March Madness is here. Not the NCAA basketball tournament but the latest version of what to do to improve our nation’s schools and student outcomes.
On March 10 the National Governors Association and a team representing state school superintendents released the newly proposed national content standards. The good news is the new national standards are rigorous, internationally calibrated, and vertically aligned K-12. This is a proper step for all intents and purposes, especially in light of their writing-intensive prescriptions for all grades.
On March 15 President Obama sends to Congress the next incarnation of the 2002 legislation we know as No Child Left Behind. Is it possible for this legislation to enjoy a little more bi-partisan support than the health care revamp? Will it be possible for the legislation to make a difference in achieving its aim? If history is any guide the answer to both questions is a resounding NO.
I believe it is easier to predict that the Kansas Jayhawks will win the 65 team b-ball tournament than to predict 25 years from now graduation rates will be significantly higher and students will be more college and career ready, two of the goals of the Obama-Duncan proposed legislation.
The significantly rewritten NCLB, formerly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, appears to be a sound plan that would emphasize measurement of individual students academic growth over time and assess schools based on learning climate, graduation rates and pupil attendance. The revamped NCLB is an appropriate course of action at this point, but I wonder if any omnibus legislation will ever make a difference in our outcomes for students? The past rhetoric by our nation’s leaders is instructive:
In 1981 Education Secretary Bell convened the National Commission on Excellence in Education which worked for 2 years and published the 1983 A Nation At Risk document and call to action. In its introduction the Commission wrote, “Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” Today in March 2010, twenty-nine years after the National Commission on Excellence in Education convened, our nation is still at risk. Actually as mad as it makes me to say perhaps more at risk today than in 1981.
In 1991 President George H.W. Bush introduced six new National Education Goals. In October of that year speaking to a national audience and junior high school students he said, “We made a start nationally…to meet the challenges of the 21st century. By the year 2000, at least 9 in every 10 students should graduate from high school. We should be first in the world in math and science. We need to regularly test student’s abilities. Every American child should start school ready to learn…” Today we graduate only 71% of our high school students.
1n 1997 President Bill Clinton said, “To prepare America for the 21st century, we need strong, safe schools with clear standards of achievement and discipline, and talented and dedicated teachers in every classroom. Every 8-year-old must be able to read, every 12-year-old must be able to log onto the Internet, every18-year-old must be able to go to college…” Today in San Jose 2010 40% of our 5th graders are not proficient in language arts/reading, not to mention math. And the dropout rate is at least 40% for Latinos and African-Americans.
On January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. President Bush then said, “We know that every child can learn. Now is the time to ensure that every child does learn. Too many children are segregated in schools without standards, shuffled from grade to grade… This is discrimination, pure and simple.” Today we still have a persistent achievement gap, some might say a gulf, between test scores of white and Asian students and their Latino and African-American peers.
During President Obama’s radio address on Saturday, March 13, 2010 on his new blueprint for educational transformation and the overhaul of NCLB he said, “Through this plan we are setting an ambitious goal: All students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from.”
As we can see from history rhetoric is cheap. Changing the outcomes for education in San Jose and America will be expensive, if we are serious. Any significant change in educational outcomes will require new priorities for the United States of America. We must stop being the world’s police while committing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to wage war. Rather we must wage war at home on literacy, numeracy (math skills), school readiness, child hunger, teacher training, health, fitness, drug abuse, critical thinking and problem solving.
Until then I will place my bets, as frightening as that seems to me, on the same rhetoric in education today being used by our new leaders in March 2040. Unless we re-prioritize our goals as a nation we will only reap minor positive changes in the educational outcomes from these initiatives begun in March 2010.
BTW- I am betting on the Kansas Jayhawks to be the final team to cut down the nets at the Lucas Oil Center in Indianapolis this April 5, 2010.