Obama's Call to Arms on Education Reform

05/25/2011 12:35 pm ET

Obama made one of his now trademark speeches on Wednesday, throwing down the gauntlet on high-stakes testing with: "Accountability does not need to come at the expense of a well-rounded education."

In stark contrast to McCain's continued embrace of No Child Left Behind, and the nightmarish wave of fear and teaching to the test that has come in its wake, Obama again offered a nuanced approach. He didn't discard testing altogether, and it was no surprise that he put teachers first by proposing economic incentives to bring the best and the brightest into the profession. But for those watching education he did something very interesting. He took the national stage to support a specific philosophy of learning -- an integrative curriculum.

The idea of an integrated curriculum (where Arts and Physical Education are as much a part of core studies as traditional subjects like English, History, Math and Science) is well established and supported by research. Studies show that teaching Arts and PE improves academic performance, and new research links teaching social and emotional skills to a significant increase in achievement scores. But when our national priority is teaching to a single high-stakes test, there isn't much time in the school day for these and other innovative programs.

Michael Johnston, the principal of Mapleton Expeditionary High School, the school where Obama gave his speech, figured out a way to get it done. Confronted with a 50% college admissions rate for graduating seniors, he initiated an integrative curriculum and accomplished the staggering task of raising the college admission rate at his institution from 50% to 100%.

Hopefully Obama's speech, and others like it, will create enough traction to begin a national dialogue on education reform from the bottom-up; with people who have found a way to make a difference -- like Johnston, his teachers, parents and students -- an integral a part of the conversation.

Click here for the full text of Obama's speech on education.