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There is probably not a parent alive who doesn’t want to see their child or children move ahead. They want to see them find their strengths and make their way through the world. Unless I am wrong, we all want that for our children.
But how do we move them forward? There are many answers to that question, yet we can’t begin to find them until we discover what our children can do well and what they can’t do so well. Once we have identified their strengths and weaknesses as individuals, we can begin to build upon their talents and work on their deficits.
That concept applies to their schooling, as well. Assuming we want our kids to progress, we need to know where our kids excel and where they don’t.
In short, that’s what school accountability is all about. It may appear like it is all about testing, but testing is only the means to the end. The end is making sure our kids have a shot at making it in the broader world.
The fancy term for making one’s way through the world is social and economic mobility. Unfortunately, that concept has gotten lost in the bloody battles over accountability in Washington, state capitals and school districts. The attention is too often on the means, not the end.
So, let’s take a step back from those red-hot debates and remember the larger point: Social and economic mobility largely starts with a strong education foundation. Indeed, this new Brookings Institution study identifies five variables that children need to advance.
Naturally, a good education is one of them. In the early grades, students need strong reading and math skills. In high school, they need not only to know the basics but master them at a rate that allows them to have a shot at college. And college is important because a child will have much more mobility throughout their lives with a degree. (As the report indicates, some college is better than none, but a four-year degree is better. College grads often have greater ability to adapt in a changing economy.)
A good system of measurements helps put students on the path to this kind of mobility. I don’t doubt there are ways to fine-tune such systems, but don’t we all want to get our kids on that path?
William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.
Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.
Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.
Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.
McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.Full Bio
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