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[Editorial] Obama`s Educational Reform Plan

Posted May. 13, 2009 08:10,   


The Obama administration has initiated educational reform that will close 5,000 poorly performing schools over the next five years and replacing principals and teachers. A thousand schools per year means kicking out the bottom one percent of schools across the board and reinventing them. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasized the need for educational reform, saying, “It is once-in-a-lifetime chance for students to get a quality education.” If individuals cannot get an education that develops their full potential, they could suffer a socio-economic gap for the rest of their lives.

At the heart of Obama’s reform plan for quality education are competition and accountability. Secretary Duncan made it clear that the targets are schools that have shown low academic performance for a long time. The reform aims to encourage competition among schools, principals and teachers to improve academic performance, and all of them can be dismissed based on rigorous evaluation standards if they show a bad performance. Despite strong opposition by the National Education Association, a major supporter of the Democratic Party, the administration plans to adopt merit pay and raise the number of school days and class hours. This is because the administration believes the future of the nation and its people are more important than getting support for the party through appealing to its supporters.

The Obama administration came up with a decisive and specific plan for educational reform in less than four months since its inauguration. Compared to this plan, Korea’s is regrettable. The Education, Science and Technology Ministry will announce next week a plan giving more autonomy to schools, which includes giving schools more chances to recruit teachers and allowing them to decide the number of classes depending on subject. To recruit excellent teachers, schools must be allowed to fire incompetent teachers, but the problem is that principals have no power to hire and fire and thus spend sleepless nights. The government seems to encourage after-school programs despite banning private cram school classes after 10 p.m. to help families cut educational costs. The Education Ministry and the Presidential Council for Future and Vision, however, are not on the same page in failing to release plans to reinforce public education.

President Obama said, “Good teachers who help students perform better will get more pay and teachers who show a bad performance won’t be able to make an excuse.”

Korea, however, has not adopted a teacher evaluation system and merit pay due to strong opposition from the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, much less kicking out unqualified teachers. The union also refuses to evaluate students. Making a correct evaluation on students will make it possible to evaluate teachers.

The Lee Myung-bak administration is clearly lost with no clear philosophy and lack of confidence in educational reform. As a result, Korea`s future generations are losing their chance to get a quality education.