March 27, 1996

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Vol. 15, Issue 27
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The math proficiency of 8th graders from the nation's top-ranked states--Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota--is comparable to that of students from the best-performing nations, such as Taiwan and South Korea, reports a federal study to be released this week at the national education summit.
Compared with their peers in other major industrialized nations, proportionately fewer American students take and pass rigorous, high-level physics and chemistry exams at the end of secondary school, according to a study of science-examination systems in five countries.
The usual hustle and bustle of Boston's City on a Hill school gave way to an eerie calm for two weeks last month. But the school's director of programs, Cindy Cheney, found her voice mail abuzz with messages.
In 1994, after 18 years of renting classroom space at the central branch of the YMCA of Greater Boston, Northeastern University decided to leave.
Many ambitious federal education programs began in the 1960s, the "Great Society" era, when Americans generally viewed government as benign and trustworthy. Today, however, most citizens want government off their backs, leaving individuals--not bureaucrats--with control of the purse strings.
As state governors and chief executive officers of companies from across the United States gather in New York for this week's education summit, their focus is on what states can do to improve student performance. The summit points to a renewed commitment to education from key public officials and business leaders. Because states have constitutional authority over education, expectations are high for state-by-state plans to carry through summit agreements on academic standards and the use of technologies.
What should the federal government's role in education be? The quick and sensible answer is: no role at all. Let me explain.
As the principal of four elementary schools in the Newfound Area, N.H., school district, my primary responsibility is to provide students with the educational opportunities that will develop their capacities to read, write, think, and speak, thus enabling them to become responsible and contributing members of our complex society.
There is one educational issue on which all Americans can agree: Improving education is essential if we are to develop the highly skilled workforce necessary for our nation's economic competitiveness. Accordingly, the public is interested in how our nation can develop a competitive workforce while still striving for a balanced federal budget and a smaller federal government.
I recently chaired a project on improving education governance and management for the Committee for Economic Development, a national nonpartisan policy organization of top business executives. The report we produced, Putting Learning First: Governing and Managing the Schools for High Achievement, was the CED's fifth education study and the product of more than 10 years of ongoing research and vigorous debate by a committed group of business leaders on the most effective strategies for improving student achievement.
There's a new religion in the education-reform movement these days. It's known as "public engagement." It is a faith that is hard to quarrel with because its tenets seem so self-evidently correct. Proponents assert that children's education, generally, and public education, as an institution, will improve only to the degree that the public is actively involved and demands change and improvement. Public engagement is seen as the sine qua non of education reform.
Whenever I begin to think I understand enough about children and education to be a good father and a good leader, a young child asks me a riveting question, born in the innocence and wonder of early childhood, but profound nonetheless. Recently, a 2nd grader asked me, "What do you do when nobody needs you?"
"Everyone" knows that the American education system suffers from a lack of high standards. As a result, money and energy have been devoted to defining a widely accepted body of knowledge that will be taught by all teachers and learned by all students. Everyone also knows that the effort to develop acceptable standards is going through a patch of rough sledding. Recently released history standards, coupled with other misfortunes, caused the rough patch. The reaction threatens to slow the acceptance of standards, even the less controversial math and science standards.
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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