Biola’s School of Education Calls for Influential Educators

From ‘Cradle to Career,’ Thoughts on Obama’s Education Plan

Mar. 18, 2009 By Jenna Bartlo

President Barack Obama expanded upon one of his signature campaign promises, Tuesday, March 10, 2009, and began to elucidate his plan to overhaul the country’s education system “from the cradle up through a career.”

"The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children, and we cannot afford to let it continue," he said.

Obama’s education reform agenda is coincidentally timely with Biola University’s launch of their seventh school in February, the School of Education. The vision of the school is to equip a generation of influential educators, focused on God’s calling, devoting their strengths, gifts and scholarship, to meet the needs of diverse students and to advance the Kingdom of God. Biola leaders echoed the importance of education in California and across the nation.

“The instructional process is a sacred process so teaching is a high calling and teachers are desperately needed today to meet the demands of the state,” said Al Mijares, former Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent and Vice President of the College Board.

"We have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us," the president said in an address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, according to CNN. "The time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here."

Obama outlined his educational reform plan, starting with investing in early childhood initiatives and ending with increased financial aid and focus in higher education.

His early initiatives include an additional $5 billion for Head Start, a program to help low-income families, that was included in the passed $787 billion stimulus plan. He highlighted a proposal to help 55,000 first-time parents assuring their children are healthy through regular checkups with nurses as well as a commitment to increase federal support in the form of "Early Learning Challenge" grants to states that pioner early educational programs.

Second, Obama called for an end to lower testing standards. He emphasized that the answer to low-test scores should be tougher, clearer standards, not lower standards. Simultaneously, he pushed for states to develop standards "that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity."

Biola University professor of education, Ivannia Soto-Hinman, in response to Obama’s education reform agenda, said, “In a complex pluralistic society, teachers will need to be trained with the appropriate 21st century competencies and skills to meet the needs of all students.”

“This will be our greatest witness to the world--that we serve and equip all students, all families and all communities--in order that they may have the same opportunities that so many of us have been blessed with,” she said.

Thirdly, Obama's plan focused the training and recruitment of teachers and preventing teacher layoffs by setting aside federal dollars in the stimulus plan. Obama restated his promise to support merit pay, as well as extra pay for math and science teachers to end the shortage of teachers in those subjects. However, the president cautioned that ineffective teachers should not be allowed to remain in their positions.

Mijares, who understands the importance of training teachers now for the next generation, said, “Biola has an interest in producing teachers who care, who not only have the technical mastery of the subject, who are not only competent, understand pedagogy, and understand all the dimensions that impact curriculum, and impact the instructional process, but teachers who care for students.”

Obama called for the promotion of educational "innovation and excellence" by calling on states to lift caps on the number of charter schools allowed.

Obama also suggested a longer school calendar, noting that students in America spend more than once month less in school than students in China.

"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," Obama said. "But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

Finally, Obama's reform initiative focused on higher education. The president promised to raise the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550 a year and index it above inflation to make college more accessible as well as promising to push for a $2,500 a year tuition tax credit for students from working families.

According to CNN, The American Federation of Teachers said it embraces Obama's goals to provide "all Americans with a comprehensive, competitive education that begins in early childhood and extends through their careers."

The federation also supports the president's call for shared responsibility for education -- among public officials, school administrators, parents, students and teachers.

"We need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we are going to succeed in the 21st century," he said.

Soto-Hinman expressed her excitement to be in the field of education during this challenging time.

“Although the issues and challenges are great in our districts and schools, now is the time to take the opportunity to prepare the next generation of teachers to meet the complex needs and assets found in our communities today,” she said. “We need teachers who live up to a higher calling, and who are willing to love, serve and challenge the next generation of students.”  

Learn more about Biola's seventh school, the School of Education.

Written by Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. Jenna can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu.

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