The US needs to raise its educational sightsBy Stacey Childress 2009-05-04
Unlike most other developed countries, the US does not have national academic standards outlining what each student must learn to graduate from high school. In fact, it is the opposite, with each of the 50 states setting the bar wherever it wants – and, in many states, that is too low.
When standards in one state are lower than those in another, longstanding inequities are perpetuated every September as new groups of kindergarteners take their first steps into school. With US 15-year-
olds ranked 25th among 30 industrialised nations on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's international mathematics exam and 24th in science, the time has come to put aside ideology in favour of the next generation's ability to compete globally.Unfortunately, President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind act is a big part of the problem. Although it has played a vital role in increasing accountability for student learning, the bill has had unintended consequences. When it was signed into law in 2001, a number of states already had standards for local school districts, but many did not.
To get the bill passed, its sponsors allowed states to come up with their own standards and to develop tests to assess student mastery of those standards. But since NCLB threatened draconian intervention and loss of funding if targets were not met, states had incentives to forgo more rigorous standards in favour of ones districts were more likely to meet. Thus our current dilemma.
What is the country to do? President Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, his secretary of education, are talking to state governors about creating a set of voluntary national standards. We believe that to ensure the global competitiveness of the US workforce, any set of standards must focus on rigorous content knowledge in reading, maths and science, as well as on students' abilities to apply that knowledge to critical thinking and problem solving. One viable option is to adapt the OECD international benchmarks for 15-year-olds to US needs and retrofit them for younger children.
For voluntary standards to take hold, states must have meaningful reasons to embrace them. One way is to make adopting them a prerequisite for accessing investment capital from Mr Duncan's $5bn discretionary fund – part of the $100bn in education spending included in the president's economic stimulus package. The federal Department of Education could also pay for the development and scoring of common assessments, thereby freeing the significant amount of money tied up in the overheads needed to maintain 50 different standards and testing regimes. These state resources could then be redirected toward innovations to help students meet the rigorous new standards, leading to a cycle of improvement.
Mr Obama has set a goal for the US to have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. Having slipped from first to 16th since 1995, we are a long way from that. Agreeing to stiff national standards for college readiness is one important step towards the goal.
Eight years ago, no one thought building agreement for national standards was possible, which is why they were not a part of the NCLB compromise. Is it possible now? Only if a broad coalition of stakeholders demands them.
Pressure from many quarters could evolve into a movement for change that could force the US's political leaders to break away from the old arguments that historically have distracted us from keeping our national promise of public education as the “great equaliser” of access to unlimited opportunities. The creation and adoption of voluntary national standards will raise the educational sights of our next generation and guarantee America's economic competitiveness for the long term. Stacey Childress and David Thomas are on the faculty of Harvard Business School.
This article is adapted from their book with Denis Doyle, ‘Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Montgomery County Public Schools', to be published in July by the Harvard Education Press
美国需要提高大学视野作者：哈佛商学院教师斯特西•奇尔德雷斯(By Stacey Childress)为英国《金融时报》撰稿 2009-05-04
如果一个州的标准低于另一个州，那么每年9月新一批幼儿园的孩子跨入学校大门时即将面临的长期不公平待遇就会永远存在。在经合组织(OECD)的数 学和自然科学国际考试中，美国15岁青少年的得分在30个工业化国家中分别位列第25位和第24位。现在我们是时候抛开意识形态，为让下一代具备在全球竞 争的能力而努力了。
不幸的是，美国前总统乔治•布什(George W. Bush)的《不让一个孩子掉队》法案(No Child Left Behind)是造成问题的一个重大因素。尽管该法案在加强学生学习的责任制度方面发挥了重要作用，但却产生了意想不到的后果。2001年该法案得以签署 形成法律时，许多州已为当地学区设定了标准，但许多州还没有。
这个国家该做些什么呢？美国总统巴拉克•奥巴马(Barack Obama)和教育部长阿恩•邓肯(Arne Duncan)正与各州州长就建立一套非强制性国家标准进行讨论。我们相信，要确保美国劳动力在全球的竞争力，任何标准都必须着重关注阅读、数学和自然科 学的严格学科知识，以及学生应用知识进行批判性思维和解决问题的能力。一个可行的选择方案是，改编经合组织适用于15岁青少年的国际标准以适应美国的需 要，并再对其进行改动，以适应年龄更小的儿童。
非强制性标准要为大家所接受，各州必须有采纳它们的充分理由。一种方法是将采用这些标准作为得到来自邓肯50亿美元自由支配资金投资的先决条件。这 是1000亿美元教育支出计划的一部分，被纳入了美国总统的经济刺激方案。美国联邦教育部(Department of Education)也可以为制定共同评估体系和评分工作出资，这样就可以解放维持50个不同标准和考试制度所需的管理费用所占用的大笔资金。接下来，这 些州立资源可以转而用于帮助学生达到这些严格新标准的创新活动，进而带来一个改善周期。
斯特西•奇尔德雷斯(Stacey Childress)和大卫•托马斯(David Thomas)是哈佛商学院(Harvard Business School)教师。本文摘自二人与丹尼斯•道尔(Denis Doyle)合著的Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Montgomery County Public Schools一书。本书将于今年7月由哈佛教育出版社(Harvard Education Press)出版。