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Setting the Goals of Education Reform

Before considering how to reform the education system, some important issues need to be considered.

What should be the goal of a publicly-funded education?  How should education services be delivered?  How should quality be judged?

Vermonters for Better Education proposes that two principles should guide any education policy or program — appropriateness and efficiency.  These principles themselves can be stated in the form of questions:

It is possible, of course, to do the wrong things but to do them well, thus giving the impression that goals are being met and quality is being achieved.  That is why it is crucial to ask the “appropriateness” question first.

Parents, according to most public opinion polls, believe that the “right things” to do  are simple and straightforward.  Give them the opportunity to choose what’s best for their child without financial penalty. Make sure that standards are high and academically rigorous.  Make sure that success can be reliably measured and reported.  And, make sure that teachers are qualified to teach.

Unfortunately, there is little assurance that these “right things” are being done consistently in Vermont. Choice is limited to tuitioning towns and a handful of students in each public high school. Standards are considered “vague” by a national teachers union. Statewide assessments are beset with problems. Teacher testing is a goal not to be fully realized until the next generation of teachers is in the classroom.

If Vermont is to move forward with educational quality initiatives, these and other issues will have to be addressed.
 
 

Where We Should Be — What People Want 
  • 78 percent of Americans favor a “standard core curriculum that includes emphasis on English, mathematics, social sciences, and science.” Source: Phi Delta Kappa’s annual Gallup Poll on Education, 1999

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  • 72 percent of all Americans favor “stricter standards for social promotion even if it means that significantly more students are held back.”  Source: Phi Delta Kappa’s annual Gallup Poll on Education, 1999 

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  • 97 percent of Americans believe that teachers should be required to “prove their knowledge in the subjects they will teach.”  Source: Phi Delta Kappa annual Gallup Poll on Education, 1999 

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  • 55 percent of Vermonters support using tax dollars to send children to religious schools (34 percent said no and 12 percent were undecided) Source: Vermont Public Radio Macro Poll; January 1999 

 
Where We Should Be — THE GOALS
  • More school choice: through charter schools, voucher programs, open enrollment, postsecondary options, expansion of the tuitioning town system.  These proposals would require legislative action. 

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  • Academic rigor: state standards should be based on high ACADEMIC goals and not influenced by political or social agendas.  Even so, VBE recommends that state standards be guidelines and models, not mandates. This goal can be accomplished through legislation or directives from the state board of education. 

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  • Reliable assessments: Rather than paying large amounts of taxpayers’ dollars for unreliable testing programs, VBE recommends that the state should simply require schools to administer national norm-referenced standardized tests, collect the data on those tests and make it available to the public. VBE believes the New Standards Reference Exam and portfolio systems currently in use should be stopped. Participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress should continue. This goal can be accomplished through legislation and/or directives from the state board of education. 

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  • Better teachers: All teachers, not just those newly entering the profession, should demonstrate their knowledge by taking a test before being granted licensure. This can be accomplished through legislation and/or directives from the state board of education. 

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