Education Letter to the Editor

Blue-Ribbon Schools Program: Why We Should Bring It Back

April 29, 2008 2 min read

To the Editor:

As educators watched President Bush sign the No Child Left Behind Act into law in Hamilton, Ohio, in January 2002, the three of us, among representatives from all 50 states, were in Washington finalizing work on identifying the nation’s last recognized Blue Ribbon Schools. We were told that day by a number of Texas education leaders that the time had come to end this program, and to begin identifying the best schools solely by their test scores. They felt that information about school culture was neither measurable nor relevant, and that the bottom line was test scores, demographic data, and appropriate distribution throughout the country.

We left Washington in shock, yet hopeful that better minds and common sense would prevail and this national treasure of a program would survive.

In spite of efforts by legislative staffs to continue Blue Ribbon Schools as a helpful part of NCLB, the group from Texas has been successful in making the No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools Program into a test-score-based program. In an attempt to assist schools in maintaining the very successful Blue Ribbon formula, which excellent schools have always shared, the essence of Blue Ribbon Schools was forgotten.

Enough time has passed. This is the right moment to identify, congratulate, celebrate, and continue to model what we know is excellent in our schools. Yes, good test scores are important, but so is a school culture that is premised on and guided by talented effective leadership, ongoing and focused professional development, genuine community involvement, innovation, recognition, and quality curriculum and instruction that are truly based on student needs and supported by technology. True intervention also is needed—meaningful, personal, differentiated instruction that lasts until there is success for all students.

With very few exceptions, this is what the National Blue Ribbon Schools exemplified.

These excellent schools are still out there. They are in every community. They may not always be at the top of the test “box scores” list, but they continue to be among the country’s very best.

Perhaps the time has come for one of the nation’s most cherished education programs to return for real.

David R. Tobergte

Xavier Center for Excellence in Education

Xavier University

Cincinnati, Ohio

Frank Heatherly


Alabama Department of Education

Montgomery, Ala.

Edward Bernetich

Director of Teacher Education

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio

A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Blue-Ribbon Schools Program: Why We Should Bring It Back