For the past few decades, we often talk about who the latest “education governor” is, particularly among Democrats. In the late 1980s, Bill Clinton of Arkansas tried to take the mantle from the esteemed Jim Hunt of North Carolina. For a bit, it shifted over to Gaston Caperton of West Virginia, as he emerged from a devastating state-wide teachers strike. And most recently, it was Virginia’s Mark Warner, who ushered in the 21st century in the Old Dominion by focusing on high school reform.
Readers of Eduflack know I often speak of my roots and connections to West Virginia. I am a proud graduate of Jefferson County High School in Shenandoah Junction, WV (Go, Cougars!) But I am particularly privileged to have served on the staff of one of the greatest U.S. Senators in our nation’s history, the Honorable Robert C. Byrd.
We understand that there are no simple solutions — no easy answers or quick fixes. Together, we are striving to meet these challenges, but we know we won’t accomplish that in a day, a month, or even a year. We will find ways to measure our progress, and we believe that the changes we propose and implement must be judged by rigorous standards of accountability. We accept that this will be a long-term endeavor, and we commit to stay engaged until we have achieved our goals of building the support systems the students need and helping the residents of McDowell County to take charge of their desire for a better life ahead.
So how do we “save American education?” As a nation we obviously spend a great deal of time diagnosing the problems, while offering a few targeted solutions. But what does comprehensive treatment of the problem really look like.
This morning’s New York Times Opinion page headline says it all — “How to Rescue Education Reform.” No, this isn’t the first time we have tried to diagnose the ed reform movement nor is this the first (or last) effort to talk through how ed reform can drive the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
In education reform, it is often easy to focus on the negative. A third of all kids are not reading proficient in third grade. No coincidence, the high school dropout rate is also about a third. We have stagnant test scores, even as state standards were reduced. We are slipping in international comparisons. And even the U.S. Secretary of Education says four in five public schools in our nation are likely not making adequate yearly progress.
For those who believe we have survived the economic downturn of 2008 and have righted the ship, today’s New York Times offers a very different perspective. Sam Dillon reports on the increase in the number of students now receiving free lunches from our public schools, noting a whopping 17-percent increase in the numbers over the last five years. According to the NYT, thanks to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, 21 million kids received free school lunches last year through a program that was once seen as a safety net for the poorest of the poor.
Frequent readers of this blog know that Eduflack can best be described as a pessimist. My pop icon hero is Eeyore. And as I’ve often said, it isn’t even a glass half full/empty issue for me, I want to know who stole my damned water.
You look before you and what do you see?A bright scholar shining beautifully.I see myself reflected.My voice in society projected.I see myself getting a degree
Yesterday, I was on the road, driving back from edu-Grandma’s 94th birthday party. Such drives are usually the ideal time for Eduflack to reflect, plan, and think through those “big ideas.” It also gives me the time listen to some of those personal theme songs that litter my iPod.
Folks call me a maverick
Guess I ain’t too diplomatic
I just never been the kind to go along
Just avoidin’ confrontation
For the sake of conformation
And I’ll admit I tend to sing a different song
But sometimes you just can’t be afraid
To wear a different hat
If Columbus had complied
This old world might still be flat
Nothin’ ventured, nothin’ gained
Sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain
Well, I have been accused
Of makin’ my own rules
There must be rebel blood
Just a-runnin’ through my veins
But I ain’t no hypocrite
What you see is what you get
And that’s the only way I know
To play the game
Old Noah took much ridicule
For building his great ark
But after forty days and forty nights
He was lookin’ pretty smart
Sometimes it’s best to brave the wind and rain
By havin’ strength to go against the grain
Well, there’s more folks than a few
Who share my point of view
But they’re worried
If they’re gonna sink or swiim
They’d like to buck the system
But the deck is stacked against ’em
And they’re a little scared
To go out on a limb
But if you’re gonna make a difference
If you’re gonna leave your mark
You can’t follow like a bunch of sheep
You got to listen to your heart
Go bustin’ in like old John Wayne
Sometimes you got to go against the grain
Nothin’ ventured, nothin’ gained
There is no question we are asking our states, school districts, and schools to do far more with fewer resources. The boom years for public education are over, perhaps best emphasized by the end of the multi-billion-dollar Reading First program years ago. The economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, now coupled with the end of ARRA money for the states means school districts are already pinching the skinniest of pennies.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the latest round of NAEP scores, offering the most recent snapshot on how our nation’s students are doing when it comes to reading and math. The results were downright depressing, with the majority of kids still failing to post proficient scores and the achievement gaps growing in far too many areas.
For those looking to strap on the pom-poms for number one rankings, Connecticut did score first in seven of the 16 disaggregated categories. Of course, that’s a first place for largest gaps. And we’re in the top 10 for every single one of those 16.