Earlier this month, John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education and board chair of Chiefs for Change, wrote a piece for the Washington Post that explored the progress made in America’s public schools over the past decade. Excerpts appear below:
On the extremes of the right and the left, there is a growing desire to discredit a generation of progress in American public schools. But it’s inaccurate to claim that there’s been little progress since the Reagan administration’s seminal report “A Nation at Risk.”
The most widely trusted yardstick of American students’ learning is the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Over the past quarter-century, the share of American fourth-graders fully proficient in math on the NAEP increased by 27 percentage points. The share of proficient fourth-grade readers increased by seven percentage points. Over that time, proficiency among African American fourth-graders increased by 18 percentage points in math and 10 percentage points in reading, and Latino fourth-graders’ proficiency gained 21 points in math and nine points in reading. In that same time, the national high school graduation rate (an imperfect but useful measure) climbed 10 points to 84 percent. And the percentage of young adult high school graduates who were enrolled in or had completed some college climbed a dozen points.
Leadership from Washington and statehouses across the country has mattered, however the remarkable story of school change in the United States is precisely that it has comprised a true public-private partnership, conjoining the broad authority of government — federal, state and local — with the zeal and creativity of community leaders, philanthropists, activists, educators and parents. The result has been more engaging and challenging curriculums, expectations for higher academic outcomes in all communities, and a greater array of school choices than ever before.
Which brings us to the value of school reform in the United States and where we go from here. The curriculums and tests at work in America’s classrooms need improvement. The way we evaluate schools can account for a fuller picture of all that they do for children. And parents need a greater voice in shaping the educational experience of their children. With the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act in place, the opportunity to do these things has never been greater.
After a generation of improvements in students’ learning and achievement, walking away from the principles underlying that progress would be a foolish disservice to our children, our communities and our economy. Instead, let’s take pride in what’s been accomplished, recognize the current system’s flaws and get to work on fixing them.