Expert opinion

Why can't they be like they were?

by Jack Jennings

Parents are right: Schools today are different from the schools they attended.

Schooling today is worse, according to many, than when they attended school. Elementary and secondary schools are, indeed, different in several ways than they were for the parents of today’s schoolchildren.

A key change is that schools now place much greater emphasis on raising student test scores in two areas: reading and math. This different approach to learning is the result of test-driven reform (also known as accountability).

This focus on increasing test scores has meant that many students are taught a narrower curriculum than were students in the past. Teachers have also complained about losing flexibility to decide what and how to teach. To add to the bad news, the hoped-for increases in student scores have not appeared clearly nor broadly on national examinations.

So, adults are right — the schools are different than the ones they attended. To improve the schools, this unhealthy fixation on test scores should be left behind. Instead, schools should pay attention to increasing teacher compensation, raising the quality of teacher preparation, fair and adequate funding, and expanding high-quality preschool programs.

Then, we will see improvements in the schools. In the future, we should hope that parents will say the schools their children attend are better than the schools they attended.

Jack Jennings

Jack Jennings is a veteran policy analyst. He is the former president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy, now housed at George Washington University. From 1967 to 1994, he served as subcommittee staff director and then general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.

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