'Wall Chart' Data Indicate Plateau In Reform Drive
Washington--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week reported that the nation's educational performance is "stagnant" and called on "every American" to join in an effort to improve it.
The Secretary issued that call to arms at the presentation of the Education Department's sixth annual "wall chart," a compilation of education indicators by state that he said showed too little improvement since last year.
"The good news is that the schools are not worse; the bad news is that we are not making progress," Mr. Cavazos said. "We are standing still, and the problem is that it's been this way for three years in a row."
"And, frankly, the situation scares me, and I hope it scares you, too," he told an assembly of about 150 reporters.
The wall chart tracks by state such indicators as college-entrance-examination scores and test-taking rates, high-school graduation rates, teacher salaries, pupil-teacher ratios, and education spending. It also shows which states have implemented certain education reforms and provides demographic statistics for each state.
This year's chart includes new columns showing the percentage of each state's test takers who obtained high scores and the percentage of high-school graduates who took advanced-placement examinations.
The test-score data include public- and private-school students, while information on "inputs," such as spending per capita, applies only to public schools.
The current data show that the 18.8-point average score of students who took the American College Test in 1988 was up one tenth of a point from 1987, while the combined average score on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests dropped two points to 904. Mr. Cavazos noted that in 1972 the average act score was 19.1 and the average score on the sat was 937.
While scores have increased since 1982--by 11 points on the sat and eight-tenths of a point on the act--the Secretary called those gains "minuscule, practically."
"Although certain states have improved their graduation rates significantly since 1982, the national average has improved by less than 2 percentage points [between 1982 and 1987]," Mr. Cavazos said. "As with test scores, our gains are minimal."
The national graduation rate actually dropped by half a percentage point between 1986 and 1987, according to the wall chart.
Mr. Cavazos said he was encouraged that the number of students taking college-entrance exams had continued to increase and that "rises in minority test scores continue to shrink the distance between their scores and those of nonminority students, slowly but steadily."
But while the United States spends more per student than foreign competitors, he noted, "our students consistently fall behind the competition in competitive testing." And although the nation will invest more than $199 billion in precollegiate education this year, Mr. Cavazos added, "increases in spending for our children's education have not been matched by increased performance."
According to the wall-chart data, the nation's average per-pupil expenditure rose to $3,977 in constant dollars in 1987, as compared with $3,752 in 1986 and $2,726 in 1982. Average teacher salaries rose to $28,008 in 1988, up from $26,551 in 1987 and $19,274 in 1982, and the average pupil-teacher ratio continued its downward trend, dropping slightly from 17.8 pupils per teacher in 1987 to 17.6 in 1988.
However, the percentage of school spending contributed by the federal government continued to decline, dropping to 6.4 percent in 1987 from 6.7 percent in 1986 and 7.4 percent in 1982.
The Secretary's statement that "money alone is not the answer to our education deficit" echoes a favorite theme of his predecessor. But while William J. Bennett blamed the "education bureaucracy" for blocking reform and improvement in last year's wall-chart conference, Mr. Cavazos sought to spread the burden more widely.
"Every person must be part of the initiative to change the direction of American education," he said. "There has not been enough demand at the local level that the system improve."
"I issue a call to every American to join President Bush and me in making a commitment to educate our people, truly educate them, once again," Mr. Cavazos said. "The challenge8goes to parents, teachers, administrators, public officials at all levels, and students. We must stir up the education waters in America."
He called on all states and school districts to establish their own ''education improvement targets," and issue annual progress reports.
State and local officials, educators, and parents should "work together to identify and announce specific goals for improving each school, district by district, state by state; to select the benchmarks for measuring progress toward their goals, and to discuss incentives for student, teacher, and school improvement," he said.
Mr. Cavazos specifically called on the nation to:
Increase the national graduation rate to at least 90 percent.
Intervene early to trim by 50 percent the number of children who fail to be promoted to the next grade level.
"Clearly define what every student must know and be able to do before leaving the elementary, junior-high, or the high-school level," so that students obtain "the advanced skills needed to succeed."
Decrease truancy rates. "Having as many as a third of a classroom's desks unoccupied is unacceptable," Mr. Cavazos said.
Increase homework. The Secretary urged parents to ensure that it is done, and urged teachers to ensure that it is meaningful.
"Make the best use" of the time children spend in school, partially by freeing teachers from "paperwork."
Increase by half the number of children proficient in reading, mathematics, and science.
Improve America's ranking among nations in science and math.
Provide "those not heading for college with apprenticeship skills at least as good as those held by students in West Germany."
The federal role in this effort, Mr. Cavazos said, is to "help bring these issues to national attention," to "highlight exemplary programs and share their results," to "reward successful schools, teachers, and students," and to "find ways to release the states from unnecessary statutory and regulatory burdens in exchange for higher performance."
Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, issued a statement accepting Mr. Cavazos' request to help set nationwide objectives.
"Let's start with a national commitment to the policy that virtually every American student should4graduate from high school," he said.
Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, also accepted the Secretary's challenge to "stir up the education waters" but argued that increased federal spending is a necessary part of any improvement effort.
"If we are calling for improved performance, we are all going to have to accept the responsibility of identifying the fiscal and physical resources necessary to turn things around," she said in a statement. "What we are seeing now is the direct result of the educational neglect supported by the Reagan Administration."