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Investing Wisely in Our Children

SOURCE: AP/Tom Roberts

Obama’s new budget blueprint includes must needed money alongside critical reforms to transform our public schools.

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President Obama’s budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010, which was released today, sets forth major priorities for needed education reforms and builds on important investments in the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The budget blueprint also lays the foundation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the No Child Left Behind Act. Together, the document outlines a bold approach to transform America’s K-12 public school system when the new fiscal year begins in October 2009.

Preparing and Rewarding Effective Teachers

The president’s first budget blueprint works to ensure that every student is taught by a high-quality, effective teacher. This is critical. We know from research not only that teachers are essential to student achievement gains, but also that teachers vary greatly in their ability to improve student learning. In fact, the difference between the most effective and least effective teachers can be as much as a full year’s worth of learning.

The president’s budget provides investments in systems that reward strong teacher performance and helps less effective teachers improve or exit the classroom. We agree that there should be competitive compensation systems that recognize and reward different roles, responsibilities, and results.

In addition, though, teacher evaluation systems must be strengthened so they can identify teachers that should be rewarded with increased pay and responsibilities and ensure that tenure decisions are rigorous and meaningful. Strong evaluation systems would also ensure that professional development programs are targeted appropriately.

Finally, we support the president’s investments in alternative certification programs. But we also feel that states should be encouraged to remove barriers preventing such programs from furnishing potentially effective teachers, particularly those willing to serve in areas with concentrations of children in poverty, or to teach subjects for which a shortage of teachers exists.

Innovative Strategies and Successful Models for School Improvement

The president’s blueprint indicates supports for strategic investments in innovative reforms to improve student achievement, as well as effective models to turn around low-performing schools. These include expansion of successful charter school models and investments in promising initiatives that combine rigorous schooling with a full range of community support services. Other promising innovative reforms, found mostly now in charter schools, include expanding the school day or year for all students in a school so that every student has the time and resources necessary to meet high standards.

Yet it is also necessary to support low-income high schools, which have been overlooked and under-supported for too long. So-called “dropout factories”—those high schools that contribute a substantial proportion of America’s school leavers—can benefit from targeted funding and technical support to improve college readiness and graduation rates. Successful high school models, such as early college high schools, can ensure that struggling high school students stay on the path to high school graduation and college.

Expand Access to Early Childhood Education

The president’s blueprint calls for new initiatives to strengthen early childhood programs and encourage state and local investment in expansion. Access to “zero to five” systems that are linked to K-12 standards and ensure high-quality staff are essential in closing early achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and other young children. The research bears this out, and it is time to build greater capacity at the local and state levels to ensure that every child has the opportunity to participate in preschool.

High Standards and Quality Assessments to Support 21st Century Skills

The president’s blueprint, together with the education dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, provide an important opportunity to support state efforts in building rigorous and common academic standards, as well as building on states’ bold approaches to benchmarking their standards with high-performing countries across the globe. The blueprint also points to dollars that will appropriately ensure that all students, including English-language learners and students with disabilities, are embraced by states’ efforts to raise academic standards and improve state assessments.

The upshot? The president’s budget blueprint leverages the momentum of reform generated by the current authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, capitalizes on the investments made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and lays the foundation for smarter and fairer federal support of education. An absence of financial detail may strike some as disconcerting, but the clear and bold ideas driving the blueprint provide much reassurance.

Cynthia Brown is Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. Melissa Lazarin is Associate Director of Education Policy at the Center. To read more about our education policies, please go to the Education page of our website.

More on President Obama’s budget blueprint:

Overview: A New, Ambitious Course of Action, by Michael Ettlinger

Defense: Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target, by Lawrence J. Korb

Energy: Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness, by Daniel J. Weiss

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