The Presidency, Congress, and Education Policy

I am a History major, minoring in writing, French, and philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. The topic I will investigate throughout my Fellowship is Federal education policy.

Education has shaped the course my life, not in the least because I have spent more than three-quarters of it as a student (as we all have). I confess that my parents opted to send me to a private school for my elementary and secondary education. I must also point out, however, that my mother is a middle school teacher in the local public school system. It is her reflection and experience that has inspired me to choose this topic.

Four years ago, when I sat down to interview for admission to VMI, the interview panel asked me the rather daunting question “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” My answer was our education system.

Most of us have seen or heard the statistics: America is falling behind the rest of the world in education at the elementary and secondary levels. Literacy in language, math, and science, as well as high school dropout rates continue to be red-letter issues for policy makers at the local, state, and Federal level.

What has come to my attention, however, has been the contentiousness with which the issue of education reform is discussed in the public sphere by policy makers and teachers. Teachers especially seem disenchanted by the efforts of policy makers to address reform through standardized assessment as a measure of student success and teacher effectiveness. For the past decade, standardization has been the order of the day on a national level.

My goal is to understand the role of Presidential policy and Congressional legislation in shaping education reform, especially in the context of standards-based assessment. In my research, I will be investigating recently proposed legislation, including President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (last reauthorized by No Child Left Behind in 2001-2002). My specific focus is on how that proposed legislation could facilitate ways of measuring both student success and teacher effectiveness that transcend the quantitative. My concern is how Federal education policy at the Presidential and Congressional level shapes reform, particularly with an eye to reconciling the divide between disgruntled educators, policy makers, and the students whom the policies affect the most.

I hope you all will share my interest in this project, and join me in recognizing the importance of the issue as a whole to our nation.

Cadet Cabell F. Willis
Virginia Military Institute 2014

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