Throughout my career in education, it seems that we have been reforming the K12 curriculum each year. It also seems that movements to make the curriculum more liberal or more conservative are soon replaced by movements in the opposite direction. For example, the launch of Sputnik back in 1957 unlocked significant amounts of federal money to initiate the "lab-centered era" in science, which of course was supplanted by a return to hardbound texts. Similarly, revolutionary "new math" got taken to the curb in less time than it took to launch it. And we're still playing catch-up with the rest of the world in standardized test results, even though our students run circles around students in other countries in creativity and innovation. Education is a profession that never arrives, and progress is in the eye of the beholder.
New Reports and New Reforms
Reports issued in February by the U.S. Department of Education now indicate that high school students are taking tougher classes, receiving honor grades, but learning less than their counterparts did a decade and a half ago. Those conclusions are based on standardized reading and math tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to 21,000 high school seniors at 900 public and private schools, and an analysis of 26,000 transcripts of high school graduates from 720 schools. A comparison of those studies with data from fifteen years earlier found that grade point averages rose from 2.68 in 1990 to 2.98-just under a B average-yet the 12th-grade reading scores dropped steadily. And while the Department of Education launched a new math test in 2005, fewer than 25 percent of the seniors scored in the "proficient" range. Daria Hall, assistant director of the Washington-based Education Trust, concludes that schools are offering "high-level courses that have the right names but a dumbed-down curriculum."
These studies raise sobering questions about the past twenty years of education reform and whether or not movements to raise school standards have had any lasting effect. They also fuel renewed calls for reform as the federal No Child Left Behind act approaches reauthorization, the College Board launches its first-ever audit to ensure the quality of Advanced Placement courses, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issues new guidelines to change the math curriculum. Many administrators will embrace such measures while others will resist them, and we want to be your source for accurate and timely information so you can make the best decisions. In this issue we offer updates on NCLB and an in-depth look at the AP audit, and next month we will address the new NCTM focal points in detail.
300 Words Can Earn You $30,000
We're not kidding! This month we are pleased to announce the launch of the competitive "X-Factor Student Achievement Awards," so you can put your plan to improve student performance in your district to the test. We're looking for highly creative ideas across all disciplines that are practical, easy to implement, measurable and transferable to other districts. Tell us your X-Factor idea in three hundred words, and you'll be eligible for the $30,000 cash grand prize to be awarded in January 2008. For more information see the announcement on page 19 and visit the Web page (www.DistrictAdministration.com/xfactor).
Mark your calendar for EduComm 07, June 19-21 in Anaheim, Calif. (www.educommconference.com)!
Odvard Egil Dyrli