A liberal-leaning group of political leaders and education policy experts is urging new strategies for raising the quality of public education in the United States. Its remedies, unveiled here last week, include voluntary national academic standards, universal preschool, a longer school day and year, and at least $325 billion in new federal spending on education over the next 10 years.
Members of the education policy task force, including Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, made their recommendations public on Aug. 23 at the National Press Club.
The panel’s report was designed as a response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Signed into law by President Bush in January 2002, the bipartisan law requires states to test 3rd through 8th graders annually in reading and mathematics, among other mandates.
Gov. Napolitano, a Democrat, likened the challenge of improving schools to the race to the moon in the 1960s. She said the report does not stress “failure” or test scores only, as some educators contend is the case with the NCLB law, but calls for other ways to hold schools accountable. She said new spending on education would help the United States keep pace with the fast-developing economies of China and India.
“My friends, we’re in the midst of an international brain race,” she said, adding that moving on the task force’s recommendations would “give notice to the world that the race is on.”
The panel’s other leaders, Goldman, Sachs & Co. executive Philip D. Murphy and the historian and writer Roger Wilkins, said American democracy is threatened without more attention to educational improvement from political leaders and the public.
“It’s not so much the challenge outside [the United States] that I care so deeply about. It’s the challenge inside—Appalachia, Indian reservations,” and other poor regions, said Mr. Wilkins, who teaches history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
‘Can’t Do It Overnight’
A national education task force outlined its recommendations in a report released Aug. 23.
More Learning Time and Better Use of It: Overhaul the traditional K-12 school year, adding preschool for all, shorter summer breaks, and extended days and after-school classes.
High Expectations and National Standards: Create voluntary federal academic standards in core academic subjects for states. Provide more help to low-rated schools.
High-Quality Teachers and Leaders in Every School: Federal incentives should drive states and districts to improve training for teachers and school leaders. Increase pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
Connect Schools With Families: Provide states and federal support for more “community-based schools” that offer social services, health care, home visits, and other services.
SOURCES: Center for American Progress; Institute for America’s Future
The task force, which held meetings across the country over the past year, was sponsored by the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America’s Future, think tanks that are both based in Washington. John Podesta, a White House chief of staff under President Clinton and the president of the center, said last year that the task force would be bipartisan and would examine issues without regard to politics. (“Task Force Forming to Seek New Vision for Schools,” April 28, 2004)
But only one task force member was introduced as a Republican: former U.S. Rep. John H. Buchanan of Alabama, who called for special attention to equal educational opportunities for poor and minority students. “Equity is what we need the most,” he said.
Task force leaders acknowledged that the costs of their proposals would be substantial. Congress appropriated about $56.6 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal 2005.
Mr. Murphy, the senior director for the New York City-based Goldman, Sachs, said he hoped to convince other business leaders that such spending would be a worthwhile investment. “You have to phase stuff in. You can’t do it overnight,” he said in an interview.
Bush administration officials didn’t give the report much due.
“We’re glad they agree with the president on so many issues, like highly qualified teachers, high school reform,” and more, said Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. He declined to comment on specific parts of the report.
The report comes as a broad effort is under way to support an infrastructure of liberal groups in advancing policy ideas in a host of areas, including education. (“Wealthy Democrats Seek Policy Influence,” this issue.)