Wanted: Groundswell of State and Local Commitment
Over the past 51 years, we've had seven major Federal initiatives to deal with education in the United States, under both Democrat and Republican presidents:
- President Eisenhower's National Defense Education Act, signed into law September 2, 1958.
- President Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Bill, signed April 11, 1965.\
- President Carter's Department of Education Organization Act, raising education to the president's cabinet level, signed October 17, 1979.
- The National Commission on Excellence in Education's landmark Nation at Risk report, highlighting the crisis in U.S. education, issued in 1983 while President Reagan was in office.
- President Clinton's Goals 2000: Educate America Act, signed March 31, 1994.
- President G.W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, signed in 2001.
- President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan's $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants to support education reform and innovation in classrooms, launched July 24, 2009. Between the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, more than $10 billion in grant money will be available to states and districts that are driving reform.
However, the fact that President Obama felt obliged to launch a $10 billion education initiative indicates that our educational system is still not where it should be after 51 years of effort and multiple billions in federal dollars.
One clear disconnect has occurred between the Federal education initiatives and their implementation at the state and local levels. Every presidential initiative over the past 51 years has called for all segments of the population to pay attention to and implement the education reforms. This has not happened -- even after that seminal 1983 Nation at Risk report. It spoke to the national interest in the education crisis and the local responsibility for resolving it. The commissioners said,
- "It is their [students'] America, and the America of all of us, that is at risk; it is to each of us that this imperative is addressed. It is by our willingness to take up the challenge, and our resolve to see it through, that America's place in the world will be either secured or forfeited."
- "Our final word, perhaps better characterized as a plea, is that all segments of our population give attention t o the implementation of our recommendations . Our present plight did not appea r o vernight, and responsibility for our current situation is widespread. Reform of our education system ... will re quire equally widespread, energetic, and dedicated action."
- "Help should come from students themselves: from parents, teachers, and schoo l boards; from colleges and universities; from local, state, and federal officials; from teachers' and administrators' organizations; from industrial and labor councils; and from other groups with interest in and the responsibility for educational reform. "
The plea of the National Commission was not heard. U.S.education is entering a 52nd year of a severe crisis. To me, this says that without a national groundswell of solid commitment by the states and, particularly, local schools and communities to solid education reform, the U.S. will "forfeit" its place of leadership in the world.