In 1983, our nation came face to face with the mother of all school reform efforts. It was called "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." The publication, hailed as the rapture of education, sparked intense interest in establishing high standards for all students.
After a decade of implementation, the results were a miserable failure. Controversy, lack of funding, unrealistic expectations and resistance by various groups contributed to heated discussion but no improvement in our schools. Some contend that the efforts made our schools worse than they were.
In 1996, a new white horse was bred. It was called "Achieve, Inc." Created by a group of CEOs, assisted by some governors, it promised to raise standards and educate everyone at high levels. What they did not promise is that every senior would run a four-minute mile or that every graduate would become a corporate raider. Instead the group gave birth to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Repeating "A Nation at Risk" is no model for improving our educational system.
Rather than continuing to enact another failure, we can improve our schools by attaching reform efforts to massive education research readily available to all, especially members of Achieve, Inc. We can improve the quality of our education system (and educate children at higher levels, but not the same levels) if we have the will and moral strength to do so.
This is what the nation must do: Implement a massive early childhood education program that will assist each child to have an equal opportunity to learn upon entering school. How we help children before entering school is far more important than what we do after they enter. The research is abundantly clear, the capacity to learn is mostly established in a child's early years. The economic, social and health conditions under which children are raised are predictive of the extent to which they have the capacity to learn once they enter school; and assist parents to help their children, both in feeding them sufficient protein and in stimulating their senses. Both contribute to proper brain growth and formation of neural connection, needed for effective learning.
The Common Core standards have been developed on false assumptions. It cannot and will not educate all our children at high levels. That job is better left to the teaching profession. The standards repeat the failures of earlier days. As many have said, to do the same and to expect different results is a sign of insanity. Grand promises are not an adequate substitute for the necessity of placing greater value on our teachers. It would be more effective, more productive and more sane for the nation if CEOs run their businesses, politicians protect our Constitution and educators operate our schools. What better reform is there?
M. Donald Thomas is a former superintendent of the Salt Lake School District and is currently the president of Public Education Support Group, a national education consulting firm.