Report Repeats Failed Fixes – The Denver Daily News

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education released the Nation at Risk Report. The primary claim of the report was that our schools were failing.

The commission called for sweeping reform throughout our nation’s public schools.

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education released the Nation at Risk Report. The primary claim of the report was that our schools were failing.

The commission called for sweeping reform throughout our nation’s public schools.

Following the recommendations of the report, Democrat and Republican leaders assembled committees to replace curriculum guidelines with state standards, adopted annual standardized tests to measure students’ responses, and began evaluating school quality based on those answers.

New report

As we kick off 2007, another report was released calling again for wide-scale reform of our nation’s schools. “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” by the National Center on Education and the Economy, makes the same claim, 24 years later: “Our schools are failing to prepare our children for a global marketplace.”

Following in the steps of the “Nation At Risk Report,” the “New Commission” ironically recommends the same solutions — adopting national standards, higher-stakes testing, and yet another accountability system (five is apparently not enough). Same song, same tune, despite obvious failures from these earlier reforms.

Decade of decline

Decades of standardization, high-stakes testing, and costly accountability systems have given us ample time to study the outcomes of such reforms. The results are clear: Lower graduation rates, further drops in international rankings, fewer minorities enrolling in college, more of our tax dollars spent on sustaining a weighty bureaucracy, a smaller percentage of our dollars spent on our children, and a return to segregation. How many times must we trip over the same curb?

Give teachers a raise

The report suggests raising teachers’ salaries — a good idea, considering Colorado teachers are at the bottom of the pay scale in national rankings. We pay people more to transport our goods than to teach our children.

In the Kit Carson rural school district, a 30-year teacher is capped out at $40,000 a year. Unfortunately, “Tough Choices” authors suggest reducing teachers’ pensions in order to fund incre
ased salaries — essentially robbing Peter to pay Peter.

Eliminate school boards?

It may also be no surprise to some that the commission calls for the elimination of local school boards — many argue the most effective means for ensuring that our schools reflect our communities’ values. The alternative proposition is that “schools be operated by independent contractors, many of them limited-liability corporations.” Billions of dollars are invested in educating our future — yep, there’s gold in them there hills.

Exit exams

Another contentious recommendation is the “exit exam” given to children at the end of 10th grade. The outcome of that single test would lead to either a college track or vocational track — a dangerous proposition further limiting opportunities. While the financial benefit of expediting our educational system is apparent, will our children once again have to pay the price? Isn’t childhood already short enough?

Feeding, screening …

“Tough Choices or Tough Times” does offer some ideas that are less controversial: Pre-school, nutritious meals, diagnostic screenings for hearing and glasses, mentoring, family services and college assistance.

These aren’t new concepts, however. Over the years we’ve slashed funding to Head Start, the free lunch programs, school counseling, and student grants and loans.

Right priorities

Our problem in education isn’t just about the right ideas — it’s about the right priorities.

Let’s continue the conversations to improve our schools, but let’s get clear about the problem once and for all. The number of children falling into poverty is steadily increasing in this country.

America’s achievement gap is an illustration of the inequities perpetuated in our educational system. When it comes to school funding, our most underserved children continue to receive fewer resources and fewer opportunities than their privileged counterparts. Education yields the biggest returns and yet only six other states have made education less of a priority.

The “Tough Choices Report” calls for a new statewide funding model that ensures school funding is equitable. Here’s where they get it right, although it’s still not a new idea. Perhaps if we had fulfilled the full promise of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act instead of implementing a system of uniformity (standards) and a single measure of quality (standardized tests), we’d actually have an educational system where no child was left behind, rather than merely having a nifty title for it.

Angela Engel is a mother, teacher, writer and policy advisor. She provides parents and teachers with the tools to ensure a meaningful, challenging, and personalized education for all children. To attend a presentation or reach her, go to or

She is an advisor to, the state’s largest online progressive organization.

Originally published in The Denver Daily News on February 6, 2007.