Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Education Reform through Standards and Partnerships, 1993-2000

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Education Reform through Standards and Partnerships, 1993-2000

Article excerpt

As we look to the future, it is imperative that we recognize that our national effort to raise standards is not just about testing, Mr. Riley notes. Rather, it represents a broad and sweeping endeavor to reform American education from top to bottom. An unflinching commitment to excellence and equity must be our guiding principle.

WHEN President Clinton took office in 1993, it was clear that American education needed to be strengthened at every level. Ten years had passed since the release of A Nation at Risk, which alerted many people to the woefully inadequate state of American education. Yet, because of a lack of rigor, standards, and funding at the local, state, and national levels, the crisis had continued. High-poverty schools were beset by the tyranny of low expectations, and there was little in the way of a national consensus on what to do about it.

The idea of higher standards for all children was emerging, but only in fits and starts. Just a handful of states and communities were consistently engaged in pursuing high standards, and the progress was slow. Many people doubted or simply did not believe in the fundamental principle underlying the standards movement: that we should have high expectations for all children -- including poor children, children with disabilities, and the many new immigrant children flooding into our nation's classrooms.

Thus in 1993 American education was struggling to redefine itself, as well as to respond to the many new demands being placed on it. In many respects, we were unprepared. Yet, over the next eight years, a remarkable transformation took place.

Improving education moved to the top of the nation's domestic agenda, and a national consensus formed around the need to raise standards for all children, increase accountability, close the achievement gap, and reach clear national education goals. And instead of being eliminated, as sought by some in leadership positions, the U.S. Department of Education once again became the recipient of bipartisan congressional support that resulted in new and increased funding.

Credit for this remarkable turnaround must go largely to the American people -- the parents, teachers, school boards, principals, superintendents, and others who dug in their heels and demanded a new level of excellence for their children. And no one was more gifted than President Clinton in rallying the American people around this call to make education a new national priority.

The Clinton/Gore Agenda

To challenge the status quo, our Administration focused the federal government on supporting state reforms. We sought to align federal programs with state reforms so that decisions would be made closer to the classroom and the system would be less chaotic. Our proposals were based on three connected and defining principles: high standards for all children, new accountability measures linked to high standards, and new investments to improve the quality of education for all children.

The task was not easy. It took a lot of hard work to pass the Goals 2000 Act in 1994. I remember my staff and me working in my office until midnight to track down senators before the final vote. Three senators who had already returned to their home states actually flew back to Washington to make sure we had enough votes to win passage.

We made more progress in the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which, among other things, ended the practice of giving poor children a watered-down curriculum and framed the issue of accountability.

Unfortunately, this progress soon gave way in 1995 and 1996 to a bitter battle over the very existence of the U.S. Department of Education. The intensity of this fight should not be forgotten. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his followers held true to their belief that the best U. …

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