THE LAST TWO decades of U.S. education policy can be likened to a rocking chair. Although it moves and swings, it does so only on one spot. The education system has become outdated and overmatched, unable to meet the needs of today's society and tomorrow's challenges. Like a rocking chair, it has remained in one spot for too long.
The U.S. employs a "try this, try that" approach with no coherent national policy. Ten years after the landmark report, "A Nation at Risk," which warned America of the problems facing its schools, the nation has yet to reach a consensus on the direction of education reform in the 1990s and beyond.
There have been many local and state reform movements aimed at re-inventing American schools from top to bottom. The Edison Project, the goal of which is to educate kids from birth to 18 years of age, and the Outward Bound plan that calls for a curriculum built on a series of student expeditions should be applauded for their innovativeness. They represent local attempts at solving what amounts to a national dilemma. What is needed is a national education strategy that would be adopted by all the 84,500 public schools in the U.S.
The U.S. education system has remained stagnant in a world where change is the order of the day. At one time, it was the model for the world. Today, all that is left are remnants of a system that clearly has relented on its efforts and become complacent. The education system has become a bureaucratic haven with lost priorities. In the public schools, some janitors wield much more power and make double the salaries of teachers. For many teachers in the public schools, teaching offers something they can not buy--poverty. Red tape and bureaucratic bottlenecks clog up the education system, and the end result is a lack of emphasis in those areas that matter and a complete loss of priority.
Texas is one of the notorious national leaders in public school mismanagement. A report by that state's auditor's office identified 640,000,000 worth of unnecessary expenditures and inefficiencies. There was a case of one county that had 12 school systems with 12 school boards and 12 superintendents while enrolling just 5,000 students. In addition to cited examples of duplication of staff, the audit showed that more than 75 of the state's largest public school systems have no internal auditors on their payroll. There is no mechanism in place to review spending and check inefficiency and corruption.
A study by researchers Bruce Cooper and Robert Sarrel confirm the serious distortion in spending and lack of accountability in the nation's public schools. Their report showed that a mere 60% of public school funding is spent on instruction. For many years, there have been attempts at the national level to bring attention to the need for education reform.
Former Pres. George Bush often referred to himself as the "Education President." In September, 1989, he and the nation's governors met in Charlottesville, Va. Also in attendance was Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. Bush was criticized for organizing nothing more than a show-and-tell media event with rousing speeches, a lot of mandate, and somebody else's idea for change. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration must be commended for taking the initiative to bring education reform to the forefront of national policy. This was the first time in recent U.S. history that a commitment was made by the Federal government to restructure American schools.
Due to pressing foreign policy and economic issues that dominated the later years of the Bush presidency, education once again was relegated to the back burner of national priority. By the time Bush left office, the Federal government had allotted less than two percent of its annual budget to education.
For many years, outspoken proponents of education reform such as industrialist Lee Iacocca and American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker have called for setting a national goal-oriented agenda that would deal with improving the performance of American students, creating incentives for good teaching, re-evaluating current curriculum, and improving technology for learning. …