Federal Federal File

Then and Now

By Michelle R. Davis — June 13, 2006 1 min read

At a speech in Washington last week to promote his new book about American history, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett lamented that many students today know little about this country’s formation and early years.

One reason he wrote America: The Last Best Hope, published in May by Nelson Current, was to bring that history alive instead of relegating it to “boring” textbooks, he said. After a reading from the book at the Heritage Foundation on June 8, which included a description of the abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, he was willing to talk more broadly about the state of education in response to questions.

William J. Bennett

Mr. Bennett—who was education secretary under President Reagan, has written 17 books, and has his own radio talk show—is known for his outspokenness, and he lived up to his reputation last week.

Referring to recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in science that showed student progress falling from 4th grade to 8th grade to 12th grade, he said, “It’s still true what I said, I guess, 20 years ago: The longer you stay in school in America, the dumber you get.”

But there are bright spots, Mr. Bennett said. “The fact that we do pretty well in 4th grade means it’s not genetic,” he said. “We start out pretty smart, and we get stupider as you go along.”

He said to sustain the gains made by 4th graders, the education system needs choice, more accountability, and better standards. While there appears to be a consensus about what 4th graders need to know, there’s no agreement as students get older about what they should be taught. That needs to change, he said.

When it comes to improving math and science performance, a current priority for President Bush, Mr. Bennett said it’s necessary to “front load” instruction in those subjects. He said it’s human nature that once students go to college and escape the scrutiny of their parents, they will choose an easier course of study.

Mr. Bennett also took aim at what he called the “feminization of the American educational system” and said it’s “one of the reasons girls are doing better than boys.” He said many schools are “very unsuitable places for males.”

“They’re not able,” he said, “to talk to boys the way they should be able to talk to boys: directly, strongly, firmly.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of Education Week


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.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP
Federal 'Stop CRT' Bill, Votes in Congress Add to Political Drama Over Critical Race Theory
Sen. Tom Cotton's legislation and votes about critical race theory in the House underscore the issue's potency in Washington.
5 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 25 in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP