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Vermonters for Better Education

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The Need for Education Reform
Libby Sternberg, Executive Director, Vermonters for Better Education

Employers, parents, and adults with no children in school all recognize the value of a quality education system.  An educated child, after all, is more likely to grow into a wise and successful adult, one who is capable of contributing back to the community. Today, more than ever, a quality education is important. The unskilled and semiskilled job opportunities that awaited even high school dropouts are no longer available.  Instead, employers are looking for well-educated workers with the ability to manage change, to think critically, to understand complex issues.  More importantly, an educated citizen is the foundation upon which a well-running democracy rests.

Yet, for many years, our schools have been producing less-than-stellar results. Most troubling is the continuing lack of progress for disadvantaged and minority students, a problem that education activist and former Milwaukee public schools superintendent Howard Fuller describes as one of the “most serious” challenges our democracy faces.

Public school apologists like to point to the good news — more kids in schools, more teachers, and more money being spent on education — and they sometimes question the validity or reliability of standardized tests to measure success.  Even if we accept those arguments, there are other distressing signs of failure.  Colleges and universities, once the institutions where only the best high school students pursued further study, now regularly offer remedial courses in basic subjects  — English, writing skills, and math.  At California State University, which only accepts students from the top third of their high school graduating class, nearly 50 percent of entering freshmen require remedial help in English, and more than 50 percent need help in math. A survey of employers in New York City found that 86 percent of the respondents believe that a city high school diploma is “no guarantee that the typical student has learned the basics.”

In this special edition of “Better Education,” VBE outlines initiatives that we believe will help improve Vermont’s educational environment.  These initiatives focus on simple, yet fundamental ideas: what is taught, who teaches it, who gets to choose it. Readers of this special edition probably won’t find anything surprisingly new here.  But by focusing on four simple yet achievable goals, we believe education in Vermont can become the best in the country. Yes, there are other challenges besides the ones we outline in this newsletter.  But these initiatives are a start — some are bold, some are  modest.  We believe all of them, however,  will make a difference for the children of our state.

A Nation Still At Risk

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education declared that the U.S. was  “A Nation at Risk” because of  the failures of our education system.  In 1998, the Center for Education Reform released a follow-up report.  Findings included: 

  • Although SAT scores rose slightly from 1984-1995, the average combined score in 1995 (before the test was “recentered”) was still 70 points lower than in 1963. 
  • In 1995, nearly 30 percent of first-time college freshmen enrolled in at least one remedial course and 80 percent of all public four-year universities offered remedial courses. 
  • In 1993-94, 40 percent of public high school science teachers had neither an undergraduate major nor minor in their main teaching field and 34 percent of public school math teachers did not major or minor in math or related fields. 

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