School & District Management Reporter's Notebook

State Chiefs Discuss Global Competition, High School Reform

By Robert C. Johnston — November 30, 2004 4 min read

Preparing U.S. students to compete in an increasingly global marketplace must become the top priority for the nation’s schools, a former adviser to Republican and Democratic presidents told the states’ top education officials at a policy forum here Nov. 19-21.

Pointing to the nation’s deep political divides, David Gergen, a professor of public service at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said, “We are so focused on red versus blue that this issue doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

David Gergen

Mr. Gergen, whose most recent White House stint was as an adviser to President Clinton, added: “We have to be out ahead of everybody else, and you can only do that through our public schools.”

Mr. Gergen spoke to about 200 people gathered here for the annual policy forum of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The attendees included more than 30 of the nation’s state education chiefs and their top deputies.

While Mr. Gergen declared that “the responsibility for education is yours,” he also painted a grim fiscal outlook for federal spending, in which projected budget deficits in coming years make it unlikely that there will be much new financial help from Congress. (“2005 Budget Drops Below Bush Request,” this issue.)

“My sense is that it will be very hard for education to even stay where it is,” he said. Every federal agency “will have to make a contribution.”

Fresh off of her own hard-fought re-election win, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson told Mr. Gergen that, based on her campaign experience, the public is not sold on the idea that there is an economic imperative for ratcheting up school rigor.

“I got beat up from one end of the state to the other,” Ms. Bergeson said, citing parents’ fears that high-stakes tests and tougher standards would mean children wouldn’t graduate or their self-esteem would be harmed. “How do we motivate the public to realize we have a crisis on our hands?”

Mr. Gergen countered that this is an area where the White House can do more to push its agenda, and referred to Margaret Spellings, President Bush’s chief domestic-policy adviser and his choice to be the next U.S. secretary of education.

“My question is, ‘Can she make the leap to being the spokesperson for what we need?’ ”

State chiefs also said here that the public is dubious about the need for overhauling high schools—an idea that is growing as a priority among the state education leaders as well as governors and the Bush administration.

“I know some of the biggest pushback will be from our legislators saying, ‘Our high schools are OK,’ ” Missouri Commissioner of Education D. Kent King said during a small-group session on high school reforms. “We’re not doing a darn for that bottom 30 percent [of high school students], and we need some help dealing with that.”

Inez M. Tenenbaum, the state superintendent of education in South Carolina, said one of her legislative priorities in the upcoming session will be to push for approval of the state’s proposed Education and Development Act. In part, the policy would require high school students to pick electives that were part of flexible, career-focused curricula, or “pathways.”

“With a career path, we tell students, ‘You can say, I’m going to stop at being a nurse, or go all the way to Harvard Medical School,’ ” said Ms. Tenenbaum, a Democrat who lost her recent bid for the U.S. Senate. “Students say, ‘I have a future in something.’ Right now, that’s what a lot of young students don’t have.”

Susan Frost, a senior adviser for the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, told the chiefs that improving adolescent literacy is perhaps the most immediate challenge for high schools. “Middle school and high school teachers don’t have the foggiest idea how to handle a classroom of students who can’t read a test,” she said.

In his acceptance speech as the CCSSO’s new president, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll affirmed the group’s overall support for the No Child Left Behind Act, though he listed some of the changes he would like to see in the federal law.

“If we as a group believe, as I do, that [the NCLB law] sets the right goals, we must do everything in our power to reform it to make it work,” he said. “Right now, NCLB is not a completely effective law. But with some logical changes, it could be.”

For example, he questioned the wisdom of setting a single target of 2014 to have all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics, rather than allowing some flexibility.

Other changes he proposed would be to require school choice, supplemental services, and improvement planning only for the student groups that fail to make adequate yearly progress under the federal law for two or more years.

He would also like to give schools and districts two years, rather than one, to demonstrate the positive impact of corrective action before restructuring them. And he wants schools identified for corrective action when the same subgroup of students in the same subject are not making adequate yearly progress.

A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2004 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston
School & District Management A COVID-19 Lull Gives Way to ‘Borderline Insanity’
When the number of cases started to rise steeply, a school community hammered out a routine. Then a basketball player tested positive.
3 min read
Andy McGill, K-12 assistant principal at West Liberty-Salem Local School District in West Liberty, Ohio.
Andy McGill, K-12 assistant principal at West Liberty-Salem Local School District in Ohio, includes coronavirus response among his administrative duties.
Courtesy of Andy McGill
School & District Management Color-Coded Tracking Sheets and Swift Isolation: One Principal's COVID-19 Approach
In a sort of honor system, a principal relies on parents to flag COVID-19 infections at home. Then the staff swings into action.
3 min read
Herb Cox, principal of Midway Middle School in Hewitt, Texas, credits stringent safety measures for the low number of coronavirus cases at his his.
Herb Cox, principal of Midway Middle School in Hewitt, Texas, credits stringent safety measures for the low number of coronavirus cases at his school.
Courtesy of Herb Cox