In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this morning, President Obama laid out his education agenda. Here's the money quote:
For decades, Washington has been trapped in the same stale debates that have paralyzed progress and perpetuated our educational decline. ... It’s more money versus more reform, vouchers versus the status quo. There has been partisanship and petty bickering, but little recognition that we need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we are going to succeed in the 21st Century. Well, the time for finger-pointing is over.
What does this "compromise" approach mean in terms of concrete policy goals? Here are some highlights:
- Charters: In the biggest concession to reformers, Obama said he supported every state lifting caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open in a year, provided that states also have accountability guidelines for assessing charters and closing down ineffective schools. To put this in perspective, just two years ago, Randi Weingarten, now the president of the American Federation of Teachers, was aggressively lobbying in Albany to prevent New York from raising its charter school cap.
- Curriculum: National standards are emerging as a consensus point between teachers' unions and free market education reformers. Obama also supported higher standards today, saying, "Our curriculum for eighth graders is two full years behind top performing countries. That is a prescription for economic decline." But his agenda stops short of pursuing national curriculum guidelines or tests, promising only "to promote efforts to enhance the rigor of state-level curriculum."
- Teacher pay: Obama promised a federal investment in developing "performance pay" plans in 150 school districts. The language here is key. "Performance pay" is supported by teachers' unions, and awards salary bonuses to teachers based on a variety of factors, including classroom observations, teaching in hard-to-staff subjects and schools, and improving student achievement. "Merit pay," on the other hand, is understood as directly aligning teacher salaries to student test scores.
- Higher-ed: Obama promised to cut out middle-men in federal student lending, simplify the FAFSA form, and invest in community college efforts to better prepare students for the job market.
- Early childhood: Obama's budget will include "incentive grants" for states to develop uniform quality standards and target care and education to the most disadvantaged children.