Monday, July 25, 2005

Fixing Public Education at Aspen

Over the weekend, C-SPAN broadcast a panel discussion titled "Grading America's Education" that was held at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The panel, moderated by Walter Isaacson, CEO, Aspen Institute, included Lawrence Summers, President, Harvard University; Derek Bok, former Harvard President; Patty Stonesifer, President, Gates Foundation; and William Bennett, former Secretary of Education.
The political left was well represented by Summers, Bok and Stonesifer while the right position was taken by Bill Bennett. It was an unfair fight in Bennett’s favor.

There were two stipulations by the entire panel: (1) Public education is in a desperate state, especially among low income groups; (2) in spite of the 250% real spending increase on education over the last two decades. So what is the solution to this unfortunate dilemma?

Summers made a good start, emphasizing the importance of measure, measure, measure, and hold teachers accountable. He also said it should be possible to fire poor teachers, pay for performance and try experiments, including voucher programs. Maybe Larry is a conservative after all.

Bok noted a political change in college students. Entering students are evenly divided between liberals and conservatives and graduating students are also equally split. This is a big change from the 1980s when grads were overwhelmingly liberal, despite equal numbers entering. This shift is truly remarkable when one considers the huge liberal bias of college professors. He defended racial preferences in college admissions. Bok had little to say about improving K-12 education, aside from spending more money.

Stonesifer noted that only half of black and Hispanic kids are graduating from high school. Among black boys, only 30% are graduating. There are many good schools, but not many good school systems. She would restrict high school size to 500 students and push decision making down to the local principal level.

I saved Bill Bennett for last. He spelled out a comprehensive program to address the real problems.

1. Double the salaries of school principals and hold them accountable.

2. Recruit math and science teachers with substantially higher salaries. In math/science our 4th graders score near the top in international competition while by 12th grade they score near the bottom.

3. For at risk kids, front load the study of reading and math in the first 4 grades, even to the exclusion of most other courses. About 63% of black 4th graders cannot read.

4. Provide vouchers for all school parents and emulate special schools that actually work. He emphasized the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).

KIPP Schools are free open enrollment college-preparatory public schools where educationally underserved students develop the knowledge, skills, and character needed to succeed in top quality colleges and the competitive world beyond. Over 95% of KIPP students are African American or Latino/Hispanic.

KIPP Schools share a core set of operating principles known as the
Five Pillars that ensure that all students will learn.

1. KIPP students are in school from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, for four hours on Saturdays, and for a month during the summer. In spite of the long hours, average daily attendance at KIPP Schools is 96%.

2. Students complete over two hours of homework each night. Teachers are available on cell phone for assistance.

3. Students, parents, and teachers sign a
Commitment to Excellence form that confirms their commitment to the school and to each other towards achieving success.

4. Rigorous college preparatory instruction is balanced with extracurricular activities like martial arts, music, chess, and sports.

5. The school year culminates with academically-oriented experiential field lessons to national parks, historically significant regions, and college campuses.

Bill noted his objection to racial preferences but favors helping poor students and boys. In colleges today, 58% of the students are women while only 42% are male. Among blacks, women outnumber men by 70% to 30%. Men are more fragile, they need help said Dr. Bennett. I heartily agree.


Blogger Ralph said...

Also based upon my sons, men are less inclined to put up with crap.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And don't forget girls are given preferences. They are allowed to do less and appear to be achieving.

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These kids are our future! I absolutely believe that we need to hold our teachers and principals accountable as well as the parents and students. I was very lucky to have the benefit of the best schools and teachers, but my parents being so involved and pushing me to do my best was so important as well. Thanks Mom & Dad! ~ Carolynne

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