- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

School reforms called for two decades ago in the Reagan administration's "A Nation at Risk" assessment were largely ignored because of massive resistance by the education establishment, a task force of educators and scholars says.
A report to be released today by the 11-member Koret Task Force on K-12 Education primarily blames the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, the two main teachers unions, for hampering school improvement.
"While both the NEA and AFT tout themselves as supporters of rigorous standards, their state affiliates regularly use their political clout to push for standards that are easily met and easily taught and that will give the impression (through high pass rates) that teachers are doing a great job," the report says.
"When test results are disappointing, moreover, the unions are quick to argue that the tests are flawed, need revision, and cannot provide valid measures of performance … ."
It says the "unions' prime goal" is to ensure no one ever loses a job.
Issued in 1983, "A Nation at Risk" concluded that elementary schools must be dedicated primarily to the time-consuming development of reading comprehension, vocabulary and arithmetic skills.
This has not happened, concludes the 378-page Koret report, titled "Our Schools and Our Future: Are We Still at Risk?" The task force is jointly sponsored by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and the San Francisco-based Koret Foundation.
Combined reading and math scores of American students had fallen significantly between 1967 and 1982, prompting the writing of "A Nation at Risk," the report says.
"Those who drafted this document can take heart perhaps even credit for halting a further decline. But the gains since 1982 are modest … less than 1 percent per year, leaving the country well below its standing in 1967."
Bush administration reforms through the No Child Left Behind Act, implemented last year, emphasize mastery of basic reading and arithmetic skills by all students by third grade.
"The ability to comprehend a printed text depends on having a specifically relevant and available linguistic vocabulary that comprises at least 90 percent of the words of the text," the Koret report says. "The ability to solve a math problem depends on having a specifically relevant and available math vocabulary."
Achievement gaps today are even greater between white middle-class students and children from poor and minority families, who start school less prepared.
U.S. high school students are woefully behind teenagers in other industrialized countries, as measured in 2000 by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Koret task force reports.
"In reading, the United States ranks 15th among the 31 participating countries … . The United States was the lowest scoring of all the English-speaking countries."
The combined reading, mathematics and science performance of U.S. students on the PISA in 2000 was below average, and 48 percent behind Japan, the leading performer.

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