National Educational Policies

Young student working in classroom.
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Education is not a right provided to American Citizens by the United States Constitution. In actuality, the right to a free public education is provided in all 50 state constitutions. Because of this distinction, though some education policies are generated on a national level, they must be implemented by individual states. Typically, this is achieved through grants provided by the federal government that states use in providing education for their citizens.

1 Common Core

One of the more headline-grabbing national education polices is the move to Common Core. Common Core is a set of learning goals in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. The intent was to create a set of standards that would be adopted by every state in an attempt to nationalize learning standards. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. However, some states have decided either not to adopt the standards in whole or to rescind previous adoption due to increasing criticism by state lawmakers that the standards are essentially a form of federal takeover in education.

2 Teacher Evaluation

Race to the top is a grant program sponsored by the U.S Department of Education that aims to encourage states to advance reforms around specific areas to improve student achievement. One of the focus areas encourages states to develop data systems that inform teachers on how they can improve instruction. Enticed by these funds, states across the country underwent significant overhauls of their teacher-evaluation systems by attempting to link student test scores to teacher-performance ratings. Though some states like Tennessee and Hawaii have reported increases in student achievement since implementing teacher-evaluation methods, "Education Week" notes that it is too early to link the improvements to these new systems.

3 School Choice

The term “school choice” generally means parents having multiple options regarding their child’s education, typically related to what kind of school the child attends. Common types of school choice are vouchers, where parents are given funds from their state to pay for a private school education; charter schools, which are schools that are independent public institutions exempt from many state and local rules and regulations in exchange for increased financial and academic accountability; and homeschooling, an alternate form of education that typically takes place within the home. Though school choice is dictated by state laws, there is a national push both for and against school choice. Proponents believe that school choice allows for parents to have more control over the education their children receive and forces more accountability on public education. Opponents argue that choice is not accessible to all families and often leave those who are impoverished and without resources in a worse shape, because they are trapped in failing schools.

4 Mandatory Early Childhood Education

There is a renewed push for access to early childhood education for all children. A RAND Corporation report found that early childhood education programs yield benefits in academic achievement, improve educational progress, decrease delinquency and crime, and improve success in the job market. To help more families have access to early childhood education, Congress recently passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant that provides low-income families with subsidies to reduce the cost of childcare. It also passed the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which provides funding to states to expand programs such as Early Head Start, Head Start and other pre-kindergarten programs. There is also a push to provide universal pre-kindergarten in all 50 states.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Dannelle F. Walker is an education lawyer and policy maker. Her areas of expertise include teacher liability, educator ethics, and school operations. She holds a JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law.