Smart column by Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writing in the context of the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.
President Bush just signed the America Competes Act, overwhelmingly approved by a bipartisan Congress pursuing a first-rate science and mathematics education for all children at a time when American youngsters lag behind many of their peers abroad. With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act up for renewal, an essential next step is clear: Scrap the crazy-quilt pattern of wildly differing tests and proficiency thresholds that currently vary from state to state.
Revise NCLB to set voluntary nationwide education standards.
Science literacy is, after all, no longer merely a luxury for the gifted and wealthy, but in fact a baseline requirement for any student hoping to compete for jobs in the 21st century.
National standards are always a tough sell, politically. Conservatives resist what they see as educrats and self-styled progressives gaining a tool to impose moral relativism, and there are sound fiscal reasons for opposing the further federalization of education.
But … science is science, math is math, and from an employer’s standpoint, students should be gaining the same knowledge and skills whether they graduate from schools in St. Louis, Kingman or San Bernadino. Legislation designed to elevate standards through incentives — voluntary national standards — makes good sense, especially given the highly competitive, industrialized global economy we live in.
Leshner praises Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) for proposing the Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids Act, or SPEAK, calling for voluntary, nationwide standards in science and math. Those standards would be developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, with public input.
We share his positive assessment. NAM President John Engler participated in an event promoting the SPEAK Act held last January, sponsored by the New America Foundation. For details and a video of that event, please click here.
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