Availability And Performance Standards

All K-12 students who achieve a certain level of skills development must be provided a substantive opportunity at college or trades education. However, reform in availability must be done along with reform in standards. These together make a package requiring balanced efforts. Reform in availability alone does not address the “grade rot,” also being called the “collapse of standards,” infecting our educational system. Reform in standards alone carries the risk of increasing elitism.

Concerning availability, we could study and adapt the details of the model in Ireland, in which any person who graduates from high school is offered sufficient resources and opportunity to attempt higher education. A state such as Montana that implements such policies is likely to blossom in education and then eventually in its economy, just as happened in Ireland over the past 20 years.

Standards can and probably must be applied to availability, but carefully, and while avoiding elitism. For example, there could be a base level of college support for high school graduates, but more for those who have worked harder and achieved more. Non-graded achievements such as community involvement would have to be factored in somehow. Perhaps the best approach would be to study the admissions policies of those colleges nationally that are managing to attract a wide variety of students who show achievement and capacity, and craft the support system with those standards in mind. Amherst College might be worth close study.

Concerning educational achievement, the trend is toward the devaluing of credentials. A teacher who writes an equation on the blackboard might receive complaints and thus face career risk. A school trying to enforce high standards risks loss of money and political support. The tendency is toward schools that pretend to teach, and students who pretend to learn. More and more students graduate from college lacking even the most basic skills in communication, math, etc.

This occurs in an atmosphere of ignorant complacency and/or denial. The truth is that the rest of the world is catching up to and passing the U.S. in average training and competence. If this problem is not addressed, the U.S. inevitably must decline relative to other centers of economic growth and innovation such as Dublin, Sydney, Toronto, Amsterdam. Those courageous and motivated students, teachers and schools trying to swim against the tide of grade rot must be encouraged. Montana schools K-12 and college must become known as schools in which one gets an “A” only with hard work. Such a reputation will attract the very sort of intelligent, involved citizens, the innovators and achievers who create progress, wealth, jobs. It will increase the percent of high-achievement Montana high school graduates who decide to go to college in Montana. And when Montana high school graduates decide to attend college elsewhere it will increase their admission percentage. O yes, Montana, an “A” means something there! Let’s take a closer look at this application.

This requires courage, commitment and toughness at all levels, and a united front of support from educators, politicians, the community. A rich alumnus comes storming in, outraged that little Bubba got a C-minus. Well, little Bubba deserved a C-minus. Tough. Get used to it.