The U.S. ranks at the top for elementary attainment but at the bottom for secondary (high school) attainment.
My local paper recently published an opinion piece criticizing virtually all recent education reform efforts, including those by the Presidents Bush and Obama and Govs. Daniels and Pence administrations. The piece was naively rich with irony and demands the resistance of facts.
The writer touted her credentials as a 37-year veteran of teaching, a meritorious achievement to be sure. She argues for an end to reforms (which is, of course, yet another reform). What she wishes, it appears, is for the teaching profession to be in charge of schooling and for elected officials to steer clear of the matter. One irony of this is that she now teaches in Blackford County, a place of historically dismal educational conditions mirroring large swaths of Mississippi.
The current educational attainment in the county is a half-century behind the U.S. as a whole, and so it is actually good news that the county's standard of living has advanced to that of the average American in 1984. The lengthy population decline means that residents have been voting with their feet against the status quo for five decades. Worse still, until the recent Indiana reforms, Blackford County Schools persistently ranked as low-achieving, low-growth schools, a difficult distinction to maintain. But there is good news laced with irony; after the reforms, the system moved into the high-achieving, high-growth status. Few places in Indiana have benefited more from the Daniels/(former State Superintendent Tony) Bennett reforms than Blackford County. That a teacher in that district would now seek to end these reforms tells us much about her priorities and judgment.
The second great irony is the target of the criticisms. When we see the Daniels, Obama, Bush and Pence administrations agree on the need for educational reforms we must take notice. The simple fact is that among developed nations, the U.S. ranks at the top in educational attainment for elementary-aged kids. We then slip to last place by the time these kids get to high school. This tells us that at least one part of the problem lies in schools (and teacher education). It also rightfully scares anyone with an inkling of the economic disaster this foretells for the nation. What distinguishes the republican and democratic positions on school reforms is not the clear recognition of a problem or the availability of well-evaluated policy options. What separates the two parties on educational reform is simply that the courage to act lies largely with the GOP.
Indiana remains on the leading edge of school reforms. These changes have clearly been difficult to implement, but the plain fact is that when it comes to educational achievement metrics, our state ranks from dismal to undistinguished. We desperately needed school reform, and should hope that the General Assembly, governor and superintendent of public instruction work to strengthen and improve it in the years to come. What we cannot possibly accept is a return to the mediocrity of the past, no matter how much it unsettles those with tenure.