Mr. Gates Goes to Washington
And so the Times editorialist continues to buy into the argument of corporate America. Someone please give him the web address of the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was on the mark when he described the American high school system as "obsolete," compared with education abroad, adding that the American system was undermining the work force of the future - and "ruining the lives of millions of Americans every year." The governors made the right response, announcing that they had formed a coalition that would adopt higher standards, more rigorous courses and tougher examinations. The burning question of the moment, however, is whether the governors who applauded Mr. Gates in Washington will revert to the bad old status quo once they get home.
The tendency among the states to embrace the lowest common denominator in education has been especially evident since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which required the states to place a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom and administer yearly tests in the early grades with the aim of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students.
Many states have taken the easy way out by embracing obfuscation and mediocrity at just about every juncture. Many have simply redefined the existing teacher corps as "highly qualified," regardless of whether the teachers have mastered the subjects they teach. Many have reported graduation and dropout rates that are clearly inaccurate to keep the public from knowing how poorly the schools are actually performing. A dismaying Carnegie Foundation report entitled "Reading Next" shows that the states have set the reading achievement bar very low so students can be moved from grade to grade - even though about 70 percent enter the first year of high school reading below grade level.
Given the facts, it should come as no surprise that American high school students are losing ground compared with their peers abroad, and now score near the bottom in the industrialized world. The problem, as Mr. Gates pointed out in his incendiary speech, is the American high school system itself, which was never designed for the purpose of providing high-quality education for all of its students. On the contrary, it was created to send an elite to college while keeping the other students off the streets until they were old enough for unskilled farm and factory jobs. Those jobs have largely disappeared. But the high schools remain, and changing them will require more than a few pledges made at a conference in Washington. The governors will have to speak some hard truths to the voters about the demands that will have to be made on students and teachers, as well as taxpayers. In other words, the high school reform can succeed only if the governors are willing to expend real political capital.
New York Times
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