Helping high school kids pass life's test
Schools should stress science, math, high expectations
by Tom Luce
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Dallas attorney Tom Luce moved to Washington this year to take a top Department of Education job. As assistant secretary in charge of policy and planning, he works with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to improve American high schools. Mr. Luce's involvement with education goes back at least to the mid-1980s, when he and Ross Perot persuaded legislators to improve Texas schools. The education reformer spoke recently in Washington with editorial columnist William McKenzie.
What is the administration's high school initiative?
We'll announce it in January, but we have to increase the rigor in our high schools. And we need to personalize how we educate kids and keep their attention.
What does rigor mean?
A Nation at Risk, which came out in 1983, called for high schools to have four years of math and science. Only two states have that today.
I hope we communicate that math and science are critical, and not just if you want to be a mathematician or a scientist. They are key to problem-solving ... and to jobs in the 21st century. It's about the rigor of thinking.
That's interesting, because I think about those kids who aren't oriented toward math and science. What do they gain?
They gain the analytical skills that enable them to get the higher-paying jobs in the global economy. Rote jobs are going to be replaced by computers.
How do you personalize education?
More and more, with technology. And personalization can be with large groups. We're going to need math and science high schools. And high schools that are academies for information technology or for people who want to go into health care.
Personalization also can mean different teaching styles. With technology, we can present different options to kids and how they learn.
Margaret Spellings told our editorial board the other day that there are only a few states that give standardized high school tests beyond what's required in No Child Left Behind.
Yes. Many high schools give exit exams, but they only test at a 10th-grade level. Almost by definition, we're saying that we're not going to insist on rigor.
By the way, it was startling when all 50 governors signed a statement this winter that said a high school graduate needs the same training whether they're going into the workforce, community college or a four-year university. I agree with that, but we need high school exams to reflect college readiness and workforce readiness.
A 10th-grade exam doesn't do that. Eighty-five percent of the jobs created today require 14 years of education.
Many people feel like their kids are overtested. What is your response?
I ask audiences whether they took a test every week, and everybody's hand goes up. The only difference today is that there is more public information about the testing.
But tests may not have mattered as much as these tests.
OK, so are we saying that tests matter too much? We cannot have a system where we aren't testing to find out what our kids are learning. How can we ever know how to help a student succeed if we're not doing testing?
Let's name names. Which states are not rigorously enough testing high schoolers?
Most aren't. Texas' testing isn't rigorous enough.
We have a high school exit exam that tests 11th-grade knowledge. You need to assess until the end.
How do you engage 12th-graders ready to hit the door?
The bottom line is talented teachers.
How do you get more of them?
We're going to have an initiative to improve math and science teaching. And we want to reward better teachers and those who teach math and science.
What kind of money will go to teachers and classrooms?
Money's not irrelevant, but more important is how it is spent. In my mind, the best place to start is with better training of teachers.
How engaged is the business community with these efforts?
Business all over the country is pushing for more math and science. We're a net importer of technology. We can't stop the world. Our only choice is to get better and smarter.