To the Editor:
An article in your Dec. 20, 2006, issue described a Dec. 12 meeting in Washington during which education experts argued for a broad liberal arts education for all K-12 students (“Schools Urged to Push Beyond Math, Reading to Broader Curriculum”). As some participants pointed out, the focus on standardized testing in reading and math, motivated by the current version of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, has pushed other subjects to the margins in some schools. I agree with Diane Ravitch, quoted in the article, that schools “must aim for far more than mastery of the basics, far more than the possession of tools for economic competitiveness.”
The Fairfax County, Va., school board has spent the past year developing a framework for going beyond No Child Left Behind. The student-achievement goals, developed with community input, provide for a range of academic emphases, including the fine and practical arts, cultural understanding, use of technology, and, perhaps most revolutionary by U. S. standards, competence in two languages. In addition, the district has goals for essential life skills—qualities of personal character such as honesty, conflict resolution, lifelong learning, identification of personal goals, critical thinking, good work habits, and financial competence—as well as goals for community responsibility, including civic understanding and participation in and understanding of government.
These are not aspirations to put on a poster or in a book. They are goals for which schools—as well as students and parents—will be held responsible. Some are more difficult to measure than others, but we intend to find ways to at least benchmark achievement of them all. Some teachers and principals, on hearing that the board was committed to such goals, and not just to higher test scores, were skeptical. But they have come to understand that the board really does believe that state test scores are not the only important measure of success.
That gives our teachers and principals the freedom to provide the kind of education they believe is best for their students—the kind of well-rounded education called for by the symposium participants in your story.
Jack D. Dale
Fairfax County Public Schools
Falls Church, Va.
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as A Plan for ‘Going Beyond’ the No Child Left Behind Act