Hey, you guys rememberÂ George W.Â Bush?
He was theÂ old boyÂ from TexasÂ that was “elected” to run the United States way back in the early 2000s. And he presidented for eight full years. In fact, he presidented the hell out of us, getting Americans involved in two wars after the worst terrorist attack in history, leaving a city stranded after a hurricane, and watching the economy slip intoÂ crisis, among other fun stuff.
Well, the new administrationÂ is busyÂ progressing some of the fine work done in the Bush years.Â Well okay,Â maybe “progressing”Â is not the right word for what the new administration is doing. A better word for what the new administration is doing to some of the Bush programs is “discarding” or perhaps “upgrading”. And this new direction could have a bigÂ impact on education and space explorationÂ in the U.S.
First,Â the Obama administrationÂ hasÂ outlined some of the proposed changes it would like to make in a sweeping overhaul of Bushâ€™s signature education law, No Child Left Behind. The changes include the replacement of the current system for judging schools based on student test scores and the shift toward increased competition in distributing federal education dollars.
Yes, this change to education law is largely about money. When the federal government mixes with state-run systems, like education, it usually is. But the Bush program, No Child Left Behind, was stingy with the federal dollars unless a school’s students performed to a certain level on standardized tests. Educators have complained sinceÂ the program’sÂ inception that the quality of education suffers when teachers are forced to teach specifically for a test. The students may perform well on the standardized tests, and the school districts get the federal money, butÂ high schoolsÂ are still releasing poorly educated studentsÂ to the colleges and universities.
Plus, the standardized tests, and the requirements to perform at a certain level on them, have been a big worry point for the “no creationism in the science class” groups like the National Center for Science Education. On the rare occasions when the door is left open for creationist ideas to be legally taught in a science classroom â€”Â as we saw transpire in the case of the Texas State Board of Education last yearÂ â€” the NCSE and discerning parents can still feelÂ warm and fuzzy with the hope thatÂ good teachers will opt toÂ be creative in their classrooms, and focus instead on good science. But if the bad science is added to the state-created standardized tests, teachers are literally forced to teach it, because the pressure to procureÂ a share of the federalÂ goverment’s dough is so high.
With the overhaul the Obama administration is proposing, the accountability system established in No Child Left Behind will be replaced with a new and varying set of educationalÂ goalsÂ thatÂ would qualify a district for federal dollars. Standardized tests will no longerÂ be at the forefront. The new system is built around the goal of helping all studentsÂ be “college- and career-ready” (CCR) when they graduate high school.
Yeah,Â “college- and career-ready”Â would beÂ much better thanÂ “trade school- and county lock up-ready”.
In addition to the education update, President Obama is calling on NASA to cancel the Constellation programÂ introduced by the Bush administration.Â The Constellation program was going toÂ return humans to the Moon by 2020.Â Obama wants toÂ focus instead on new space technologies.
Mr. Obamaâ€™s 2010 budget proposal for NASA asks for $18 billion over five years for fueling spacecraft in orbit, new types of engines to accelerate spacecraft through space and robotic factories that could churn soil on the Moon â€” and eventually Mars â€” into rocket fuel.
And there are there other proposed innovative updates to post-Space Shuttle NASA. Instead of using the Ares I rocket and Orion crew capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station â€”Â as was proposed by the Bush administration in reaction to the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 â€”Â $6 billion will instead go to financing space taxi services from commercial companies.
Not only that, but with the proposed plan, NASAâ€™s budget wouldÂ increase to $19 billion in the 2011 from $18.7 billion.Â NASA also stands toÂ seeÂ additional increases in subsequent years, reaching $21 billion in 2015. In total, NASA would receive $100 billion over the next five years.
The problem here is that some folks at NASA don’t want to abandon a program in which they have already invested time, labor, and $9 billion. Plus, members of Congress, particularly in Alabama, Florida, and Texas â€”Â the homes of the NASA centers most involved with Constellation â€”Â are concerned that re-tooling NASA to the proposed extent would have an adverse effect on their constituents and businesses in their districts.
And they very well could be right. Contractors in those areas could suffer.
Of course, there’s a chance they could benefit from new technologies as well. Change isn’t always easy to embrace.
For now, however, these updates to old Bush programs are in the infant stages. True change has yet to take effect, andÂ any successes or failures of the new education bill and the proposed NASA budget remain to be seen. And of course everyÂ skeptic knowsÂ the exact impact on education and science in the U.S. may not necessarily be positive.
But on paper at least, theÂ changesÂ are encouraging.