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America’s Schools Need Remedial Education

Time-consuming and costly efforts to reform the educational system in the United States have failed, with test scores having barely budged from three decades ago. But a researcher presenting at a CESR conference believes our schools can be saved – if our communities want to step up and help.


Some 35 years ago, a scary report titled A Nation At Risk declared the state of America’s schools to be a looming national disaster, so governments at all levels ponied up money, resources, time, and more money to reform the system.

Now that those efforts have failed, with test scores at the same level as in 1984 yet costing an additional two-thirds as much per pupil, one educational expert is certain a different strategy is needed – a strategy accounting for how much of a student’s learning depends on a stable home life.

“This is not a school problem,” said Paul Reville, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. “This is a community problem – and communities will have to show the way for this to work.”

Reville made his remarks a recent conference, The Future of Inequality, hosted by the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California.

As a former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Reville saw for himself the “iron law correlation” between socioeconomic status and educational achievement/attainment. But, he said, reformers spurred to action by the 1983 report of President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education didn’t take poverty into account. Other problems included sclerotic bureaucracy, too many demands of time put upon teachers, and a one-size-fits-all approach.

What should happen, Reville said, is for education to be integrated with health and social services. He presented schools as a pipeline, with a surrounding “insulation” ranging from child care to afterschool programs to job-placement assistance for older graduates.

The conference was held in celebration of the fifth anniversary of CESR’s founding.

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