- Thirty-five years after the release of the "A Nation at Risk" report, we are still a nation at risk, concluded a experts at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education held in Washington, DC. And much of that risk, concluded the bipartisan group, is due to an inability to move forward with real reforms because of petty partisan politics and a fear of deviating from the status quo to effect meaningful change.
- While nearly everyone attending the summit agreed that the release of the NAEP report last week only underscored the fact that there is much work to be done — particularly with closing racial and income-based achievement gaps — there was not consensus on what role the federal government plays in pushing schools forward.
- Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, reiterated her belief that "the federal government has a very limited role," citing a lack of mention in the U.S. Constitution. But many of the former U.S. secretaries of education, from George W. Bush-era George W. Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings to Barack Obama appointees Arne Duncan and John King, believe the federal government's role is to hold states accountable, particularly around issues of equity.
Paige pointed to a summit convened by President George H.W. Bush, which brought all 50 governors to the table to talk about education, share best practices and iron out some accountability systems to ensure progress. To Paige, President Donald Trump should be convening these types of meetings to help states lead on the issue.
"States have to take seriously their responsibility to all students," King said. "They can’t give a school a pass just because the performance overall is better than average, meanwhile in that same school, African-American students are struggling or students with disabilities are struggling."
But Duncan said it all comes down to a focus on outcomes, which he said both parties have gotten away from. Louisiana State Superintendent John White agreed, saying "I think the issue of how we solve achievement gaps and how we move the needle on any type of measure has to start with do we know what we want from public schools." High standards and school choice are moot points without first having a discussion about high-quality curriculum and teachers who are prepared to teach the curriculum, White said.
"The right is all about local control," Duncan said, and "the left is often about 'just give us more resources,' " but conversations about results and actual goals are missing.
During the plenary session, former U.S. Secretary of State and current Stanford political science professor Condoleezza Rice had some thoughts on what those goals should be. Education, she said, should be looked at as "a continuum — we can't have third graders who can't read, we can't have anymore 18 or 19 year olds who go to college and come out without any skills, and [there] can't be any more 35 year olds who can't be retrained by any of our 37 federal retooling programs, none of which seem to work very well."
"No country can do more harm to America than we can do to ourselves by not educating our children," Rice said.