In "Public Education: California's Perilous Slide," the Los Angeles Times documents in compelling--for some people, shocking--detail the multitude of problems that have spurred the decline of our educational system and, more important, the dreadful academic performance levels of our students. None of this information should be surprising to those who have witnessed the downward turn our schools have taken over the years. For Gov. Pete Wilson, in particular, the siren bells have long been ringing--inspiring him to fight for sweeping change to reverse the trends of education (and the increasing unwillingness of anyone at any level of education to take responsibility for this decline) that have spawned this crisis.
For those for whom this account is an eye-opener, I wish to point out that there are some solutions offered in this litany of bad news--exactly the reforms that Gov. Wilson has pursued, focused primarily on four areas: standards, assessment, accountability and parental involvement.
Consider: For the first time in the history of this state, we are establishing grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject academic standards for all students to meet. The standards for reading and mathematics--which have been widely praised for their specificity and rigor--are already in place. Science and history/social science will be adopted by this fall, giving us the goals for student performance that must drive all the other reforms we pursue in the future.
Those standards mean very little, however, if we do not assess student progress in meeting--or not meeting--those standards. To do that, Gov. Wilson fought to enact a statewide test (the STAR test) to be given each year to measure students' skill levels in these key subject areas as well as provide the information needed to develop overall performance comparisons between and among schools and districts.
We must also be clear that accountability does not mean passing problems on year after year. No longer can we tolerate social promotion, whereby a child is passed from grade to grade without having the skills needed to compete and succeed at that next grade level. It is a tragedy for that child and a complete dereliction of duty on the part of educators who are supposed to place the academic needs of that child first.
Policies of social promotion are a main cause of our students' terrible standardized test scores, as well as the almost unbelievable proportion of students who arrive at Cal State campuses in need of remedial help in mathematics or English.
In this era when we are demanding higher standards for students, we must also demand higher standards for teachers. That means subject competency testing for all teachers. That means rewards--performance-based compensation and recognition--for Nationally Board Certified teachers and others who demonstrate the highest mastery of their profession.
We must also encourage more parents to take an active role in their children's school life--setting high expectations, monitoring homework, praising them, reading to them when they are young.
Marian Bergeson is secretary of child development and education in the Wilson administration.