January 22, 1997

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Vol. 16, Issue 17
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The movie "Network" gave birth in the late 1970s to that all-purpose American expression, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."
As schools across America burst at the seams with the added enrollment of the so-called baby-boom echo, state and municipal taxpayers are being saddled with growing costs for building new facilities. In some cities, enrollment growth is so rapid that officials can't build schools fast enough.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with the word "psittacism"--and the related words, "psittacine," "psittaceous," and "psittacosis." I confess that I did not know them until I encountered one in my reading last summer.

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Public education systems in the 50 states are riddled with excellence but rife with mediocrity. Despite 15 years of earnest efforts to improve public schools and raise student achievement, states haven't made much progress.
For more than a decade, Americans have been deluged with negative reports about their schools. And politicians have responded with promises: U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement by 2000. Every student will master challenging academic content. All children will start school ready to learn.
Quality Counts focuses on what states can do to raise the achievement of all students. Stress the word "all." Raising standards, improving teaching, and creating better schools are only the first steps. States also must ensure that all children have access to a demanding curriculum, high-quality instruction, and nourishing classrooms.
Frustrated by the lack of significant progress in school reform, the nation's governors met at the National Education Summit in Palisades, N.Y., last March to recommit themselves. Accompanied by business leaders from their states, the governors declared an "urgent need for schools to improve and for academic performance to rise." They invited the voters to hold them accountable for progress made in their states toward improving student achievement.
The bottom line for any education system is whether its students are achieving at high levels.
Congress mandated the National Assessment of Educational Progress more than a quarter of a century ago. Since 1969, it has periodically monitored student achievement in reading, writing, math, science, history/geography, and other fields in grades 4, 8, and 12. It is the only ongoing national survey of students' educational achievement.
Last year, at the National Education Summit, governors and business leaders concluded that "efforts to set clear, common ... academic standards for students in a given school district or state are necessary to improve student performance.".
For years, folks driving on Interstate 25 through Pueblo, Colo., would hold their breath and keep going. The huge smelter at the Colorado Fuel & Iron steelworks filled the air with such an acrid smell that tourists had little incentive to stop.
The quality of America's public schools ultimately depends on the competence and commitment of its teachers. As the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future reported last September, the single most important strategy for achieving the nation's education goals is to recruit, prepare, and support excellent teachers for every school.
Listening to teacher Bonnie Markham, it's easy to believe the days of chalk-and-talk classrooms are numbered in this six-school district west of Rochester, N.Y.
All of the efforts to establish new standards, develop new assessments, improve the quality of teaching, and increase funding will produce few positive results if the effects of that activity do not reach the classroom. How schools are structured and the conditions they create for both students and teachers are vitally important to academic success and the most difficult to change.
Every morning, 595 students who speak 26 native languages arrive at Clear View Elementary School here. More than 200 of the children are from low-income families; 10 are homeless.
Money is a problem. Nationally, we spend about $244 billion annually on public education. And education usually is the largest cost item in state budgets. Yet as our state summaries how, educators in virtually every state worry about getting enough money to do the job. And that is especially true for many thousands of inner city and poor rural schools.
The story of Zavala Elementary School easily could pass as the work of Horatio Alger. Five years ago, the nearly 60-year-old school was a monument to failure. Plopped between two public housing projects in one of the roughest and poorest neighborhoods in Austin, Texas, the school scraped bottom on virtually every measure of student achievement. The faculty was divided, fighting over just about everything.
Statistics tell only part of the story about what states are doing to improve public education and raise student achievement. We also wanted to provide a broader context in which those statistics could be interpreted.
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

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