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In the mid-1980s, the condition of schools in the United States became a major issue. Some educators reacted angrily or defensively to the sudden scrutiny of the institution for which they were responsible. They treated this new concern for the schools as attacks on them. Others realized that this should be the time to initiate some long-overdue reforms in the way schools function. They also thought this could be the chance to build public support for better education. According to the Education Standards, Issues and Controversies on File from June 27, 1997 Most educators agree that measuring and improving students academic performance is difficult, if not impossible with out setting some kind of academic standards.
In setting these standards for each grade level, it tells teachers what students are expected to learn. The June 27, 1997 Issues and Controversies on File also stated that Most educators also believe that for students to be effective, students knowledge must be regularly tested.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s educators shifted their focus from meeting the needs of the whole child to excellence.
Programs were developed to identify talented youth at an early age to speed up their way through rigorous courses in high school and college. At the level of the individual learner, excellence means performing on the boundary of individual ability in ways that test and push back personal limits, in school and at work. Excellence also characterizes a school or college that sets high expectations and goals for all learners, then tries in every way possible to help students reach them.
American schools and colleges must be committed to achieving excellence in both of these senses.
A Nation at Risk was released in April 1983. It was a report put out by the Education Department to define the problems afflicting American education and to provide solutions. A Nation at Risk showed the statistics of Americans risks in education. Some of these were:
It is important to recognize that the average citizen today is better educated and more knowledgeable than the average citizen of a generation ago is. Today we are more literate, and exposed to more mathematics, literature, and science. The positive impact on this fact on the well being of our country and the lives of our people cannot be overstated. Never the less, the average graduate of our schools and colleges today is not as well educated as the average graduate of 25 or 35 years ago, when a much smaller proportion of our population completed high school and college.
George H. Wood, Ph.D. (xx) said What is more interesting is how much mundane most of these recommendations are. The much-touted legislated-excellence agenda can be boiled down to one word: MORE. The list is simplemore core subjects (the five basicsEnglish, math, science, social studies, computer science), more testing of students, and more time in school. Virtually every report on schools recites the same litany of recommendations meant to apply to all children, kindergarten through twelfth grade.
On the personal level of the student, the parent, and the teacher all perceive that a basic promise is not being kept. More and more students come out of high schools that are not ready for college or for work. This has become more of a problem because as the
number of traditional jobs shrinks, and new jobs demand greater sophistication and preparation.
I believe that scorn for academic effort contributed to several injurious practices: the lowering of college entrance and high school graduation requirements, grade affilition, automatic promotion; absenteeism; and an overall slackening of the academic press that spurs children to learn, to aspire, and to achieve. As such practices spread, every measure of academic achievement declined. Enrollments in foreign languages and advanced courses also fell. (Diane Ravitch 14) The slackening of graduation requirements facilitated the phenomenon of tracking in American schools. Tracking has also had its proponents, and they range across the ideological spectrum. Conservitives traditionally defended tracking on the ground that it was inefficient to give and academic education to all children; progressiveness defended it as an appropriate pedagogical response to the differing needs and abilities of children. (Diane Ravitch 14)
Homework may seem insignificant as an educational issue but it does matter. Homework provides the necessary time for thoughtful writing and serious reading, time that is rarely available during school hours. (Diane Ravitch 54) Researchers have observed that a large part of the school day is consumed by changing of classes, interruptions, announcements, and disciplinary problems, and that a large part of the time even in good classrooms is not instructional time. Anything that extends the amount of time spent learning is likely to improve student performance. Diane Ravitch (54) argues: Can the large majority who spend an hour or less each day on homework have time to read a novel or wrote a short story? I seems not only unlikely but impossible.
Compared to other industrialized countries, such as England, it is not unusual for academic high school students to spend 8 hours a day at school, 220 days per year. In the United States, by contrast, the typical school day lasts 6 hours and the school year is 180 days. (A Nation at Risk 21) Also, compared to other nations, American students spend much less time on schoolwork. Time spent in the classroom and on homework is often used ineffectively, and schools are not doing enough to help students develop either the study skills required to use time well or the willingness to spend more time on schoolwork.
The publics support for education is the most powerful. In a message to a National Academy of Sciences meeting in May 1982, President Reagan commented on this fact when he said: This public awarenessand I hope public actionis long overdue. This country was built on American respect for education. Our challenge now is to create a resurgence of that thirst for education that typifies our Nations history. (A Nation at Risk 16) At the same time, the public has no patience with undemanding and needless high school offerings. In another survey (A Nation at Risk 17) more than 75 percent of all those questioned believed every student planning on going to college should take 4 years of mathematics, English, history/U.S. government, and science, with more that 50 percent adding 2 years each of a foreign language and economics or business. The public even supports requiring much of its curriculum for students who do not plan to go to college.
These standards far exceed the strictest high school graduation requirements of any State today, and they also exceed the admission standards of all but a handful of our most selective colleges and universities. We define expectations in terms of the level of knowledge, abilities, and skills school and college graduates should possess. They also refer to the time, hard work, behavior, self-discipline and motivation that are essential for high student achievement. Such expectations are expressed to students in several different ways: by grades, which reflect the degree to which students demonstrate their mastery of subject matter. through high school and college graduation requirements, which tell students which subjects are most important. by the presence or absence of rigorous examinations requiring students to demonstrate their mastery of content and skill before receiving a diploma or degree. by college admissions requirements, which reinforce high school standards. by the difficulty of the subject matter students confront in their texts and assigned readings.
The analysis by the Education Department has found that the amount of homework for high school seniors has decreased (two-thirds say less than 1 hour a night). A 1980 State-by-State survey of high school diploma requirements reveals that only eight States require high schools to offer foreign language instruction, but none require students to take the courses. 35 States require only 1 year of mathematics, and 36 require only 1 year for a science diploma. (A Nation at Risk 20) With the proper testing of students in all grades, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and with proper education standards being set, the goals 2000 may be met. Educators and the education department, working together, can set these goals and make sure that the students in todays classrooms can receive the best education possible. This education will get the nations young people ready for their future colleges and careers.
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