November 15, 2010
The Need for Education Reformers
Two of my recent columns on education have spawned a fair bit of comment – overwhelming supportive but some otherwise. I feel the need to comment further.
American K-12 education is in bad shape. Failure to fix it severely limits our economic future, will expand income inequality, and make our country a worse place to live. The bulk of blame lies in bad parenting which creates a merciless cycle with an elusive remedy. This is in part why early childhood educational opportunities matter so much, they offer a break in this cycle. Children from families with strong, effective parents benefit from this experience also, but not nearly as much as kids from less nurturing homes. This is an unpleasant truth; but is why we must ultimately direct more resources to early childhood education.
Schools bear a great deal of blame. In response to one of my recent columns, one superintendant of schools wrote an Op-Ed piece that provides the perfect example of the problem. I won’t name the district, it is too embarrassing. This superintendant wrote of the abundance of “supermen” in the school district and heralded the 87 percent graduation rate and fine performance of the school band. While I have no doubt that super teachers abound, it is what he didn’t say that nicely frames the problem.
In this county’s schools, 1 in 8 students fail to graduate from high school and are destined to a life on the edge of poverty. One in five couldn’t pass algebra end-of-course tests, and fewer than 3 in 5 passed both their ISTEP+ tests in math and English. Fewer than half the county’s recent graduating class has any post high school educational plans, which may reflect reality with regards to their preparation. Of those taking advanced placement classes, fewer than half felt confident enough in their preparation to take the AP exam, and of those so few passed that it appears only 1.8 percent of students received AP credit. It would have been cheaper to actually send these kids to college classes – at Harvard. This district, of which the superintendent is so proud, has total SATs 50 points lower than the state average and a third fewer of this county’s students received a pass plus in their ISTEP+ than does the state as a whole.
Make no mistake about it this school district suffers abysmal outcomes. Any superintendent who can simultaneously comprehend summary statistics and tell the truth wouldn’t be writing glowing editorials about this county’s schools. The truth is half the students who graduate from that county’s high schools should expect nothing better than entry level employment at a big-box store.
Fixing schools won’t be easy, but it begins with an honest realization of the problem – not mendacious malarkey. Other institutions have pulled themselves out of the depths of catastrophe (see US army, post-Vietnam), and it’s likely that the legislature will expand the tools reformers need to make the difference in schools this year. But what we really need is more reformers.
About the Author
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