people reach the educational excellence possible.

    Only some doing that is not enough, it has to be a national commitment, as well as local, and in the home.

    Education is in the national interest, and becoming more critical.