Q: Why is a country with our resources behind others?
A: I visit about 30 countries a year. In every country I go to, there's a recognition that the future of the economy depends on educating young children, and the future of the economy doesn't depend on low-paying jobs; it doesn't depend on any physical resource, whether agricultural or natural resources. It depends on entering the information era. Perhaps because of its abundant wealth, because of its leadership in this area, the United States is relatively passive. I get a totally different reception in just about every country from that I get in the United States on this topic. In the U.S., we have endless debates over whether we should test or not test. We are in gridlock. We are just denying the existence of a problem. The debate is whether your capital plant, your school, should be up to standard. The debate isn't should the child graduating from your school be up to standards. It's misplaced priorities.
Q: How is this solved?
A: If you want to solve a problem, you define the problem, plan a solution, implement the solution, check the results and then cycle around from the results back to an action, then have a spiral plan to check the action. You can't solve a problem unless you monitor it, and you have to monitor it by testing the children through some form of standardized tests, typically at the local or state level, because I don't think we are ever going to have national criteria. They have to have a plan in place; they have to implement that plan, check the results and then act on those results to fix the system.
Q: Have state-based assessment programs helped?
A: The ultimate test is how well our students do internationally. My particular interests are math and science, and if you look at those international results, I think it's safe to say the U.S. has not shown any material improvement relative to its international counterparts. You are just in fact starting the system. You've introduced testing or assessment. Now, how do you use those results? How do you train those teachers? How do you adjust the curriculum? How do you measure the students' progress? That may be foreign to many administrators in the academic environment, but it is certainly not foreign to the rest of the world. Every business in the United States has a more complex environment to operate in now than it did 10 or 12 years ago. You hear quite often from schools about the difficulties they have with the influx of foreign students with multi-language capabilities and so forth and so on. Frankly, those are excuses for why you are not performing. Everyone has a more complicated job than they had 20 years ago. It's a matter of integrated training, implementation and assessment of results, then taking those results back in and determining whether you need more training or need to change the curriculum. And you just have to continue this cycle.
Q: Where are we in this cycle?
A: We are still in the planning cycle. I'd like to say we have the plan. But we are just implementing this.
Q: What key point would you make with the administrators of our public schools?
A: You are producing a product, and your product has to be acceptable to the end customer. There really are two end customers: the individual who receives the education and the company that hires that individual. You have to produce an end product that is acceptable to both. We've had anything but stringent requirements.