ONE of the most prominent issues in the U.S. today is school reform. Educators, politicians, and the general public 'all identify file need to improve the educational system. A bipartisan opinion poll conducted in 2002 by the Educational Testing Service found that reforming education is a high priority for Americans, with only family values and fighting terrorism ranking higher. A primary source of concern stems from well-publicized international test score comparisons demonstrating that U.S. students lag behind pupils from a number of other developed countries. Many Americans also are distressed about the condition of inner city schools, which they feel are substandard compared to those in the suburbs. Researchers argue that teachers are not as qualified and students are not as prepared to learn due to the difficult circumstances of inner-city life. Moreover, there is insufficient funding for school buildings, books, and equipment. The level of poverty present in many rural school districts magnifies the scope of these problems. Large and small employers alike have complained that students often graduate from high school without the requisite skills necessary in reading, mathematics, and analytical ability to perform even the most basic jobs.
It certainly would be legitimate for taxpayers who foot the bill for the 90% of students who attend public schools to ask why, "after three decades of reform, there is no measurable progress. The latest in public school reform is 2001's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). One of its most important features is accountability. That is, children in various grades will be tested on a regular basis. Many states have mandated that students pass an exit exam before receiving a high school diploma.
Institutions that consistently fail to comply to the NCLBA's standards face sanctions. If a "falling" school does not show improvement in consecutive years, it will be eligible for additional Federal funds. After four straight failing years, the district will be forced to take action. Replacing staff, offering tutoring services, and allowing students to transfer to a different school are all options. A school may be taken over by the state, put under private management, converted to a charter school, or restructured in some other radical way if it fails to meet the proper standards five years in a row.
Groups within schools also are held to various performance criteria, including the socioeconomically disadvantaged, those with learning disabilities, and youngsters not proficient in English. The goal is to make students academically sound--as defined by individual slate standards by 2014.
When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, Congress rejected proposals for the widespread use of vouchers as a means for kids to opt out of failing public schools. However, the national debate continues concerning vouchers, charter and magnet institutions, and homeschooling. Vouchers basically are a funding mechanism to allow poor families to pay tuition for private schools. The Supreme Court has ruled them constitutional. Yet, a number of opponents have expressed concerns that vouchers violate the principle of the separation of church and state since many students who receive them leave public schools for private religious ones. At present, however, approximately 80% of vouchers are funded by philanthropic organizations and corporations.
Charter schools, on the other hand, are privately managed, publicly funded institutions that generally have more latitude than public schools in designing curriculum, hiring teachers, etc. A charter school typically is granted between three and five years to show results. According to the Center for Education Re form, 194 (or 6.7%) of the 2,874 charterschools have closed since the movement's inception a decade ago. The New York Times reports that about 76% of teachers in charter schools are fully credentialed, compared to 88% in traditional schools. …