A state at risk

Friday, April 2, 2010

Many people may recall that President Reagan promoted public-school reform by saying that we had a "nation at risk" because the U.S. was falling behind other countries in the field of education. His education initiatives and others such as the No Child Left Behind law that was authored by President George W. Bush with the help of Ted Kennedy have had little effect on our global education standing, and the National Center for Education Statistics reveals many grim facts.

The fact that Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton are touring the country trying to spur interest in education reform shows that we have a serious problem that should receive bipartisan attention. The current administration is also trying to address the problem by offering large appropriations to states that promise to tackle the issue of failing schools, falling test scores and the ever-increasing dropout rates.

Here in Missouri, our governor and Department of Education applied for Race to the Top funds in order to begin a program of reforms that address some of these issues. But Missouri's application was not funded and was ranked 33rd out of the 41 states that applied. Unfortunately, this is a snapshot of the state of education in Missouri. Some of the more troubling results from Missouri's Race to the Top scorecard:

* Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools -- 17.8 out of 40 points

* Demonstrating other significant reform conditions -- 0.4 out of 5 points.

* Providing effective support to teachers and principles -- 9.8 out of 20 points

* Turning around the lowest-achieving schools -- 23 out of 50 points

The scorecard ranked the current state of Missouri's education laws and procedures as well as the application we submitted outlining how we would achieve the goals of the program. The grant readers clearly were not impressed with what we are doing now or what we are planning to do.

Will teachers unions and education associations, which often disregard or fight education reform both nationally and here in Missouri, take this latest affirmation of our crisis in education as a wake-up call? There are successful education practices going on in the 30 states that were rated ahead of Missouri in the Race to the Top competition and, with concerted support and effort, that success could be replicated here. Education is truly the key to having a prosperous state economy. If we continue to embrace the status quo, we do have a "state at risk."

Joseph Knodell of Poplar Bluff, Mo., is the state coordinator for the Missouri Education Reform Roundtable Foundation.

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