Education Reform Essay, Research Paper
The Need for Federal Government Involvement in Education Reform
Political Science 2301
Federal and State Government
For centuries, generations of families have congregated in the same community or
in the same general region of the country. Children grew up expecting to earn a
living much like their fathers and mothers or other adults in their community.
Any advanced skills they required beyond the three R’s (Readin’, Ritin’ and
Rithmatik) were determined by the local community and incorporated into the
curriculum of the local schools. These advanced skills were taught to the up-
and-coming generation so they could become a vital part of their community. The
last several decades has greatly expanded the bounds of the “community” to
almost anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world for that matter.
Advances in transportation and communication has made the world a much smaller
place then the world we knew as children. The skills our children need to
realize parents’ perpetual dream of “their children having a better life” are no
longer limited to those seen in the local area. It is becoming more and more
apparent that the education system of yesterday cannot adequately prepare
students for life and work in the 21st Century. These concerns have prompted
people across the country to take a hard look at our education system and to
organize their efforts to chance the education system as we know it.
WHAT’S HAPPENING OUT THERE?
There are two major movements in recent years whose focus is to enhance the
education of future generations. The “Standards” movement focuses on
educational content and raising the standards of traditional teaching and
measurement means and methods. The “Outcome Based Education” (OBE) movement is
exploring new ways of designing education and changing the way we measure the
effectiveness of education by focusing on results or outcomes.
In September 1989, President Bush and the nation’s governors called an
Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. At this summit, President Bush
and the nation s governors, including then-governor Bill Clinton, agreed on six
broad goals for education to be reached by the year 2000. Two of those goals (3
and 4) related specifically to academic achievement:
* Goal 3: By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12
having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English,
mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will
ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared
for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our
* Goal 4: By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in science
and mathematics achievement.
Soon after the summit, two groups were established to implement the new
educational goals: the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) and the National
Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST). Together, these two groups
were charged with addressing unprecedented questions regarding American
education such as: What is the subject matter to be addressed? What types of
assessments should be used? What standards of performance should be set?
The summit and its aftermath engendered a flurry of activity from
national subject matter organizations to establish standards in their respective
areas. Many of these groups looked for guidance from the National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics who publishing the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards
for School Mathematics in 1989. The NCTM standards “redefined the study of math
so that topics and concepts would be introduced at an earlier age, and students
would view math as a relevant problem-solving discipline rather than as a set of
obscure formulas to be memorized.” The National Science Teachers Association
and the American Association for the Advancement of Science quickly launched
independent attempts to identify standards in science. Efforts soon followed in
the fields of civics, dance, theater, music, art, language arts, history, and
social studies, to name a few.
OUTCOME BASED EDUCATION MOVEMENT
The decade of the 80s brought numerous education reforms, but few of
them were a dramatic shift from what has gone on before. Outcome-based
education (OBE) is one of those that is new, even revolutionary, and is now
being promoted as the panacea for America’s educational woes. This reform has
been driven by educators in response to demands for greater accountability by
taxpayers and as a vehicle for breaking with traditional ideas about how we
teach our children. If implemented, this approach to curriculum development
could change our schools more than any other reform proposal in the last thirty
The focus of past and present curriculum has been on content, on the
knowledge to be acquired by each student. Our language, literature, history,
customs, traditions, and morals, often called Western civilization, dominated
the learning process through secondary school. If students learned the
information and performed well on tests and assignments, they received credit
for the course and moved on to the next class. The point here is that the
curriculum centered on the content to be learned; its purpose was to produce
academically competent students. The daily schedule in a school was organized
around the content. Each hour was devoted to a given topic; some students
responded well to the instruction, and some did not.
Outcome-based education will change the focus of schools from the
content to the student. Three facts drive this new approach to creating school
* Fact 1: All students can learn and succeed, but not on the same day or in the
* Fact 2: Each success by a student breeds more success.
* Fact 3: Schools control the conditions of success.
In other words, students are seen as totally malleable creatures. If we
create the right environment, any student can be prepared for any academic or
vocational career. The key is to custom fit the schools to each student’s
learning style and abilities.
The resulting schools will be vastly different from the ones recent
generations attended. Yearly and daily schedules will change, teaching
responsibilities will change, classroom activities will change, the evaluation
of student performance will change, and most importantly, our perception of what
it means to be an educated person will change.
Common Arguments in Favor of Outcome-Based Education
* Promotes high expectations and greater learning for all students.
* Prepares students for life and work in the 21st Century.
* Fosters more authentic forms of assessment (i.e., students write to show they
know how to use English well, or complete math problems to demonstrate their
ability to solve problems).
* Encourages decision making regarding curriculum, teaching methods, school
structure and management at each school or district level.
Common Arguments Against Outcome-Based Education
* Conflicts with admission requirements and practices of most colleges and
universities, which rely on credit hours and standardized test scores
* Some outcomes focus too much on feelings, values, attitudes and beliefs, and
not enough on the attainment of factual knowledge
* Relies on subjective evaluation, rather than objective tests and measurements.
* Undermines local control.
Both the “Standards” movement and “OBE” movement have particular
strengths and weaknesses. Their means and methods are different however, their
objective is the same — To improve the education of future generations. We
all remember the profound statements our parents repeated to us as we grew up.
One of my favorites was, “You can’t get anywhere if you’re not moving”. Years
can be spent arguing if “OBE” is better then “Standards” and vice versa. They
both are heading toward the same destination so let’s get moving and we’ll argue
on the way.
It is time for the Federal Government to take the lead and start the
nation down the road. One of the fundamental principles of our nation should be
the paramount concern of this Government body. EQUALITY! In this case equality
is achieved through standards.
STANDARDS IN EDUCATION
General standards in education have existed formally for over a century
but as time went on, local school systems have expanded their curriculum to meet
the needs of the local community. National standards must be established to
alleviate variances from community to community and state to state in order for
all citizens to have an equal chance in the global society.
THE NEED FOR CURRICULUM STANDARDS
From the 1940s until the mid-1970s, the emphasis on serving the
interests of individual children generated a expansion of the number of courses
that constituted the high school curriculum. By the mid 1970s, the U.S. Office
of Education reported that more than 2,100 different courses were being offered
in American high schools. The content covered and the manner in which time is
spent was at one time fairly uniform in American education, today there is
little consistency in how much time students spend on a given subject or the
knowledge and skills covered within that subject area.
THE NEED FOR EVALUATION STANDARDS
Perhaps the most compelling argument for organizing educational reform
around standards is the shift in emphasis from what schools put into the process
of schooling to what we get out of schools that is, a shift from educational
“inputs” to educational “outputs”. Chester Finn describes this shift in
perspective in terms of an emerging paradigm for education.
Under the old conception education was thought of as process and system,
effort and intention, investment and hope. To improve education meant to try
harder, to engage in more activity, to magnify one’s plans, to give people more
services, and to become more efficient in delivering them.
Under the new definition, now struggling to be born, education is the
result achieved, the learning that takes root when the process has been
effective. Only if the process succeeds and learning occurs will we say that
education happened. The U.S. Office of Education was commissioned by Congress
to conduct a major study of the quality of educational opportunity. The result
was the celebrated “Coleman Report” (after chief author and researcher, James
Coleman), which was released in 1966. The report concluded that input variables
might not actually have all that much to do with educational equality when
equality was conceived of in terms of what students actually learned as opposed
to the time, money, and energy that were expended.
In summary, the new, more efficient and accountable view of education is
output-based. Outputs defined in terms of specific student learnings, in terms
of specific standards.
THE NEED FOR GRADING STANDARDS
Most assume that grades are precise indicators of what students know and
can do with a subject area. In addition, most people assume that current
grading practices are the result of a careful study of the most effective ways
of reporting achievement and progress. In fact, current grading practices
developed in a fairly serendipitous way. Mark Durm provides a detailed
description of the history of grading practices in America, beginning in the
1780s when Yale University first started using a four-point scale. By 1897,
Mount Holyoke College began using the letter grade system that is so widely used
in education today.
For the most part, this 100-year-old system is still in place today.
Unfortunately, even though the system has been in place for a century, there is
still not much agreement as to the exact meaning of letter grades. This was
rather dramatically illustrated in a nationwide study by Robinson & Craver
(1988) that involved over 800 school districts randomly drawn from the 11,305
school districts with 300 or more students. One of their major conclusions was
that districts stress different elements in their grades.
While all districts include academic achievement, they also include
other significant elements such as effort, behavior, and attendance. There is
great discrepancy in the factors teachers consider when they construct grades.
We have a situation in which grades given by one teacher might mean something
entirely different from grades given by another teacher even though the teachers
are presiding over two identical classes with identical students who do
identical work. Where one teacher might count effort and cooperation as 25% of
a grade, another teacher might not count these variables at all.
Nearly all countries we want to emulate rely on policies and structures
that are fundamentally standards based in nature. For example, in their study
of standards-setting efforts in other countries, Resnick and Nolan (1995) note
that Many countries whose schools have achieved academic excellence have a
national curriculum. “Many educators maintain that a single curriculum
naturally leads to high performance, but the fact that the United States values
local control of schools precludes such a national curriculum.”
Although they caution that a well articulated national curriculum is not
a guarantee of high academic achievement, Resnick and Nolan offer some powerful
illustrations of the effectiveness of identifying academic standards and
aligning curriculum and assessments with those standards. France is a
particularly salient example:
* In texts and exams, the influence of the national curriculum is obvious. For
example, a French math text for 16-year-olds begins by spelling out the national
* the year so that all 16-year-olds know what they are expected to study. The
book’s similar table of contents shows that the text developers referred to the
* Moreover, the text makes frequent references to math exams the regional school
districts have given in the past. Students practice on these exams to help them
prepare for the exam they will face; they know where to concentrate to meet the
standard. (p. 9)
In a similar vein, a report published by NESIC, the National Education
Standards and Improvement Council (1993), details the highly centralized manner
in which standards are established in other countries. For example, in China,
standards are set for the entire country and for all levels of the school system
by the State Education Commission in Beijing. In England, standard setting was
considered the responsibility of local schools until 1988, when the Education
Reform Act mandated and outlined the process for establishing a national
curriculum. The School Examinations and Assessment Council was established to
carry out this process. In Japan, the ministry of education in Tokyo
(Manibushi) sets the standards for schools, but allows each of the 47
prefectures (Ken) some latitude in adapting those standards.
According to the NESIC report, “Most countries embody their content
standards in curriculum guides issued by the ministries of education or their
equivalents.” (pc-51) Additionally, “A national examination system provides a
further mechanism for setting standards through specifications of examinations,
syllabuses and regulations, preparations of tests, grading of answers, and
establishment of cutoff points.” (pc-51)
If our children are to survive and excel in the emerging global society,
we must give them the tools they need to compete. Whether future generations
receive these tools via the “Standards” movement or the “OBE” movement is
irrelevant. It is how well our children can compete with other countries of the
world that will insure the United States remains a world leader, a nation united
and strong. If this is not a role for the Federal Government, I don’t know what
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