Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Spellings Report: Giving Credit Where It's Due

Globe-trotting U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has taken yet another trip, (our coverage of her earlier junkets travels here) this time to the opening of the Davidson Academy for gifted students. (The campus is located on the grounds of The University of Nevada in Reno. See their website here.) In her speech, she uttered the usual platitudes about NCLB and the need for educators to be held accountable for student progress.

But this time around, I came across something unexpected. Something that made us smile.

For the first time that I'm aware of, (and we monitor the Secretary's comings and goings regularly) The Queen of All Testing directed
some of her remarks at students and the need for them to take school more seriously:
This year I've traveled to India, Egypt and Russia, and I can tell you there is a hunger for education in those places that is often lacking in American students. Students work harder and longer, and they don't make or accept excuses—and neither do their cultures. These are the kids our kids are going to be competing against—and if we don't challenge them now—then we aren't doing our job to prepare them for the future.

Today, 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education. But a report released just last week showed almost 4 out of 5 high school graduates were unprepared for college-level work.

That's unacceptable.

All over our country, parents, students, policymakers, and educators are demanding more rigorous coursework. A recent survey showed a vast majority of adults believe our schools aren't adequately preparing students to compete in the global economy.

And the students agree—3 out of 4 high school students said they don't feel challenged.

A Gates Foundation study showed the lack of challenging coursework is one of the top reasons students drop out of high school. Many left school because their classes were boring and not relevant to their lives—not because they weren't passing, and certainly not because they didn't have the ability to succeed. In fact, it's estimated that 1 out of every 5 dropouts could qualify as gifted.

By denying children access to rigorous classes, we waste their potential, and we deny them the opportunity to improve their lives as well as ours.

We must challenge our students and create a system that demands they step up to the plate—and to do so, we must challenge ourselves.

We know the solution: raised expectations, higher standards, and rigorous coursework for every student, not just a few. Taking just one AP class can increase a child's ability to succeed—but unfortunately, nearly half our high schools currently offer no AP classes at all.

That's an opportunity gap we can't afford to tolerate, and I know Senator Ensign agrees. I appreciate everything he's doing to promote Congressional action around these issues.
I realize that it wasn't much, and she did talk mostly about students in other countries, but it is a start.

I agree with the Secretary's remarks that we need, "Rigorous coursework for every student, not just a few." But unless students step-up and give their best effort to learn the material, (and in the real world all-too-many students are focused on everything but academics) achieving the goals and objectives of The No Child Left Behind Act will remain an unfulfilled dream.

Now if only Margaret Spellings would finally say something about the need for America's parents to see that their kids had completed their homework, got a good night's rest, and arrived at school on time prepared to learn, I would do handsprings in front of my history class.
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