Canton Repository

Aug. 24, 2005

Task force for education reform cites need for year-round school

By Paul M. Krawzak

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — American education needs a dramatic restructuring to prepare students to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy, a task force created by two progressive organizations said Tuesday.

In its report, the task force called for year-round school, voluntary national standards and more than $300 billion in additional federal spending on schools during the next 10 years, among other changes.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who is co-chair of the task force, said educational reforms are necessary to enable the United States to compete in an “international brain race.”

While China and India together graduate 1 million engineers a year, the United States is graduating only 70,000, she told a room packed with educators, activists and others as the 85-page report was released.

“We risk losing our role as leader of the world economy,” she said.

Members of the task force said the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind Law has failed to bring schools up to par.

The report, “Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer: A Progressive Education Agenda for a Stronger Nation,” was sponsored by two left-leaning Washington-based organizations, the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America’s Future.

No immediate reaction to the report was available from Capitol Hill.

Staff at the House Education and Workforce Committee, which is responsible for legislation relating to education policy, had not yet reviewed the document, an aide said.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the committee, strongly supports No Child Left Behind and opposes national academic standards, his spokesman Kevin Smith said.

The report recommends that states lengthen the school day and reorganize the school year, eliminating summer vacations in favor of “short inter-session breaks that offer voluntary tutoring or enrichment programs.”

Robert L. Borosage, president of Institute for America’s Future, called summer vacations a relic of a time when the majority of students had farm chores.

In another proposal, the group urges the federal government to create a set of rigorous but voluntary national curriculum standards in core subject areas and expand accountability measures.

Under No Child Left Behind, each state is required to develop its own academic standards as well as assessments to measure progress. The federal government monitors academic progress and has the authority to withdraw federal funding from schools that fail to make the grade.

The task force argues that differences in state standards are a shortcoming of No Child Left Behind.

“Students who appear to be proficient by their own state’s standards may actually not be getting the education they need to excel in another state, much less the global economy,” the report says.

The report also proposes universal pre-school, all-day kindergarten, redesigned high schools, improved teacher training, and increased development of “community schools” to establish closer links with parents and community organizations.

“Honestly speaking, this will not come cheap,” said Philip D. Murphy, a co-chair of the task force and senior director at Goldman Sachs Group.

The task force is seeking a $325 billion federal investment during the next 10 years, beginning with an additional $7 billion requested for schools in 2006.

Asked about the proposal’s chances of getting a hearing in Congress or state legislatures, Roger Wilkins, a co-chair of the task force and professor at George Mason University, drew chuckles when he said he’d rather not answer the question.

“Nine-tenths of reports put together by well-meaning people disappear,” he said. But he added that “at this moment, education is very close to the top of most people’s priorities.”

Napolitano said even if the federal government does not act, the report offers states “a template for action.”