Obama Stepping In On Education

This wimages (3)eekend, the U.S. Department of Education had a breakthrough in educational policy. Substantial changes to the amount and purpose of standardized testing that students and teachers are subjected to each year may change.

Specifically, they accepted responsibility for “unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of the purpose applied to the task of assessing students.” This was followed by a “Testing Action Plan,” which was released with a list of principles for “fewer and smarter assessments” including the following:

  1. Worth-taking – and relevant to the curriculum that is taught in the classroom
  2. High-quality – aligned to standards with objectives to elicit accurate information about student growth and knowledge
  3. Time-limited – to 2% of classroom time
  4. Fair and consistent – taking into account of all abilities and backgrounds
  5. Transparent as to purpose
  6. One of multiple measures – not the only factor of a student, teacher or school’s success or failure
  7. Meant to improve learning – a tool that helps teachers teach and students learn better

Even though I am not a teacher myself, the “time limited” principle caught my attention and I would like to know how much time is put into testing because I can imagine it to be very time consuming. I also like that there will be a shift in the purpose of the assessments as “tools in a broader strategy to improve teaching and learning.” Currently, the purpose of the tests is to measure student progress and have them prepared for entry-level careers, college courses and workforce training programs…but are we really there?

Testing can be affective, which I do believe that it was at one point in time. However, I think that from various pressures, the way that tests are prepared, administered and ultimately, the results analyzed has gained such a negative connotation with students, parents and teachers that the system needs to be rejuvenated to show that tests can be productive and positive for everyone.

All of this began a year ago when high school students in Boulder, Colorado boycotted the state-mandated science and social studies assessments. The following spring, elementary school parents refused permission for their children to be tested in the PARCC math and English language arts assessments. Even though we now have a document promising changes, we must wait and see what positive changes actually happen, if any.

President Obama and the Department of Education will work with states to provide greater flexibility on assessments. This is also a call to Congress to codify the changes in the Education Act – “No Child Left Behind.”

Catch Up on Cuba

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry will be in Havana, Cuba this Friday, August 14th for the flag raising at the newly opened U.S. embassy. President Obama said he believed that Proclamation 3447, the embargo signed by President Kennedy in 1962, has served neither country positively and that it was time to go in a new direction. Last month, the U.S. and Cuba ended a 54-year stand off and resumed diplomatic ties.

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Following the announcement, the countries performed a prisoner swap after eighteen months of negotiation, which was encouraged and also brokered by Pope Francis.

Now, Congress has to pass legislation to formally end the embargo and Obama is using his executive power to ease travel and trade restrictions. Just some of the new allowances are: travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards, banks to facilitate authorized transactions, U.S. companies to invest in some small businesses, shipment of building materials to private Cuban companies, and U.S. insurance companies to cover health, life and travel insurance for individuals living in or visiting Cuba.

Based on government numbers, Cuba ranks 48th in the world for poverty, making it one of the least impoverished countries in the developing world. Fifteen percent of the population lives in extreme poverty; meaning most of its citizens are poor. The Cuban peso hasn’t even been convertible since the revolution and has suffered from inflation. The average Cuban worker earns $17 to $30 a month.

Since the Castro family has been in power, Cuba has made itself isolated. Between the U.S. and Cuba alone, they have endured a nuclear crisis, a long U.S. economic embargo, and political hostilities. This is has led to the country’s lack of overall wealth. The fall of the Soviet Union made matters worse, cutting Cuba off from its financial support. Cuba persisted, attempting to be self-reliant, but making them poorer. However, Cuba has recently tried to reform its economic system to open up investment to other governments and private companies to help accelerate development.

Polls show that 63 percent of Americans support resuming diplomatic relations and 66 percent support ending the trade embargo. A 2015 poll by the U.S. firm, Bendixen & Amandi International revealed that an astonishing 97 percent of Cubans favored the restoration of ties.

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Normalization between the United States and Cuba presents great opportunity for both nations. The United States will expand trade markets to one of its closest countries and an increase of capital will raise Cuba’s standard of living.