NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Key Points and Commentary from the NCPA Colloquium on Restructuring Public Education

April 26, 2012

Business, education and elected officials came together at the National Center for Policy Analysis' first Education Colloquium on February 23 to discuss challenges and reform opportunities for public education.  Attendees represented significant stakeholders in educational outcomes, and provided perspectives on why there is so much dissatisfaction with the performance of the current system and what policies have the best chance of significantly improving academic outcomes.

Panelists included Linus Wright, an undersecretary of education during the Reagan administration and a former superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District; Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro, chair of the Senate Education Committee; Jim Keyes, chairman and chief executive officer of Blockbuster and founder of Education Is Freedom; John Ellis Price, president of the University of North Texas at Dallas; and David Chard, dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University.

All of the speakers emphasized the importance of quality early childhood education.  Dr. David Chard pointed to the federal Early Reading First and Reading First programs as successes.  Consider the most recent data from Early Reading First:

  • Nearly 70 percent of kindergarteners formerly enrolled in an Early Reading First program for at least one year prior to entry into kindergarten scored in the 50th percentile or above as measured by the Woodcock-Johnson III, Letter-Word Identification (Test 1) subtest.
  • More than 90 percent achieved a standard score above the "at risk" range as measured by the same Woodcock-Johnson subtest.
  • More than 80 percent of program participants demonstrated age-appropriate oral language skills as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

Another major theme was the need for customization of instruction to address the great diversity in how children learn and what sustains their engagement in learning processes.  Panelists also focused on the need for accountability for educators and the important role the business community plays in public education.

The business community's reengagement is exemplified by the Education Is Freedom program.  Colloquium panelist Jim Keyes founded the program in 2002 along with other business leaders in order to provide comprehensive college access services.  The program has been successful in its goal of equipping students with the necessary tools to prepare for college.  Consider:

  • On average, 72 percent of Education Is Freedom participants go on to college -- 31 percentage points higher than the Dallas Independent School District's rate and 20 percentage points higher than the statewide average.
  • In 2011, 94 percent of the 2,400 participants graduated from high school and 93 percent were accepted to college.

Dr. John Ellis Price stated that current trends point to a future generation that is less educated than the current generation.  Since broad-based knowledge and wisdom drive economic growth and productive political discourse, we need the kind of system transformation that can reverse those trends.  Urgency and the difficulty of overcoming inertia grows daily.

Source: John Merrifield and Courtney O'Sullivan, "Key Points and Commentary from the NCPA Colloquium on Restructuring Public Education," National Center for Policy Analysis, April 26, 2012.

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