“The situation is dire, the agenda urgent. … There is work to be done and passion to be spent by all of us who appreciate the stakes for our children and for the nation’s future. If we fail in this work, we will forfeit our position of economic and moral leadership. We will risk the future of our people and of America as we know it.”
What’s that all about?
That’s the summation of the latest federal advisory panel on primary and secondary education. Commissioned by Congress two years ago and delivered a couple of weeks ago, the report by the Equity and Excellence Commission offers some pretty harsh observations. In achievement and in the way K-12 education is funded, governed and administered, we have become “an outlier nation.” “No other developed nation has inequities nearly as deep or systemic” the report says.
“We are also an outlier nation in how many of our children are growing up in poverty. … We are also an outlier in how we concentrate those children, isolating them in certain schools … which only magnifies poverty’s impact and makes high achievement that much harder.”
Good intentions and initiatives aside, the U.S. is not serious enough yet in facing its slippage as a leader in education attainment and the challenge posed by dramatic change and competition from other countries, the panel observes. And if you think that is all hyperbole, think again, say the writers of “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence.”
They draw telling contrasts with the high performers, highlighting the areas where America lags its global competitors: the widespread fiscal inequities; the diffuse governance structure and quality (50 state operations, 15,000 districts, 100,000 public schools); teacher quality and status (only 30 percent of educators recruited from the top third of college pool); and non-universal access to high-quality, early childhood preparation.
The timing of the federal report couldn’t be more appropriate as a backdrop to the budget debate heating up in Ohio’s Statehouse and school districts. The diagnoses closely echo nearly two decades of arguments in Ohio. For example, the study notes: “With few exceptions, states continue to finance public education through methods that have no demonstrable link to the cost of delivering rigorous academic standards. … Few states have rationally determined the cost of enabling all students to achieve established content and performance standards, including the cost of achieving those standards across diverse student populations and geographic locations.”
The DeRolph diagnosis writ on a national canvas? To a degree, there is some comfort that Ohio is not alone in this tank. It is no comfort, however, that as a whole the nation is yet to find answers to problems with long-term implications. The report frames one such potential impact this way: If over the next 20 years, U.S. public schools were to perform at the same level as Canada in PISA, the international math test for 15-year-olds, the improvement in our gross domestic product for the next 80 years would be “equivalent to an average 20 percent boost in income for every U.S. worker each year over his or her entire career.”
So how do we get from here to there? Besides increased federal funding (“there is no constitutional barrier to a greater federal role in financing K-12 education,” it says), the panel asks that states identify the teaching staff, programs and services needed to provide a meaningful educational opportunity to all students and to determine the actual costs of the resources based on efficient use. (Sounds like Ohio’s erstwhile experiment in building-blocks/evidence-based funding?)
The report cites as one element in a bid to improve teacher recruitmenta and professional status, market research indicating that the percentage of new teachers in the top third of the pool who would go to high-poverty schools would rise from 14 percent today to 68 percent if the range of annual teacher pay rose from roughly $37,000 to $70,000 today to $65,000 to $150,000.
“For Each and Every Child” casts a cold, unblinking eye on public education. Unfortunately, it is hard to see from whence the will will arise to turn the recommendations into reality because politically they certainly are not palatable.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.