While we've had constructive action, and while some schools are succeeding and others hold their own, over all we've made only limited progress toward genuine reform. No one can conclude that the overall performance of public education in this country is adequate for the century ahead.
What's missing is a unifying vision of school renewal. In the decade of the 90's, we simply must find ways to set priorities and it's my own suggestion that we focus, with special urgency, on two of the nation's six education goals, both of which have wide support.
Specifically, let's embrace the first education goal and work aggressively to assure that all children come to school well prepared to learn. Excellence in education begins before school, even before birth itself, and yet, according to a Carnegie Foundation survey of kindergarten teachers, 35 percent of the nation's children came to school last year linguistically, physically, and socially ill-prepared. School readiness is an urgent mandate for the nation and if our youngest, most vulnerable children are neglected, excellence in education simply cannot be accomplished.
I also propose that special emphasis be given to the third education goal, which calls for the assessment of students in basic subjects.
Critics worry, quite correctly I believe, that the national standards and assessment movement could impose rigid testing on all schools and suffocate reform. On the other hand, such an effort, properly directed, could give the reform movement precisely the focus that's been lacking.
The national assessment effort could, for example, drive us back to the curriculum itself. It's one thing to talk about assessing students--but what precisely do we plan to measure? I urgently hope that we can move beyond the old Carnegie units and create, for the 21st century, a more coherent, more integrative course of study.
National assessment also should surely lead to the creation of a new generation of evaluation instruments that reflect more accurately the full range of human potential that Howard Gardner so vividly describes in his pathbreaking book, Frames of Mind.
Further, national assessment may force us to look more closely at teaching and at learning. After all, the goal of such evaluation should be to help all students succeed, not fail. This means having both achievement standards as well as delivery standards that hold schools accountable, not just students.
Finally, national assessment could even force us to examine school finance. After all, it's difficult to defend common outcomes if equality of resources is denied.
So, in an intriguing way, the national standards and assessment movement could, if well guided, serve as the fulcrum of reform by focusing the debate on issues at the very heart of education.
To give direction to this ambitious effort, I'd like to see a Congressionally chartered panel established, comprised of distinguished leaders from education, business, politics, parents, and students, too. In a 1989 speech at the Business Roundtable I suggested that since we have a Council of Economic Advisers, why not have a blue-ribbon council to monitor the educational progress of the nation.
Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching, in an April 16, 1993, speech, "School Reform
in Perspective,'' to the Education Writers Association.