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January 2009
Alexander Russo<br />
Alexander Russo

Will Pre-K funding really materialize? What will Obama do first? These and other predictions for the year ahead.



There's no shortage of advice out there for what President Obama should do on the education front: nclb overhaul, performance pay, charter schools, national standards....

Less than a week after the election, a centrist political action committee called Democrats for Education Reform sent the Obama transition team a detailed memo outlining what the newly elected president should do, in what sequence of steps, and who he should hire.

Late in November, new Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho went so far as to call for a Wall Street–style bailout of public schools.

Most of this is nothing more than wishful advocacy. And little attention is given to how to get any of these things done. (You know, enacted by Congress, paid for, implemented—all that stuff.) But Obama’s not gonna do nothing. That’s just as unlikely as thinking that he’s going to do everything all at once.

So here are some things that might—might!—actually get proposed and implemented in the year ahead, based on what information is available as of early December (and some guesswork).

* NCLB Relief. Obama probably can’t get an overhaul of nclb done right now (and he doesn’t want to change the law as much as you may hope), but he can definitely make some tweaks through waivers and the budget process. That might include more credit for progress, or differential treatment for schools that only miss one or two ayp subcategories.

* Turnaround Support. Some 5,000 schools nationwide have consistently failed to make ayp and need immediate improvement. But no one really knows how to turn schools around consistently. Obama’s new team might propose funding to help districts and states get the job done—and to do more research on what works.

* National Standards. Obama isn’t likely to pull a Bill Clinton and make a direct call for national standards and tests created in Washington, but he might follow the lead of the Gates Foundation, which is putting money toward state-developed common standards. Forget how bad nclb makes schools look. Imagine how they’d look with performance ratings closer to NAEP.

* Universal Pre-K Preparation. Assuming Obama can’t find the $10 billion for preschool that he talked about on the campaign trail, he may work toward making sure that K–12 school systems like yours are ready for the little ones when they arrive on your doorstep. This would include training in early elementary education issues and efforts to ensure that K–12 standards and preschool standards mesh. Pretty soon, everyone will have a Pre-K program.

* Teacher Residency Programs. The Obama folks seem like they’re big fans of residency-based teacher preparation programs that combine a yearlong classroom apprenticeship with district-tailored coursework. It’s like a mash-up between TFA and traditional ed school teacher prep. Look for a proposal that would expand the current small handful of these efforts to a slightly bigger handful—maybe your district could participate.

* Facilities Support. There’s lots of chatter about some sort of school modernization proposal—a 21st-century version of the Clinton modernization program, perhaps. That’s not exactly cutting-edge, but it’s extremely palatable politically. Lawmakers like to pay for things that they can see and touch.

There will likely be other proposals, too. There’s eight years of pent-up frustration that needs release, plus the narrow window of opportunity that is the new administration honeymoon.

For better or worse, Carvalho and others are likely to be disappointed. There will be no big bailout for schools. Short-term economic needs, plus (maybe) health care reform probably will push education to the side once again.

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