Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fixing the national disgrace

Last week, I told you about a report that documents the worsening national disgrace that is this country's education system:

Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, according to a report released Tuesday ... The report also found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation's largest cities receive diplomas.

I said earlier this week that public schools in Urban America have been on a downhill spiral for many years, and that maybe this report is the sobering reality check this country needs to stop playing politics with education.

I promised you more on this issue in my column yesterday; unfortunately, I didn't have room to hit on it. I was going to say that everything about the way our country does school should be up for debate -- everything. That includes, but is by no means limited to:

  • The tax structure we have relied on to fund it;
  • Our assumptions about student readiness;
  • How homeschooling and private schools, which embrace alternative educational philosophies successfully, can be viewed as a complement to public schools and as another option for students whose talents and abilities may not be best served by traditional public education strategies;
  • The availability of and access to supplemental services and programs that complement what goes on in the classroom;
  • Curriculum development and management, and how and whether it's relevant to today's job market;
  • Parent involvement;
  • How behavior expectations and discipline procedures can be made clearer and implemented more consistently;
  • Teacher training, recruitment, salary and retention policies (yes, performance-based policies, too);
  • The use of standardized tests to gauge students' progress, and even the development of those tests themselves;
  • The concept of social promotion, and how what we may preserve in the short term in social esteem is superseded by what it costs the student in educational advancement; and
  • Assumptions about college versus vocational and technical training.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things that should be considered -- and reconsidered -- as the public education system in this country is remade. Nothing should be sacrosanct; nothing should be above examination as we seek to make American education all it should be.

We owe nothing less to the young Americans who are depending on us to make it right.