The Need for Federal Government
Involvement in Education Reform
Political Science 2301
Federal and State Government
For centuries, generations of families have congregated in the same community or in the same general region of the country. Children grew up expecting to earn a living much like their fathers and mothers or other adults in their community. Any advanced skills they required beyond the three R’s (Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmatik) were determined by the local community and incorporated into the curriculum of the local schools. These advanced skills were taught to the up-and-coming generation so they could become a vital part of their community.
The last several decades has greatly expanded the bounds of the “community” to almost anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world for that matter. Advances in transportation and communication has made the world a much smaller place then the world we knew as children. The skills our children need to realize parents’ perpetual dream of “their children having a better life” are no longer limited to those seen in the local area.
It is becoming more and more apparent that the education system of yesterday cannot adequately prepare students for life and work in the 21st Century. These concerns have prompted people across the country to take a hard look at our education system and to organize their efforts to chance the education system as we know it.
WHAT’S HAPPENING OUT THERE?
There are two major movements in recent years whose focus is to enhance the education of future generations. The “Standards” movement focuses on educational content and raising the standards of traditional teaching and measurement means and methods. The “Outcome Based Education” (OBE) movement is exploring new ways of designing education and changing the way we measure the effectiveness of education by focusing on results or outcomes.
In September 1989, President Bush and the nation’s governors called an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. At this summit, President Bush and the nation s governors, including then-governor Bill Clinton, agreed on six broad goals for education to be reached by the year 2000. Two of those goals (3 and 4) related specifically to academic achievement:
* Goal 3: By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.
* Goal 4: By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.
Soon after the summit, two groups were established to implement the new educational goals: the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) and the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST). Together, these two groups were charged with addressing unprecedented questions regarding American education such as: What is the subject matter to be addressed? What types of assessments should be used? What standards of performance should be set?
The summit and its aftermath engendered a flurry of activity from national subject matter organizations to establish standards in their respective areas. Many of these groups looked for guidance from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics who publishing the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics in 1989. The NCTM standards “redefined the study of math so that topics and concepts would be introduced at an earlier age, and students would view math as a relevant problem-solving discipline rather than as a set of obscure formulas to be memorized.” The National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science quickly launched independent attempts to identify standards in science. Efforts soon followed in the fields of civics, dance, theater, music, art, language arts, history, and social studies, to name a few.
OUTCOME BASED EDUCATION MOVEMENT
The decade of the 80s brought numerous education reforms, but few of them were a dramatic shift from what has gone on before. Outcome-based education (OBE) is one of those that is new, even revolutionary, and is now being promoted as the panacea for America’s educational woes. This reform has been driven by educators in response to demands for greater accountability by taxpayers and as a vehicle for breaking with traditional ideas about how we teach our children. If implemented, this approach to curriculum development could change our schools more than any other reform proposal in the last thirty years.
The focus of past and present curriculum has been on content, on the knowledge to be acquired by each student. Our language, literature, history, customs, traditions, and morals, often called Western civilization, dominated the learning process through secondary school. If students learned the information and performed well on tests and assignments, they received credit for the course and moved on to the next class. The point here is that the curriculum centered on the content to be learned; its purpose was to produce academically competent students. The daily schedule in a school was organized around the content. Each hour was devoted to a given topic; some students responded well to the instruction, and some did not.
Outcome-based education will change the focus of schools from the content to the student. Three facts drive this new approach to creating school curricula:
* Fact 1: All students can learn and succeed, but not on the same day or in the same way.
* Fact 2: Each success by a student breeds more success.
* Fact 3: Schools control the conditions of success.
In other words, students are seen as totally malleable creatures. If we create the right environment, any student can be prepared for any academic or vocational career. The key is to custom fit the schools to each student’s learning style and abilities.
The resulting schools will be vastly different from the ones recent generations attended. Yearly and daily schedules will change, teaching responsibilities will change, classroom activities will change, the evaluation of student performance will change, and most importantly, our perception of what it means to be an educated person will change.
Common Arguments in Favor of Outcome-Based Education
* Promotes high expectations and greater learning for all students.
* Prepares students for life and work in the 21st Century.
Common Arguments Against Outcome-Based Education
* Relies on subjective evaluation, rather than objective tests and measurements.
* Undermines local control.
Both the “Standards” movement and “OBE” movement have particular strengths and weaknesses. Their means and methods are different however, their objective is the same — To improve the education of future generations. We all remember the profound statements our parents repeated to us as we grew up. One of my favorites was, “You can’t get anywhere if you’re not moving”. Years can be spent arguing if “OBE” is better then “Standards” and vice versa. They both are heading toward the same destination so let’s get moving and we’ll argue on the way.
It is time for the Federal Government to take the lead and start the nation down the road. One of the fundamental principles of our nation should be the paramount concern of this Government body. EQUALITY! In this case equality is achieved through standards.
STANDARDS IN EDUCATION
General standards in education have existed formally for over a century but as time went on, local school systems have expanded their curriculum to meet the needs of the local community. National standards must be established to alleviate variances from community to community and state to state in order for all citizens to have an equal chance in the global society.
THE NEED FOR CURRICULUM STANDARDS
From the 1940s until the mid-1970s, the emphasis on serving the interests of individual children generated a expansion of the number of courses that constituted the high school curriculum. By the mid 1970s, the U.S. Office of Education reported that more than 2,100 different courses were being offered in American high schools. The content covered and the manner in which time is spent was at one time fairly uniform in American education, today there is little consistency in how much time students spend on a given subject or the knowledge and skills covered within that subject area.
THE NEED FOR EVALUATION STANDARDS
Perhaps the most compelling argument for organizing educational reform around standards is the shift in emphasis from what schools put into the process of schooling to what we get out of schools that is, a shift from educational “inputs” to educational “outputs”. Chester Finn describes this shift in perspective in terms of an emerging paradigm for education.
Under the old conception education was thought of as process and system, effort and intention, investment and hope. To improve education meant to try harder, to engage in more activity, to magnify one’s plans, to give people more services, and to become more efficient in delivering them.
Under the new definition, now struggling to be born, education is the result achieved, the learning that takes root when the process has been effective. Only if the process succeeds and learning occurs will we say that education happened. The U.S. Office of Education was commissioned by Congress to conduct a major study of the quality of educational opportunity. The result was the celebrated “Coleman Report” (after chief author and researcher, James Coleman), which was released in 1966. The report concluded that input variables might not actually have all that much to do with educational equality when equality was conceived of in terms of what students actually learned as opposed to the time, money, and energy that were expended.
THE NEED FOR GRADING STANDARDS
Most assume that grades are precise indicators of what students know and can do with a subject area. In addition, most people assume that current grading practices are the result of a careful study of the most effective ways of reporting achievement and progress. In fact, current grading practices developed in a fairly serendipitous way. Mark Durm provides a detailed description of the history of grading practices in America, beginning in the 1780s when Yale University first started using a four-point scale. By 1897, Mount Holyoke College began using the letter grade system that is so widely used in education today.
For the most part, this 100-year-old system is still in place today. Unfortunately, even though the system has been in place for a century, there is still not much agreement as to the exact meaning of letter grades. This was rather dramatically illustrated in a nationwide study by Robinson & Craver (1988) that involved over 800 school districts randomly drawn from the 11,305 school districts with 300 or more students. One of their major conclusions was that districts stress different elements in their grades.
While all districts include academic achievement, they also include other significant elements such as effort, behavior, and attendance. There is great discrepancy in the factors teachers consider when they construct grades. We have a situation in which grades given by one teacher might mean something entirely different from grades given by another teacher even though the teachers are presiding over two identical classes with identical students who do identical work. Where one teacher might count effort and cooperation as 25% of a grade, another teacher might not count these variables at all.
Nearly all countries we want to emulate rely on policies and structures that are fundamentally standards based in nature. For example, in their study of standards-setting efforts in other countries, Resnick and Nolan (1995) note that Many countries whose schools have achieved academic excellence have a national curriculum. “Many educators maintain that a single curriculum naturally leads to high performance, but the fact that the United States values local control of schools precludes such a national curriculum.”
Although they caution that a well articulated national curriculum is not a guarantee of high academic achievement, Resnick and Nolan offer some powerful illustrations of the effectiveness of identifying academic standards and aligning curriculum and assessments with those standards. France is a particularly salient example:
* the year so that all 16-year-olds know what they are expected to study. The book’s similar table of contents shows that the text developers referred to the curriculum.
* Moreover, the text makes frequent references to math exams the regional school districts have given in the past. Students practice on these exams to help them prepare for the exam they will face; they know where to concentrate to meet the standard. (p. 9)
In a similar vein, a report published by NESIC, the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (1993), details the highly centralized manner in which standards are established in other countries. For example, in China, standards are set for the entire country and for all levels of the school system by the State Education Commission in Beijing. In England, standard setting was considered the responsibility of local schools until 1988, when the Education Reform Act mandated and outlined the process for establishing a national curriculum. The School Examinations and Assessment Council was established to carry out this process. In Japan, the ministry of education in Tokyo (Manibushi) sets the standards for schools, but allows each of the 47 prefectures (Ken) some latitude in adapting those standards.
According to the NESIC report, “Most countries embody their content standards in curriculum guides issued by the ministries of education or their equivalents.” (pc-51) Additionally, “A national examination system provides a further mechanism for setting standards through specifications of examinations, syllabuses and regulations, preparations of tests, grading of answers, and establishment of cutoff points.” (pc-51)
If our children are to survive and excel in the emerging global society, we must give them the tools they need to compete. Whether future generations receive these tools via the “Standards” movement or the “OBE” movement is irrelevant. It is how well our children can compete with other countries of the world that will insure the United States remains a world leader, a nation united and strong. If this is not a role for the Federal Government, I don’t know what is?