Supporting Reform While Maintaining a Commitment to At-Risk Students

Cross-posted from the The Hill’s Congress blog.

President Obama firmly believes that all children deserve a world-class education. When he says all children, he means all – regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, native language, income level or zip code.

The President’s proposal to fix NCLB focuses on schools and students at-risk, and on meaningful reforms that will help these students succeed. The plan will maintain the federal government’s formula programs serving disadvantaged students, English learners, migrant children, and students with disabilities. Many people are speculating that the President wants to make these programs competitive. They are wrong. The President is committed to keeping the historic federal role of providing funding for students who need it most. He does not want the programs dedicated to at-risk students to become competitive. And he does not want to reduce the funds distributed by formula.

The President does believe there’s a role for competitive funding in education reform – and that these programs will benefit at-risk students. For too long in education, we have failed to recognize and reward success at the state, local or school level.  The Race to the Top program changed that. It spurred innovation, rewarded stakeholders working together to implement reform, and gave states incentives to raise their academic standards, invest in the teaching profession, use data to improve schools, and focus on fixing their lowest-performing schools. Through Race to the Top, 46 states developed comprehensive plans to advance these reforms. Eleven states and the District of Columbia are leading the way on them. Race to the Top created incentives for 41 states to voluntarily adopt college and career ready standards. This will raise expectations for all students and end a practice of setting a low bar that was particularly harmful to poor and minority students.

With just 1 percent of the annual education spending, Race to the Top states are blazing a path for reforms for decades to come. They are creating innovative solutions and effective practices that will benefit all students.

This powerful combination of formula funding supporting at-risk students and competitive funding for reform will position America to win the global race in education. It will ensure that all students, including our most at-risk, receive the world-class education they deserve.

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.


  1. research-based instructional program: This term, and others like it, have never been defined. The definition in practice is to use a brand name that has some empirical evidence base reported on the brand names own site regardless of the quality of the evidence. What Works Clearing house has been a huge failure at identifying effective research-based instructional programs. It is repulsive to most conscientious school personnel to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into programs that show marginal gains – reliably (yes I am referring to effect sizes here), because of a brand name when the practices are well known and readily adoptable. School personnel have not felt comfortable arguing for practices that are carefully pieced together to meet their unique needs, when faced with “proving” that they have a research based practice”. The process of proving that an entire turnaround model with many pieces was never described or defined for school staff and needs to be, unless the goal is to waste local tax payer money on large specialty companies with flashy websites and staffs of sales people.

  2. I think it is time to take a stand. I have a son who has a learning disabiilty and has been allowed to go through school just getting passed along. He can and wants to learn, but needs the extra help and attention to succeed. He has been under the IEP contract since second grade, he is now an 11th grade student who stopped going to school because he was not getting the support and education he deserved. It is very sad to report that he made it to the 11th grade and only on a 4th grade reading leavel. This is very sad and distribuing. I feel that instead of pushing these kids through the school grades it is time to step up and E D U C A T E these kids. How is it fair that they must pass the same PSSA test that a “normal” child must take in order to graduate, when they, infact, had not had the same education the “normal” children have had for 12 years. I have atteneded IEP meetings after meetings and have agrugged with numberous of people on what my son needed and got no where. I may be just one parent, and he may be just one student…but TOGETHER we will stand and TOGETHER we will conguer. He is entitled to a FAIR EDUCATION and it is not TOO LATE!!! The time has come to take action and for weeks now I have been on the phone with everyone possible and all I keep hearing is “I’m sorry to hear that” or “its not fair at all”. Well I’m tired of hearing the apologizies …its time for A C T I O N!!!!

  3. One more thing (lol) – It has unfortunately become popular to throw around the term “bad teachers.” O”we need to get rid of bad teachers!!” they say. Or “We need to find a way to flush out all of those “bad teachers”.) But REALLY, whenever it is used, there is never a specific example of that ‘bad teacher’, nor is there any criteria or measurement associated with those ‘bad teachers.’ I think it is usually a figment of someone’s imagination. Unless someone can show why a teacher is “bad” and can give examples of all of those “bad teachers that need to be fired!” with concrete evidence that they are “bad”, then people need to NOT take those rabble-rousers seriously. It is only propaganda to further their agenda. In all my years as a teacher, I can say that I have only run into maybe 2 teachers who were ‘bad’. I’ve been a 4th grade teacher for 12 years.

  4. I would like to reiterate the importance of basing your measurement of who an outstanding teacher is on student growth. I always obtain baseline data on my students on specific skills (pretest), teach, and then post-test. It is not just I that feels the incredible surge of pride when the growth is viewed. My students make tremendous gains; however, the students that I serve live in a high-poverty, high-crime area where often they live in a one parent household, and that parent holds one to three jobs just to put food on the table. The children that I serve were not exposed to literacy early on and so they did not enter Kindergarten “school ready”. They often have language deficits, due to the lack of exposure to literacy. The students that I serve either barely make adequate yearly progress, or they do not make AYP. BUT MY STUDENTS MADE TREMENDOUS GROWTH FROM WHERE THEY WERE WHEN THEY FIRST ENTERED MY CLASSROOM. I do not want merit pay to be based upon a school’s average reading score, for example. I do not want last year’s class scores (at the end of the year) to be compared to the current year’s scores at the end of the year, since that reports on two separate groups of children. Yes, unfortunately I had a principal last year that actually did that, and would look at us and say, “why aren’t your scores much higher than last year’s. Your teaching hasn’t gotten better.” I know, I know, thank god she is not there anymore. But this is the type of unrealistic politically popular junk that often comes out of people’s mouths….and they are usually not educators, but politicians. I have read much on how wonderful it would be to have one of those people come in and take over the classroom, and be responsible for all of the teaching. My class would eat them alive! But you know what? They do not eat me alive. However, our test scores fall below the “passing” score for AYP. Merit pay is fine with me, as long as it measures MY teaching, and not any previous year’s teacher unable to reach a particular student… long as it does not compare one group of students to another group of students… long as it focuses upon the amount of student growth over the year’s time that that particular student was under my care.
    The one thing that I feel is missing in this high pressure, high stakes atmosphere (full of fear and punishment) is the ability to spend time teaching students how to take a stand on an important principal or event, research it, and then provide evidence to prove that stance. It requires critical thinking, but how can you measure that?? It is not on “the test”, but I include it in my curriculum anyway because it is such a valuable asset to be able to make assertions and prove them. How sad that many teachers feel pressured NOT to teach things that are so valuable, but are not on “the test”. Creativity has left the classroom. Practice that math or reading skill over and over until you get it!! Listen to the teacher! They are on the front lines! Don’t allow bureaucrats to become like a lawyer telling a surgeon how to perform an important operation.

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