Making Education a Priority During the Obama Administration


During his inaugural address yesterday, President Obama listed some of the serious challenges that face our nation.

“Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land, a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”

In this month’s Is It Good for the Kids? column, ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter suggests that improving education is one way to meet our nation’s many challenges and to ensure that all of our children will be given the tools to lead successful lives so they don’t have to “lower their sights.”

He writes, “Because the strength of our nation’s economy is inextricably tied to the strength of our education system, education is a sound investment in our future.” Carter expresses ASCD’s commitment to making education a top priority during the Obama administration.

The column also includes thoughts from a few middle school students about how President Obama can help them and other students succeed in school.

Do you think investing in education will help the nation face its challenges? Do you agree with the students’ comments about how education can be improved?


  1. I am a teacher from southeastern ky. I agree with the students. We do need more teachers and staff to help meet the individual needs of students, especially the special needs students. I was in a professional development where it was stated that jails are built in size according to test scores of second and third graders. that is proof enough to me that we desperately need to work on putting our childrens education top on the list so that in the future the above would no longer be a valid assumption of the size needed for inmates.

  2. It is time to teach our students that education and hard work are not things to “get out of” but tools to success. Our focus in education must be balanced, accountable and current. Preparing students for productive lives requires that schools be equipped with technology and the “real world” tools.
    I’m excited to see a President who encourages a return to civic virtue—too long forgotten in a rush for wealth that was not earned.

  3. It is true we spend more money building prisons then we do educating our children. We talk about closing the gap, and then we hear they are cutting education budgets by billions. Many teachers are well trained and have spent a large amount of money in education to be better teachers, then our salaries are cut with all the rest of the budget cuts. Something needs to give are we willing to give up our children’s futures for a couple of dollars?

  4. Education is the key to a better future. We need to be able to debate the pros and cons of ideas and decide on the best course of action for all. Students need to learn how to think critically, be creative, be open to new ideas, and solve problems. A workforce with those skills is invaluable.

  5. Teachers must somehow gain the political power necessary to push back against the recent “fad” that has captured districts to implement off-the-shelf commercially prepared curriculae. The districts are somehow convinced that these curriculae must be rigidly adhered to, and administration often sees only timetables and key points, not learning accomplishments. Learning of the student has *got* to be the primary goal in education, not finishing the curriculum, or getting the test materials finished first.

  6. I am a long term educator. I have been a teacher, then a principal for eighteen years and again, a teacher. EVERY penny we spend on education is returned with interest in the form of better citizens and more employable citizens. If one goes to a doctor, they want the doctor with the best education, but conversely, the public seems to think anyone can teach. I invite them to go into the classroom and try it. There is no other profession that creates all professions. We need to take it seriously. Pay top wages and expect top returns.

  7. Quite a number of years ago, I conducted workshops in several states to re-orient public school education toward preparation of students for the world they would face when they left school. The workshops included the community as well as teachers, administrators, and sometimes students. They inevitably resulted in rewriting of educational objectives and changes in teaching methods. With the the high dropout rate, NCLB, and the problems the world faces, a similar review of education is imperative today.

  8. I have taught school as a certified teacher for sixteen years. I have seen many new ideals go and come and go, but not the pay. Yet, we are viewed as miracle workers. Let me suggest that you pay us top salaries and see if the scores stay the same.
    Teachers in Columbia, Ga are some of the highest paying teachers. They don’t have a high turn over in staff, and the test scores are very good, as well. I wonder why?

  9. Restructuring public education into two types of diplomas would immediately help the image of public education and help the public regain support for schools in this country. The main problem is that we force all students to go through an academic regime geared for college. A lot of students don’t want to go to college. They become disruptive in class and often drop out of High School. American education has failed them because they were given no real choices. What about offering a General Education and Vocational degree that students could actually use when they graduate? It will take a sizeable sum of government spending at the local levels to make our educational system truly diverse. The rest of the world has choices for their young people. Our well-meaning leaders have always wanted to help everyone get a good education but never really willing to pay for it. The results have meant torment for the reluctant students and of course poor national results when America compares scores with other countries. Restructuring would immediately help the image of public education and help the public regain support for schools in this country.

  10. In working with Native American students, I have found the following to be successful:
    1. Find out what the child is interested in. (Interest inventories, visit with parents)
    2. Find out what level the child comprehends in reading.
    3. Find reading material at the child’s reading level in subjects of interest.
    4. Develop positive relationships between teachers and students, and students and students helping all (teachers included) in developing a positive self-esteem, gain confidence, and become successful.
    Money could be distributed according to grants written by teachers to assist in helping with projects for which they need funding.

  11. Listen to the children, for they are often wise beyond their years. For out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom.
    William I applaud you. How wonderful for such a young mind to already fathom that we need more money to go to education than to prisons. I want to tell you that I once heard a speaker at a national conference that told us that in her home state they base the number of prisons to be built in the future on the number of young children not reading at level. You, young man have hit upon a major idea that many adults cannot see. If we channel the monies into early education then hopefully we could avoid the high numbers in prisons. But, William, we adults seem to focus more on placing band aids onto existing problems than stopping them from happening in the first place. I will pray for your wishes.
    Dante, I agree with you about healthy lunches. I would also like to add that all of you need a healthy breakfast as well. The other day I asked my third graders how many do not have breakfast or a snack prior to lunch at noon. Thirty out of one hundred twelve said they didn’t have either. Nine even spoke up and said that their cupboards are pretty much empty at home. Forty four told me that their stomachs hurt with hunger prior to lunch every day. Thanks you Dante for bringing attention to this need. It is because of students like you that schools implement free breakfast programs. (My school will begin to implement this next month.) Nutrition and full bellies are important. It is a basic human right to have good food available that will nourish your minds, bodies and souls.
    Carly, more teachers are needed. I have been teaching for almost twenty years and this year I have my largest group ever. I have 28 kids in my homeroom. I also work with three other classrooms with 28 each in them. I would like to get to know my kids and their families better. But there is just not enough time for I have a family as well. Your point is very valid. Keep speaking up. Adults are not always good listeners but some of us do try.
    Listen to the children. They are what many of you choose to call your “customers.” They are the product of our labor. But more than that they are our future.
    I applaud the children willing to speak up. For those in the article I did not respond to as individuals I noted what you are saying. People are listening. We do care. Keep on talking and get those to care to write those in power. Study and grow up to be one of those people in power yourselves. Read, study, grow, debate. Don’t allow them to put you through the education machine to come out as everyone else. Be yourself. Be who you are intended to be. For then, and only then, will teachers like myself know we have done our job.

  12. I am hopeful that our nation’s 44th president will make education a priority. It is an undeniable truth that our schools are largely responsible for shaping the values, beliefs, and knowledge of our country’s children, our future citizens.
    Like Jacinto, I feel that one of the major issues in education that President Obama will have to address is the gap in achievement between urban and suburban schools, specifically that of high school drop out rates. A 2008 study ( done by Colin Powell indicated that nearly 50 percent of high school students in America’s 50 largest cities did not graduate (compared to the national average of 70 percent).
    The challenge for President Obama will be making policies that address the varied needs of our students in order to keep these students in school. No Child Left Behind evaluates all of our students on the same standard. Legislation that would assess students’ individual learning needs would lead to teaching and curriculum in schools that is focused on meeting students where they are at, that would educate the “whole child,” as Gene Carter suggests.
    As previously stated, I am optimistic that our new president can change things for the better, but I am realistic in thinking that it will be organizations like ASCD and individual teachers who will continue to make the difference in making quality education a priority.

  13. I have been an educator and an advocate for children/families since 1977. In my roles, I have worked with multicultural and bilingual children. The “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND” has done a lot of damage to children in general. It is unfair to test children who have not been given an opportunity to learn English with (CALP) academic proficiency at the same level of children who are skilled in the language. It also detracts the teachers’ motication and creativity in the classroom. Many teachers consider writing their lesson plans a waste of time because when they are in school the pressure placed on them by their respective administrators, district superintendents, etc… is on testing!!! The arts, music, drama, and sports have been cut drastically and abolished in some cases. Children learn best through those very avenues that are cut when the budget crunch (as occurring right now)goes down.
    There are too many schools in our borough of the Bronx that need repairs, new 21st century classroom furniture, technology labs, computers for all the school children, frequent staff development for the teaching staff and aides, etc… There is so much that needs to be addressed if we are to succeed as an “Exemplary Nation” in this planet. Our children need an early start – EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION – and the opportunities to learn via play in the sciences, mathematics, social studies, drama, and a love for reading from all areas. I hope that President Obama maintains his commitment to this endeavor.
    Magali Figueroa-Sánchez, Ph.d.
    Executive Director/Hostos Children’s Center, Inc.

  14. I am the mother of 3 school-aged children in Middle Tennessee. It is long overdue that Physical (Corporal) Punishment (Paddling with wooden boards) of Children in Schools be ABOLISHED. This unacceptable and ineffective practice is still legal and very much in use in 21 states. The problem is AWARENESS and ACCOUNTABILITY. Most Americans believe mistakenly that Physical Punishment of Schoolchildren in illegal. The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights collects and publishes statistical data from schools who voluntarily (not mandated) reported spanking, hitting or other physical punishment of over 200,000 schoolchildren for minor infractions such as chewing gum or violating school dress codes in 2006 acccording to the latest statistics available. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a report titled “A Violent Education” on 8/20/08 to government officials with recommendations to Abolish Corporal Punishment of Schoolchildren Immediately. Educators are entrusted with the care and education of children and model the behavior of physical violence as the acceptable means to solve problems when they hit children with wooden paddles, meanwhile, the child is not learning appropriate behavior or realistic conflict resolution/problem solving skills that they will need in their lifetime. Government officials must stop remaining indifferent to this blatant violation of Childrens’ Civil Rights by dismissing it as a local issue to be left up to unresponsive local school boards. ALL children must be ensured equal education access to a safe, health and supportive learning environment.

  15. There are many states that have a strong push and a strong set of goals and guidelines for their educational outcomes, but for those that do not, I think that our Department of Education ought to come up with a basic minimal standard that ought to be inforced in districts and states that do not measure up. I have read the articles about a national high school diploma and I think that it is a solid direction to head, but it should not end there. Why is it that there are educators in the university and government sides of education that dictate the policies when there are no requirements for them as educational think tank people. I have been involved in teaching for 35 years and due to the bouncing around the world teaching, I will been working for another 3 years. We want our children to attend colleges, but as long as there are colleges with high entrance costs, we will never achieve the goals that we seek for our children in higher education. Companies like Sallie Mae that have a strangle hold on the cost of education must reduce their interest rates to less than one percent or the federal government must grant deductions for the life of the loans on the interest charges. The average cost of an education is almost as expensive as the cost of a brand new home in some states and our youth are being placed in an economical disaster when we ask them to go out in the world of work and get a job. If we want our kids to succeed in education and get those high paying jobs, then we need to help them with paying off the loans that they take out after the education is finished. I still remember when a years college tuition was $300 a year plus books and fees. I realize that was back when gas cost about 75 cents a gallon, and interest rates on homes were over 15%.

  16. Education is the most important privilege in anyone’s life. Students, as well as teachers, need to be educated properly. My dilemma as a newly certified teacher is that, in New Jersey, I am having a hard time getting a full-time elementary school teaching position. The school districts have been hiring long-term substitutes instead of full-time positions, assuming because of budget cuts. Teachers, as myself, are severely suffering. As a result, this January I started my master’s degree of education. We all need President Obama’s help to focus on America’s education system; it is crucial to our society. The students who commented on the issue recognize that there are problems in our country recently and should be educated more on these issues. Hopefully, in 2009 there will be change! 🙂

  17. I have high hopes that President Obama will take the time to speak to citizens in the education field as well as students and gain an understanding of what we need to succeed during a recession. I strongly agree with Executive Director Mr. Carter that a lack of attention on education can only make this recession worse in the long term. I think our first step is not to start from scratch but to reform our current policies and analyze whether or not they yield positive outcomes. Obama himself stated in his inaugural speech that programs that work he will continue to support, and programs that fail he will abandon.
    Our first chance at reform under the new administration is a reconfiguration of the NCLB Act. Although well intended, this legislation has not yielded positive results. This policy does not account for socioeconomic differences that may challenge various districts across the nation. Also, the difference in state to state educational standards is still staggering. We spend too much time focused upon using test data to influence practical aspects of reform and not enough time within schools to see what they are in need of and create change.

  18. We need to start placing a value on education and the people that deliver the education to the students. Teachers are not well respected, compensated, or valued as the professionals they are. Hopefully with the recent election we will now see the government putting its money where its mouth is. It is really sad that in tomorrows Super Bowl the two starting quarterbacks will earn more money in that one game than I will in a lifetime of teaching.

  19. I believe that our educational system is in need of improvement and President Obama should definitely listen to what students need and want. We need a system that will properly educate and prepare our children for the future. NCLB needs serious revamping or needs to be removed altogether. These kids are tested like crazy and this country and what are students really learning that way? There needs to be accountability on everyone’s part without sacrificing the quality of education children recieve.

  20. Education has always borne the brunt of budget cuts. As the cost of living rises, so too does the cost of educating kids. I have been wondering about the “bail-outs.” Why doesn’t the government “bail out” the educational system here in America? If the public were to stand up and scream, “ENOUGH ALREADY!” the president would hear us? I’d like to think so. Perhaps, if enough money were given to schools there wouldn’t have been the need to bail anyone out.


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