Longest education reform effort produced few achievements
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The federal government has spent 21 years in the longest education reform effort in U.S. history and produced "many ambitious programs but not too many achievements," according to a former U.S. Education Department adviser and current University of Michigan researcher.
Maris Vinovskis, the University's Bentley Professor of History who advised the U.S. Education Department during three presidential administrations, has studied the history of federal involvement with education dating back to the 1960s and delivered this year's 19-page Henry Russell Lecture on the topic.
"As it stands now, reforms that are actually put into practice are modest and build upon current educational practices," Vinovskis said. "Reforms which try to jettison the old and start anew, the implicit strategy of many Washington policymakers, are unrealistic. While we need high standards, we also need flexibility in how we reach our objectives in order to take into consideration the diverse conditions and challenges facing our schools.''
Based on his government and historic policy research, he proposes several ways to improve education nationwide, including:
--Supporting the new emphasis on measured success in school by looking at student outcomes rather than just the amount of money spent and looking at how much of the added money gets to classrooms rather than added administrative costs.
--Getting parents more involved, especially in activities like reading more to their children rather than simply buying a computer and expecting them to do everything on their own.
--Recruiting, training and retaining first class teachers while encouraging teachers who don't belong in classrooms to seek employment elsewhere.
--Paying premium salaries and improving work conditions for teachers serving economically disadvantaged communities.
--Encouraging more research that is scientifically rigorous and educationally useful in documenting which programs are effective in helping disadvantaged children especially as agencies try to expand existing small, experimental programs into larger programs in more diverse settings.
The larger issue of poverty needs to be addressed beyond education, he said, noting that only 10 percent of the students in elite universities come from families whose income is at or below the national median income.
The state of Michigan should double its $2,500 Michigan Merit Awards for students from low-income families and universities should build endowments, he said. Harvard University, with the largest endowment of any university, has recently said it would stop asking parents earning less than $40,000 to contribute to the cost of their children's education.
Vinovskis, who is also a professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research Center for Political Studies, has worked on education issues for both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington. He is available to speak with reporters on federal efforts to improve education and the history of education reform.
Contact: Joe Serwach