Del. Ken Plum: No Time to Lose for Education

by Del. Ken Plum August 25, 2016 at 1:15 pm 5 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of reston Now.

“Our Nation is at risk,” thus began a report on schools given to President Ronald Reagan in 1983. “…We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.

“What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.” (A Nation at Risk, U.S. Department of Education, 1983)

At a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) two weeks ago, I heard a similar report from its Study Group on International Comparisons in Education: “The bad news is most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons and on our own National Assessment of Educational Progress, leaving the United States overwhelmingly underprepared to succeed in the 21st century economy.” (No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class System State by State, NCSL, August, 2016)

The Nation at Risk report led to numerous reforms, from high stakes standardized testing, charter schools, standards of learning, common core and others, many of which have themselves already been reformed. I question the accuracy of another report that predicts doom for our public schools.

That there is an unacceptable level of disparity in achievement among groups of students is undeniable. That our goals for our students may be greater than they can sometimes achieve may be true. That our schools do an incredibly wonderful job for most students has been my experience.

What I hope will not happen with this most recent report is that legislators will not jump in with both feet with the latest and greatest ideas they have about reforming schools, lay down unrealistic and inflexible regulations, or assume somehow that the private sector can do a better job than public schools.

Instead, I hope that citizens, advocates, and business representatives will make clear our expectations for our schools and give educators the responsibility to meet those goals with full accountability.

That would mean paying our teachers and administrators commensurate with the responsibility they have, and that would be a significant increase over what they are paid today.

I think preschool education should be fully funded for all children. The evidence of the return on investment that we would get with preschool programs is overwhelming. And I think we should give local schools  flexibility in the curriculum to work on developing problem-solving skills in children along with creativity, innovation and interpersonal skills.

Too many times when the regular decade cycle of concerns about our schools are expressed in a report, politicians — all of whom have been to school — will revert to experiences they have had for the next cycle of reforms.

Let’s do it differently this time. Let’s give the responsibility to our professionals to do the job, pay them adequately, hold them accountable, and not tie their hands. This is no time to lose.

  • Mike M

    Ken, has anyone noticed that the more government and educational organizations have interfered with our schools, the less competitive they appear? How about more money? Has that really helped, or has it hurt? How about the silly new standards that teachers must cow tow to the education establishment by getting an MEd and get indoctrinated? Has that helped or hurt. The conundrum is this: The more the reformers reform (and leftishly, at that), the more alarm we have about our schools.

    Your idealist comment, “I think preschool education should be fully funded for all children,” instructs. More money? From where? What would you stop buying to buy this? (I know the answer: Nothing.) More money is not the answer and there is no more money – only more debt. Solution? Nah.

    Hay un otro problema. Pero, . . . silencio!

  • 30yearsinreston

    Are you going to push for an investigation of another residenr killed by a sheriffs deputy
    Why are Bulova and the Sheriff silent ?

    • Mike M

      That’s County bloodletting. Ken “represents” us at the state level.

  • One Really

    As a boss once told me when I demand more money. “Your not special and can be replaced.” If the teachers / admins / etc.. don’t like the pay, then move along.

  • Bert W

    Ken, I honestly don’t care what you think.


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