The ongoing need for education reform in the United States was highlighted by two new studies – one national and one global – published in early December 2010. On December 6th Education Week reported online that a study published by ACT, Inc. on that date found that only one-third to one-half of America’s 11th graders were proficient in the content and skills identified by the new national common core state standards for math and English/language arts. Less than one-quarter of the students met the standards for science. The ACT study is the first assessment of the new common core state standards intended to ensure that all U.S. high school students are college- and career-ready upon graduation. The standards have been adopted by 41 states, so far. ACT cautions that the findings of its study are based on the results of testing of students prior to the states’ adoption of the common core standards and, therefore, the students may not have been adequately prepared for this first assessment.
On December 7, 2010 a global survey reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that the academic achievement for U.S. students was average in reading and science and slightly below average in math based on the standardized testing results of half a million 15-year-old students in 65 countries. According to a December 7th Washington Post article, the test scores of U.S. students lagged significantly behind those of students from several countries in Europe and Asia. On December 8th The New York Times reported that students from Shanghai were the “best-educated in the world” according to the OECD report, a status held by U.S. students two decades ago. A December 7th article in the ED.gov Blog reported that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that this “sobering report on the performance of American students relative to their peers in other countries should be a wake-up call for the nation.”
The ED.gov Blog also reported that a separate OECD study suggests that the U.S. can improve its global standing by continuing to pursue the education reforms that have taken root in some states and school districts in the last two years, including implementing more rigorous academic standards, using data to improve instruction, concentrating more effort on the most academically challenged students, and enhancing teacher preparedness. These factors were found to be characteristics of the highest performing test participants in the OECD survey and are consistent with the Obama administration’s education reform goals, including the goal to regain first place standing globally by 2020.
Some California parents are taking education reform into their own hands. On December 7, 2010 The New York Times reported that parents in Compton, California are using a new State law to force a failing school to be taken over by a charter school operator. The so-called “parent-trigger law” was part of California’s legislative package to improve its chances in the Race to the Top competition. The law requires a school district to implement one of the Obama administration’s school turnaround models if at least 51% of a school’s parents sign a petition requesting the overhaul. Over 60% of the parents of students attending Compton’s McKinley Elementary School signed a petition to overhaul the school. According to The New York Times, the move is supported by Secretary Duncan and will likely be watched by educators and political leaders across the country.