The latest word from California education officials is that they are discussing whether to postpone the enforcement of the state’s new high school graduation exam because so many students (evidently up to 50%) are failing the test. The president of the state education board has stated that a low pass rate could leave the exam open to legal challenges about its fairness, and he suggested that a legally defensible pass rate would be above 90%!
I have a suggestion: the parents should sue the public school system for its complete failure to honor its contract to educate the students. For what we have here is the reaping of what California has sowed in its public education policies for the past forty years—constructivist curriculum, whole language reading instruction, and the primacy of the pursuit of Rousseauite self-esteem. The answer is not to back down on standards, defer accountability, and “dumb down” the curriculum, but to tell the truth about the current state of the educational preparation of our children. Then maybe we can really get serious about truly meaningful reforms such as school choice.
More rude awakenings are in store: The No Child Left Behind Act will not be kind to those states that do not meet the “highly qualified teacher” mandate (California is already on notice), and the new SAT college admission test is reportedly much more rigorous and, hopefully, will call further attention to the deficiencies of many more public schools, including rampant grade inflation and the huge disconnect between K-12 and higher education. And in Texas, the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test will be in use at the end of this school year, coinciding with the new law limiting social promotion in public schools. Hopefully the State Board of Education will resist the call of many school administrators to set the TAKS passing score at a minimal level so that we can properly assess true student preparedness.
Recently, I agreed to participate in the Texas textbook selection process by reviewing a high school economics textbook. In addition to the overall “value neutral” tenor of the textbook, I was shocked at the lack of depth of discussion of the issues and concepts and the general lack of rigor in the text. The presentation was right out of MTV—lots of color, graphs, charts, sidebars, and flash—like watching an action TV show. Folks, if this is the standard, we have a long way to go. I hope we’re paying close attention to California; it may be instructive for us.