Why We're Still 'At Risk' The Legacy of Five Faulty Assumptions By Ronald A. Wolk (the founder and former editor of Education Week).
Our new president has looked into the abyss of our current economic, energy, environmental, and health-care policies and promises to challenge the fundamental assumptions on which they are based. He admonishes us to join him in thinking and acting boldly. We can only hope he feels the same way about education policy. After nearly 25 years of intensive effort, we have failed to fix our ailing public schools and stem the "rising tide of mediocrity" chronicled in 1983 in A Nation at Risk. This is mainly because the report misdiagnosed the problem, and because the major assumptions on which current education policy-and most reform efforts-have been based are either wrong or unrealistic. Most of the people running our public education systems and leading the reform movement are knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced. But they are so committed to a strategy of standards-based accountability that different ideas are marginalized or stifled completely. One could write a book about each of the five major assumptions on which education policy rests, but in this limited space, a few brief paragraphs will have to suffice.Assumption One: The best way to improve student performance and close achievement gaps is to establish rigorous content standards and a core curriculum for all schools-preferably on a national basis.Assumption Two: Standardized-test scores are an accurate measure of student learning and should be used to determine promotion and graduation.Assumption Three: We need to put highly qualified teachers in every classroom to assure educational excellence.Assumption Four: The United States should require all students to take algebra in the 8th grade and higher-order math in high school in order to increase the number of scientists and engineers in this country and thus make us more competitive in the global economy.Assumption Five: The student-dropout rate can be reduced by ending social promotion, funding dropout-prevention programs, and raising the mandatory attendance age.