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Falling behind

Public education is in a bad way. We have been hearing for years that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world, particularly Asian countries. Why is it happening and why are none of the solutions effective?

Most of the solutions — revised and ever-changing curricula or draconian testing regimes (No Child Left Behind) — are poorly implemented or invite fraud and misuse. Add in that there are 50 different state education boards and countless county and city school boards and it seems like an insurmountable problem.

At the same time, there is a small group who want to revise the education bureaucracy out of existence: they would do away with the federal department of education, claiming the government has no business being involved in education. Not sure how that works: government is taxpayers, parents, and businesses, all of whom have a stake in a trained, educated workforce. But some folks never saw a federal program they didn’t want shut down.

There may be a solution of both issues. Rather than have the federal government try to manage, enable, or assist the various districts, I propose the feds limit their involvement to a national set of standards, a rigorous and comprehensive examination that any student can sign up to take and that will demonstrate their fitness for life after school. The examination should be sufficiently challenging that many colleges and universities could use it as an entrance assessment.

By making it voluntary, we give students and communities an opportunity to prove themselves against their peers across the country and around the world. And districts of all sizes can continue to offer diplomas to their students but will now have an objective measurement by which to compare their effectiveness.

I’m in agreement that students are at the mercy of too many forces beyond their control — teacher unions, administrators with agendas, parsimonious legislators, inattentive parents, and the other distractions of modern life — and I think managing the nation’s classrooms is impossible. I favor limiting the federal bureaucracy’s involvement to standard setting and ensuring the next generation has what it takes to compete.

Mar 3, 2010

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