The United States is an economic leader in part because of its leadership in education during the 20th century. We were the first country in the world to provide free K-12 public education and for many decades our citizens where the most educated and well prepared to drive national economic growth. In the past few decades, other countries have greatly expanded and improved their education systems, and now we’ve and we’ve lost our leading edge. Our international rankings continue to slip when comparing key education indicators to our international counterparts.
For example, as recently as 1995, the United States was still tied for 1st in the proportion of young adults with a college degree, but by 2000 it had slipped to 9th and by 2006 to 14th – below the average of the industrialized world. High School graduation rates have seen a similar decline. After World War II, the United States’ ranked 1st, today we have dropped to 21st among the world’s 30 industrialized nations. This statistic is even more startling when put in a different perspective, currently there is one US student dropping out of school every 26 seconds.
Among these dropouts, under the age of 25, a startling 44% of are jobless. These alarming indicators have propelled education reform to the forefront of our nation’s priorities once again. This time around we need to do more than hold debates and implement weak policy, we must make significant improvements a reality. Reforms in the past were based on educational ideas that did not necessarily have widespread support from legislators or policy makers, much less the public. As a result, little progress, and some argue none at all, has actually been made.
Today, the fear about American decline touches far more people than ever before, and they seem willing to do something about it. People now understand the link between education and economics, recognizing that school failures are tied to economic failures. One clear example illustrating this point was highlighted in a large-scale study in 2005 called, The Labor Market: Consequences of an Inadequate Education. The study concluded that dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost our nation more than $300 billion in lost wages, lost taxes and lost productivity.
America’s economic productivity, competitiveness, and overall vitality are grounded in education. The following paper aims to shed light on limitations within our current K-12 public education system and prevailing solutions to address them. Although there are many factors contributing to our nation’s educational decline, it’s imperative to focus attention on the two primary players within: students and their teachers. Learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do in classrooms, specifically what is taught and how it’s taught.
I will be focusing my paper on two reform movements that are designed to address the problems faced at the classroom level. First, the paper will look into “what is taught”, specifically focusing on standards reform. Improving academic content is the fundamental building block to upgrading our education system. Yet, good education outcomes for students depend on good teachers. This report will then examine “how it’s taught”, concentrating on evaluating teacher effectiveness.
Our education system depends on a reliable system to identify who is good, enabling much needed improvements in the quality of the teacher workforce. Standards: Updating and Upgrading A recent study by the NCES found that that 40% percent of college students take at least one remedial course to make up for deficiencies in their high school preparation; a consequence that continues to weaken our nation’s social and economic vitality. Many researchers have concluded that our declining education rankings are due, in large part, to sub-par classroom content and standards.
Studies have uncovered substantial parallels among math and science standards in top-performing nations, along with stark disparities between world-class expectations and standards in most U. S. states. Standards in the best-performing nations share three characteristics not commonly found in U. S. standards: focus, rigor, and coherence. For this reason, standards based reform is a key initiative in the education reform movement. Standards-based education reform has a history of more than 20-years.
The first federal initiative was passed under the Clinton administration with the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) followed by the Bush administration’s very controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, which is still an active nation-wide mandate in the United States. More and more, states are taking the reins and focusing state policy on standards-based reform. In a recent survey of policy makers, standards were acknowledged as the central framework guiding state education policy.
Recognizing the need to raise standards in the U. S. , 48 states and 2 territories are participating in the common core state standards initiative led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The initiative is state-driven, basing standards development on evidence derived from research and input from students, teachers, and parents. These standards will align with college and work expectations, include thorough content and skills, and benchmarked internationally.
The ultimate goal of the common core reform movement is that content standards will be the foundation of a state’s education system, enabling a streamlined process for learning and teaching. Standards will focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively. At the outset, standards will articulate the knowledge and skills that students should acquire at each grade level. Administrators and teachers will utilize assessments, measuring how well students have learned them, to develop curricula and make program decisions.
Data derived from assessments will then be integrated into accountability systems that report student outcomes, allowing policymakers to evaluate and respond to the effectiveness of their education investments. This process will have profound effects by providing a checks and balance system to ensure that our students will be well prepared for both career and college. The Next Step: Making Standards-Based Education More Effective The only way to create an effective standards and assessment system is to change our grading practices to standards-based grading.
Our grading systems now tells us nothing about whether students have met standards. It will require major changes in thinking and record keeping to do this. But the good news is that people are starting to make those changes. A progressive reform measure that is gaining momentum in recent years, replaces the traditional letter-grade system with a standards-based grading system. Conversion from a letter grading system to a standards-based reporting system is challenging. Parents expect letter grades, which often help to determine college admission or to provide motivation for sports and participation in extracurricular activities.
However, changing from a traditional grading practice to a standards-based system will provide more reliable information that measures all students fairly on comparable scales. Standards-based reporting more accurately shows parents and students specific areas of proficiency as well as areas needing improvement, but it takes time to develop. Evaluating Evaluations: Measuring Teacher Effectiveness Learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do in classrooms. Standards can be raised only if teachers can tackle this task more effectively.
Teacher effectiveness is one of the most important school-based factor for academic success or failure of students. A substantial body of high-quality research demonstrates that teachers vary substantially in effectiveness, with dramatic consequences for student learning. However, teacher effectiveness is not measured, recorded or used to inform decision making in meaningful ways. The vast majority of school districts presently utilize evaluation systems that result in all teachers receiving the same (top) rating with no meaningful evaluation of on-the-job performance. In fact, less than