The Bottom Line
Published 5:47 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The eternal issue of educational reform
By Tray Smith
The eternal issue of education reform, a thorn in the side of politicians who charge themselves with governing America’s schools despite not having observed a classroom since their high school graduation, has yet to play a major role in the current presidential contest. Of course, debating education would require candidates to lessen the focus on other important proposals, such as the “gas tax” holiday, which would have to be enacted retroactively by the next President to affect today’s consumers. Such is the level to which Presidential campaigns are reduced.
But because no parent will ever believe that their child’s education is perfect, and no educator will ever believe that their school has enough resources to function properly, it is only a matter of time before promises of overhauling public schools are issued. Central to those promises from the Democratic side will be additional funding they hope to distribute to schools while weakening standards schools are currently accountable to under No Child Left Behind.
Presidential candidates, witnessing the impact education has on gubernatorial campaigns, have for several election cycles tried to get a leg up over their opponents by catering to public school parents and teachers. In 2000, education was a major issue because then Gov. George Bush pledged to reform the nation’s schools, a promise he kept when he signed No Child Left Behind. The federalization of education issues, however, is more a political ploy than an educational reform. State governments remain the primary authority over schools, and are assisted in their efforts by local boards of education. The federal government contributes only 7 percent of K-12 education funding.
The lackluster performance of American students on international test, however, is a national concern. Despite repeat indications foreign students out perform our own, no public officials are seriously talking about how to imitate foreign countries’ school systems. Many of those systems give students the option of specializing their high school education in fine art, career tech, or college preparatory curriculums.
Last week, I was proud to feature in this column a report on the efforts principal Zickeyous Byrd has made to reform Escambia County Middle School. It is those initiatives that must be our nation’s guide as we continue the process of improvement at the primary, intermediate, and secondary school levels. At the high school level especially, we must strengthen the curriculum and broaden the opportunities students have to participate in a wide array of courses.
The next President, in his newfound capacity as teacher-in-chief, should make as his focus not the arbitrary funding levels in which politicians so frequently enmesh themselves, but the curriculum our students master during their high school years. For instance, requiring school districts to offer the option of a prestigious International Baccalaureate diploma to every student is an inexpensive reform that could vastly improve student preparedness for college. The federal government should also create a national career tech program to standardize career technical education and link course work directly to demands of the job market. Local school boards must, however, maintain the flexibility to craft career tech programs that support the demands of their local economy. Data from AP test, IB test, and career-technical programs should be incorporated into adequate yearly progress assessments. These reforms will vastly improve education, ad require little additional cost. If taken as part of a broader effort to improve education, and strengthen, not undermine, No Child Left Behind, they will leave our students vastly better off.
That is the bottom line.
This column, which focuses on national education reform, is part of a three part series on America’s schools. Next week, the column will cover education reform efforts in our own community.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.