Obama Must Push for True Education Reform

Let's face facts: No Child Left Behind isn't working, and neither is avoiding a political showdown.

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While education policy waits to be rewritten, the fate of black students and teachers hangs in the balance. Instead of negotiating politics and developing standards, the administration has hoped that bartering relief from parts of NCLB in exchange for acquiescence to the Department of Education's demands -- plus Race to the Top dollars -- will chase away the political differences that have stalled national education reform.

This could not be further from the truth. All over the nation, educational politics are becoming all the more contentious, and the clock is ticking on policies that take the nation in a direction that encourages achievement for all.

The NCLB revisions must be sure to outline the consequences for school districts that unceremoniously close schools and dismiss teachers, as well as the consequences for districts that linger with ineffective reforms. Additionally, the measure must make clear that high-stakes testing is not allowable for students or teachers.

Currently under the law, a day or two of testing can determine whether a school is a success or failure. Our schools are full of diverse learners and teachers. Bubbled-in test sheets cannot truly tell us what our children know, what they need to learn and how to teach it. We need assessments that give students and teachers the tools to improve education, not just label them as failures.

By waiving the 2014 test-scores goal, the administration is acknowledging how flawed these tests are, but at the same time these tests are being used to determine which teachers are fired and which schools get closed. Grant competition and waivers, while pleasing for a moment, are setting up the nation for policies that at worst are incoherent and at best put some states ahead of others.

National educational reform cannot be based on a competition that helps only a few or rewards exceptions to a rule. If education is "the civil rights issue of the 21st century," as Obama and Duncan have said, we must invest in programs that lead to equality for all, not competition for crumbs.

Failing to rewrite the national law on education is a fast track to greater inequality and sloppy reform. The politics of education reform are as treacherous as those of economic and immigration reform, but the administration must face these head on, not try to work around already flawed legislation. Building bipartisan common ground in education is tricky but necessary for the future of our nation.

R. L'Heureux Lewis is an assistant professor of sociology and black studies at the City College of New York of the City University of New York. His research and writing specialize in education, race and inequality. Lewis blogs regularly at uptownnotes.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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