The Need For Federal Government Involvement In

Education Reform Essay, Research Paper The Need for Federal Government Involvement in Education Reform by Political Science 2301 Federal and State Government

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.


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

modern economy.

* 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.


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

same way.

* 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.


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.


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.


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.


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

curriculum for

* 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