Education has been called the great equalizer. No matter what your race, creed or ZIP code, every child is entitled to a quality public education.
Yet as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained to an audience of aspiring educators at the University of Virginia, as a nation, “we still have not fully achieved the dream of equal educational opportunity.”
Today, nearly 30 percent of students drop out or fail to complete high school on time. These students can’t afford to lag behind in the competitive and ever-changing workplace. It is predicted that by 2016, four out of every 10 new jobs will require advanced education or training.
There is more motivation than ever to bring change to the classroom, with the Department of Education recently receiving $100 billion through the Recovery Act.
Education reform has proved itself to be a daunting task.
It was only seven years ago No Child Left Behind was passed with overwhelming praise, only to be denounced later for its shortcomings. President Obama and Duncan are willing to take on the challenge again and invest billions in the process.
The first step toward reform should be establishing national standards. A big part of our educational system’s problems is an absence of a reliable data system to monitor the progress of students.
When we speak of our “failing schools” and “plummeting test scores,” it’s a dilemma we have labeled as a national epidemic, but by approaching the problem state by state, we have denied ourselves the tools to locate and solve our problems.
The test scores collected through state-administrated assessments cannot always be trusted.
Under No Child Left Behind, states must meet federal goals for adequate yearly progress to receive funding, which Duncan attributes to the “dumbing down of academic standards” by states.
For the 2008-09 school year, Mississippi found that 46.6 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient in mathematics on its state standardized test.
However, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the closet thing the U.S. has to a standard test, tells a different tale with only 15 percent of fourth-graders at proficient.
These gaps between state results and national testing have confirmed fears that some states have been lowering their standards to make it appear as if they have been improving.
“For too long, we’ve been lying to kids,” Duncan said in a speech this summer. “We tell them they’re doing fine, give them good grades, and then they get to college and they’re put into remedial classes. Or they go into the work force and find out that they don’t have the skills they need to succeed.”
With unreliable test scores, how can we as citizens believe in the quality of education supposedly granted to every student in America when standards are at the mercy of interpretation?
Opponents of common standards argue that standardized testing will only encourage federal over-reaching, but it’s important to realize that the force spearheading this movement is the states.
Duncan made it clear during his speech at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium that “education is a state and local issue” and that “this effort is being led by governors and chief state schools’ officers.”
The steps taken by the government so far include the Common Core State Standards Initiative and a federal fund called Race to the Top, which rewards states for education innovation and reform.
Through these initiatives, Duncan hopes that states will take the “opportunity to be bold and creative” in pushing for fundamental change.
Pennsylvania already has made strides toward improving education in the commonwealth and is actively reviewing these proposals.
As a student, it’s easy to dismiss education policy as boring paper work on Capitol Hill. But in the end, the legislation created by our government will determine what I’m taught in school and whether I will spend a semester learning about Shakespeare or doing vocabulary drills from a workbook.
This is our chance to bring change and vision to the classroom and it’s imperative that not only state representatives get involved but also teachers, parents, students and other members of the community.
The money is there.
Now it’s just a question of whether we, as a nation, have the courage to take the first step for equality and adopt higher standards.
BANNA GEBRE is a Patriot-News Davenport Fellow and a student at Palmyra Area High School.News by SoulRiser on November 4, 2009 @ 10:47 PM