Education: Behind the Curve

An alarming new state-by-state assessment of our nation's education system indicates that the United States is failing to prepare a 21st century workforce.



Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) today will re-introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allow gays to serve openly.


HAWAII: “After decades of dashed plans, Honolulu is closer than ever to building a major mass transit system.”

MARYLAND: The state Senate approves legislation requiring automakers to drastically slash greenhouse emissions.

OHIO: Gov. Ted Strickland (D) calls Bush’s troop escalation “an unwise decision” that would lead to the deaths of more U.S. soldiers.


THINK PROGRESS: Fox’s John Gibson attacks the “great left-wing slime machine called”

SUBURBAN GUERRILLA: U.S. Army invites Kiefer Sutherland, star of the hit TV show 24, “to discuss why it is wrong to torture prisoners.”

WINDOWS ON WASHINGTON: An anonymous “Senior Administration Official” is actually Vice President Cheney.


“What you have seen, actually…is a nimbleness when it comes to trying to do force protection, I think, probably unprecedented in a time of warfare.”
— Tony Snow, 2/27/07, responding to questions about the military’s readiness crisis


“Strained by the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a significant risk that the U.S. military won’t be able to quickly and fully respond to yet another crisis, according to a new report [by Gen Peter Pace] to Congress.”
— Associated Press, 2/27/07


“Virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated as unready to deploy, Army officials say.”
— Washington Post, 2/16/07


A survey conducted by the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office last spring found that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lack sufficient armored vehicles, heavy weapons such as artillery or large machine guns, devices designed to jam signals used to detonate roadside bombs, and communications equipment.”
— San Francisco Chronicle, 2/4/07


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 February 28, 2007
Behind the Curve
Go Beyond The Headlines
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Behind the Curve

For the United States to succeed in a new era of global competitiveness, the next generation needs to be equipped for the intellectual demands of the modern workplace. An alarming new state-by-state assessment of our nation’s education system indicates that the United States is failing to prepare a 21st century workforce (click here to see an interactive map that breaks down the data). The new report card, produced by the Chamber of Commerce with assistance from the Center for American Progress, finds that there is not a single state in the country where a majority of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in math and reading. The report’s aim is to identify both “leaders and laggards in the tough business of school performance” and to highlight the many areas needed for education improvement. The report card’s conclusion is unambiguous: states need to do a far better job of monitoring and delivering quality schooling. As Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings noted recently, “The consensus for strengthening our high schools has never been stronger.” Progressives and conservatives are united around common goals for our education system — better teaching, more innovation, better data, and better management. The report is one step in building the political will needed to “upend familiar arrangements and comfortable routines” and achieve much-needed reform. 

WHO’S HOT AND WHO’S NOT: The study — entitled “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness” — distributed grades for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., assessing each across nine different areas, including academic achievement of low-income and minority students, return on investment, rigor of standards, postsecondary and workforce readiness, 21st century teaching force and flexibility in management and policy. Massachusetts earned the top ranking overall, followed by Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Washington, D.C.’s school system ranked last in educational effectiveness, joined in the bottom tier with Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Hawaii, Nevada, West Virginia, California, and Oklahoma. The report does find some good news amidst its largely disturbing survey: the states with large percentages of low-income and minority students score far better than others on achievement tests. Florida, Kansas, Texas, and Virginia stand out as case studies for achieving success with large percentages of low-income and minority student populations.

MOVING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION: The state-by-state assessment starkly reports that not a single state in the country has a majority of 4th or 8th graders who are proficient in math and reading. Only about two-thirds of all 9th graders graduate from high school within four years. The Bush administration recently issued a disappointing report card of its own — the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In standardized reading tests, 73 percent of high schoolers read at a basic level, down from 80 percent in 1992. Just 35 percent scored at a proficient level, down from 40 percent. But evidence from the national report card that high school students are earning better grades — possibly due to “grade inflation” or changes in grading standards, among other factors — obscures the fact that student achievement is falling behind. The decline of the U.S. education system has been even more drastic by international standards. A 2005 report by the Organization for Cooperation and Development ranked the United States 9th among nations in the share of its population with a high school degree, and 7th in terms of those with a college degree. Twenty years ago, the United States ranked first on both indicators. The reason for the disparity is not that the United States has declined, but rather that other countries have grown past it. A 2003 UNICEF report ranked the United States 18th out of 24 nations in terms of overall effectiveness of national education systems.

UNSATISFACTORY AND INCOMPLETE DATA: The report card used available data from the math and reading scores on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress to compile its state-by-state breakdown. In the process of producing the report, the education policy experts noted an alarming lack of reliable and available data on state performance that created serious challenges in evaluating results on a state-by-state basis.” Not a single state can provide systematic data on how teachers are being rewarded for essential skills or the quality of their work, how cost effective a remedial program in one district is compared with a similar program in another district, or how many teachers were terminated last year for poor performance. Compounding the lack of available data is the unreliability of the information coming from certain states. Alabama, for instance, reported in 2005 that 83 percent of its 4th graders were proficient in reading on its state test — seemingly making it one of the nation’s highest-performing states. But according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 22 percent of Alabama’s 4th graders scored at or above the proficient level on reading, making it one of the nation’s poorest performing states.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Student achievement has remained stagnant for decades, and the K-12 schools have stayed remarkably unchanged — “preserving, as if in amber, the routines, culture, and operations of an obsolete 1930s manufacturing plant.” The first step in beginning the difficult and long process of educational reform is to address teacher pay. Teacher quality has the biggest impact on student achievement. In order to attract the best talent to teaching, improvements need to be made in teacher compensation. Career advancement opportunities and financial rewards are proven methods of motivating employees in every profession. As salary for starting teachers increase, more effective ways must be identified to remove teachers who are not serving kids well. Another key reform is to alter the school year schedule to provide expanded time for student learning. The school year is organized for the late 19th century economy, not the 21st. Expanded learning time should include opportunities for enhanced tutoring, after-school programs, and experiential learning. Some of the most promising models not only extend learning time, but also change the learning place by creating opportunities on college campuses, in community service, and through internships with employers.

Under the Radar

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — BUSH MEETS WITH ANTI-SEMITE WHO CELEBRATE KILLING OF U.S. SOLDIERS: President Bush reportedly met on Monday with Walid Jumblatt, a member of the Lebanese Parliament who has repeatedly called for U.S.-backed regime change in Syria. After visiting the White House, Jumblatt addressed the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which wields significant influence within the administration. “Many people say there won’t be a stable Lebanon without regime change in Syria,” Jumblatt said, adding that he “urged the Bush administration to aid opposition groups fighting the rule” of Syrian President Assad. Jumblatt’s meeting with the White House is notable not just because of his radical foreign policy views. In the past, Jumblatt has cheered the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, referred to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “oil-colored,” and claimed the real axis of evil is one of “oil and Jews.” While the White House has yet to comment on Jumblatt’s visit, his regime change talk yesterday “drew a round of applause from the AEI audience.”

HOMELAND SECURITY — GAO FINDS ARMY’S CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL DEFENSES NOT READY FOR DEPLOYMENT: Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “quietly declassified” two reports that were sharply critical of the U.S. Army’s ability to respond to chemical and biological attacks in the United States and at U.S. military installations around the world. One report found that the National Guard and Army Reserve units tasked with responding to a chemical or biological attack were “not adequately staffed, equipped, or trained to perform their missions” and should not be “considered sufficiently qualified for deployment.” US News and World Report’s Bad Guys Blog reported that the GAO found that “critical shortages of trained personnel and key equipment, made worse by transfers to support the war in Iraq” were responsible for the Army’s failings. In its second report, the GAO found that almost 80 percent of “critical oversees facilities” lacked the necessary equipment to respond to a chemical or biological attack. Because of “often vague and inconsistent guidance…adequate chemical defense forces may not be available in the event of a WMD attack at home or abroad.” As the GAO notes, such failings are surprising given that the Department of Defense “has doubled its investment in chemical and biological defenses since 2001.” In response to the reports, Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-VA) has called for a hearing to address the Defense Department’s “chronic deficiencies.”

IRAN — ‘CONTAIN AND ENGAGE’ STRATEGY RECOMMENDED TO RESOLVE IRAN NUCLEAR CRISIS: Center for American Progress analysts Joseph Cirincione and Andrew Grotto today released “Contain and Engage: A New Strategy for Resolving the Nuclear Crisis with Iran.” In their report, Cirincione and Grotto argue that the Bush administration has missed “several opportunities to constrain, perhaps even end, programs that could eventually give Iran a nuclear-weapons capability, but they rejected negotiations in favor of efforts to replace the ruling clerical regime.” This policy has failed, and a new course is needed. Cirincione and Grotto state that while no simple solution exists for solving the Iranian nuclear problem, the best available option is “decisive diplomacy to contain and engage Iran.” Containing Iran’s nuclear program through sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and investment freezes would encourage Iranian leaders to halt enrichment. Simultaneously, decisive diplomacy “offers the best chance of testing Iran’s interest in trading away any future nuclear-weapons capability for present security and economic benefits that would accrue to the vast majority of the Iranian people.” Cirincione and Grotto recognize that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is “by far the most urgent issue,” and a failure to contain the program would undermine regional stability and hurt international nonproliferation efforts. They conclude, “There is no guarantee of success, but without making the effort, we face guaranteed failure.” Read the full report.

Think Fast

“Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media,” the Army Times reports. Soldiers said an official told them “they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.”

“In the most definitive statement in years,” Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said yesterday that “Osama bin laden is in Pakistan actively re-establishing al Qaeda training camps.” He also admitted to the Senate that the “term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict.”

The United States yesterday agreed to “join high-level talks” at a pair of regional conferences on the future of the Iraq, at which Syria and Iran will also be present. Analyst Steve Clemons noted, “Time will tell whether this is meaningless flirtation” or “a carefully crafted ‘confidence building measure’ that could lead to more meaningful engagement.”

The Politico editor John Harris acknowledged “with pride and remorse” that he is the author of the “slow-bleed” phrase that the right wing is using to attack Rep. John Murtha’s (D-PA) Iraq plan. “As happens all the time in journalism, this was a decision — made on the fly and under deadline — that I would have taken back in the morning.”

“House Democrats and federal prosecutors have struck what seems like a historic deal to turn over congressional documents related to the Duke Cunningham investigation.” 

With the House expected to vote Thursday on the pro-worker Employee Free Choice Act, “a business coalition launched a six-figure radio ad campaign late Tuesday in an attempt to convince three Democratic freshmen who represent conservative districts to defy organized labor and vote against the bill.”

Fox News doesn’t report. “While other media outlets, in their coverage of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, have addressed the longtime evangelical hostility to Romney’s Mormon faith, Fox News has largely avoided the subject and has responded to other media coverage of the issue by alleging media bias or, in the case of one guest, accusing liberals of anti-Mormon bigotry.”

A new UN Foundation study warns that there is “no more time for delay” on climate change. Without quick action, the Earth could reach a “tipping point that could lead to intolerable impacts on human well-being,” including “the spread of disease, less fresh water, more and worse droughts, more extreme storms and widespread economic damage to farming, fishing and forests.”

“The federal agency that’s been front and center in warning the public about tainted spinach and contaminated peanut butter is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago. The cuts by the Food and Drug Administration come despite a barrage of high-profile food recalls.”

And finally: Frank Against Cute or Inane Acronyms for Legislation (FACIAL)? Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has put the House Financial Services Committee “on notice that he will no longer tolerate cute bill titles.” “The title of this bill is unfortunately an acronym,” Frank said of the National Security FIRST Act. (Short for the National Security Foreign Investment Reform and Strengthened Transparency Act of 2007). “The chair does not intend to bring forward further legislation in which the title is a word.” “I regret that you won’t allow any more acronyms,” replied the bill’s author, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “We worked hard on this acronym.” Frank did eventually allow the acronym to stay, “mainly because he supports the bill.”


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