Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators
America’s public schools may not be as good as we want them to be, but they are the best they have ever been.
There is substantial evidence that America’s public schools are the best they have ever been.
- Our graduation rates are at their highest levels.
- Our dropout rates are at their lowest.
- NAEP achievement in reading and math is at its highest level.
- The achievement of minority students is at its highest level.
- College-going rates are at their highest level.
The good news and the bad news is that we are not satisfied with our performance. We want it to be better. We want it to be the best in the world. Unfortunately, however, education is not our number one national priority—as it is for many of the countries that outperform us on international tests. Education receives barely four percent of the U.S. federal budget. To be the best we’ll need to put our money where our mouth is.
Tweaking the educational system to make it more efficient is like putting wings on a ship to make it fly.
Today’s so-called reform efforts are not transformational.
- Charter schools are traditional schools that get exemptions from the regulations to which everybody else must adhere.
- Teachers are evaluated with the same old standardized tests that have consistently been labeled as unreliable and invalid.
- Our reform efforts seem to consist of heaping more rules and regulations on top of the very rules and regulations that already stand in the way of transformational change.
Transformational change means providing each child with a personalized education plan, teaching to the standards—not the test, abandoning seat time in favor of performance, doing away with grade levels and the agrarian calendar, and recognizing that, thanks to today’s technology, learning can occur anywhere.
Learning should be the primary measure of success, not time to completion.
We seem more concerned with having our students learn something within a specific period of time than having them learn it at all—whenever. Who made this a race? Must each child master an entire curriculum by eighteen or be branded a failure?
What if we changed the paradigm so that the important element is mastery-before-moving-on, and we eliminate the time factor? The normal distribution curve would suggest that approximately the same number of students would achieve mastery ahead of time as the number of students that will require more time. The best part is that no child will be left behind.
Poverty does make a difference.
Why do wealthy parents spend the equivalent of tuition at one of our Ivy League institutions to send their child to first grade at a private school? Could it be small class size, individualized attention, ample resources and a conducive environment? Correlating NAEP scores with percentages of students on free-and-reduced lunch shows that schools with a high concentration of poverty consistently score significantly lower than schools with a lower concentration of poverty.
Conclusion? Poverty makes a difference.
One goal does not fit all.
The fact that one-third of our students are dropping out of high school says to me that we are not doing enough to motivate our students to stay in school and learn skills that both match their interests and will keep them gainfully employed. Every child should have the opportunity to go to college and graduate, to be sure, but not every child wants to. Vocational education has become a dirty word these days, and recent administrations have been intent on doing away with the primary source of federal funding for vocational education, the Perkins grant.
Why are we are blind to the success that many of our European allies have had with apprenticeship programs—attended by sixty percent of their secondary students—that lead to students staying in school and learning skills and yield youth unemployment rates significantly lower than ours?
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Daniel A. Domenech has served as executive director of the American Association of School Administrators since July 2008. Domenech has more than 40 years of experience in public education, twenty-seven of those years served as a school superintendent.
Prior to joining AASA, Domenech served as senior vice president for National Urban Markets with McGraw-Hill Education. In this role, he was responsible for building strong relationships with large school districts nationwide.
Prior to his position at McGraw-Hill, Domenech served for seven years as superintendent of the Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools, the 12th largest school system in the nation with 170,000 students.
Domenech began his teaching career in New York City, where he taught sixth grade in a predominantly black and Hispanic community in South Jamaica, Queens. He then became program director for the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which is the largest intermediate school district in the State of New York. Following this, he was first named superintendent of schools for Long Island’s Deer Park Schools and then became superintendent of schools for the ethnically diverse South Huntington School District, also on Long Island -- a position he held for 13 years. From 1994 to 1997, he was district superintendent of the Second Supervisory District of Suffolk County and chief executive officer of the Western Suffolk BOCES.
Domenech, an AASA member since 1979, served as president of AASA from July 1998 to June 1999. He is also a past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the Suffolk County Superintendents Association, and the Suffolk County Organization for Promotion of Education. He was the first president and cofounder of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education.
In addition, Domenech has served on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment Governing Board, on the advisory board for the Department of Defense schools, and on the Board of Overseers for the Baldrige Award. He is currently chair for Communities in Schools of Virginia, the Learning First Alliance, the Educational Research Service and the Board of Visitors for the College of Education at the University of West Georgia. He serves on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the National Student Clearinghouse, Americas Promise, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the Sea Research Foundation.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in New York City and a Ph.D. from Hofstra University in Uniondale, N.Y.