By Richard W. Riley, former U. S. Secretary of Education (1993-2001)
During the past fifteen years, the nation has taken significant steps to improve education performance. The National Goals 2000 Act, along with the Improving America’s Schools Act (1994 ESEA reauthorization), helped move states down the path of establishing expectations for all students through the adoption of state standards that have resulted in improved achievement and a more clear understanding of what students are expected to learn. Importantly, this effort began the transformation of our public education system away from having high expectations for some and lower hopes for others based on family income and zip codes. The No Child Left Behind Act established strong accountability for results in improving student achievement. Importantly, the law also required consistent measures and clear reporting on the progress of all children – ensuring that large numbers did not continue to remain invisible in state accountability systems.
In each case, noteworthy progress has been marked by important moments when leaders from both parties have come together to produce solutions that move us forward. Every step forward leads to new knowledge, new understanding, and new solutions. Now we must leverage the fact that we have more and richer student performance data than ever before to power the next wave of effective education reform. Though our challenge is significant, we now know more than ever before about how well our children are faring and what needs to be done to improve performance. And, in our competitive, global economy, it is more critical than ever that we make education a top priority and that we succeed in improving performance.
Yet, in Washington, today, there is political gridlock over how to improve elementary and secondary education. The Aspen Institute’s National Education Summit is well-timed to kick start a bipartisan effort to establish common ground for the critical next steps forward in education reform to assure that all children, regardless of income or background, have access to a high-quality, effective education.
Our nation’s future depends on more than just the quality of education provided to our own children. The future of our economy, as well as our competitiveness and security in the world, will depend on the ability of all of the nation’s children to succeed academically. It is time to heed Aspen’s Urgent Call and build a nationwide consensus on education reform that will make a difference for every child.