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Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the performance of African-American students on tests in reading, mathematics, and science improved substantially between the early 1970s and mid-1980s, both in absolute terms and in comparison with whites. Since then, however, there has been little change in the relative performance of African Americans and whites in science, mathematics, or reading, and no consistent pattern is evident in writing.

Among Hispanics, there is evidence that the performance gaps from white students decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, but recent trends are less encouraging. Among 17-year-olds, for example, recent assessments have revealed some widening of the difference between Hispanic and white students, and the 1996 gap was not significantly different from what was documented in 1975.

The persistence of achievement differentials among various ethnic and racial groups has been a source of continuing concern and debate in the United States. For example, the under-representation of African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students among high-achieving students in primary, secondary, and higher education was the subject of a recent report by the blue-ribbon National Task Force on Minority High Achievement, which declared that in the absence of progress on this front, the United States will "be unable to draw on the full range of talents of our population in an era when the value of an educated citizenry has never been greater."

Minority achievement in an international perspective. Despite these score differentials, U.S. minority pupils do relatively well in comparison with students in other countries. The 1991 IEA Reading Literacy Study found the familiar pattern of performance differences among different races and ethnic groups, with whites outperforming African-American and Hispanic students at both grade levels. Nevertheless, as Binkley and Williams wrote, "Most groups of American students outperform the OECD average. Even the most disadvantaged American students do not differ dramatically from the OECD average."


As in most industrial countries, men and women in the United States persist in school at similar rates, though in recent years females have had a slight, albeit growing, edge. The event dropout rate for males in grades 10 to 12 rose from 4.0 to 5.0 between 1990 and 1997. The comparable rate for females rose from 3.9 to 4.1 during the same period. Among persons 25 to 34 years old, 87.9 percent of females but only 85.9 percent of males have completed secondary education.

Achievement presents a somewhat more complex picture, with girls doing better in reading and boys in mathematics and science, especially at advanced levels. In 1996, the differences between average scores of male and female students on NAEP tests varied across the four subject areas. In mathematics, male students outperformed female students in each of the three age groups. In science, average scores for male students were higher than those for female students at ages 13 and 17, but there was no significant difference at age 9. In reading and writing, the results were reversed, with female students outperforming male students at each age or grade level.

In science, mathematics and reading the gender gaps in 1996 were not significantly different from those in early 1970s.


NAEP data show that "urban fringe" students perform at higher levels than their rural or central-city counterparts. Critics frequently speak about a "crisis in urban education" in the United States. In introducing a special issue on "the urban challenge," the journal Education Week stated that "it’s hard to exaggerate the education crisis in America’s cities," and commented, "When people talk about the problems in public education, they’re usually not talking about suburbs and small towns. They’re talking about big-city schools—specifically the ones that serve poor children."

The situation of urban schools is important because minorities and poor people are heavily concentrated in cities and because racial segregation is high in most U.S. metropolitan areas. Thus, the inequities discussed above tend to be spelled out in bold relief in urban areas. As we shall see later, the bulk of major school reform projects now underway in the United States are targeted at urban schools.

Non-English-speaking students

Although immigrant students face challenges in adapting to a new culture, special services tend to be limited to programs designed for non-English speakers. The fact that many Hispanic students are recent immigrants is generally seen as a major reason that Hispanics attain lower levels of education than other ethnic groups.

Data for 1997 show that, among 16- to 24-year-olds, 24 percent of persons born outside the 50 states and the District of Columbia are status dropouts, compared with 10 percent for first-generation Americans and 9 percent for later-generation ones. The disparities are particularly striking among Hispanics, where the status dropout rate is 39 percent for those born outside the country, 15 percent for first generation, and 18 percent for later-generation persons.

School Finance

In contrast to the situation in many other countries, local sources of revenue play an important role in the financing of public education in the United States. Local property taxes have traditionally provided the basic funding for schools, with states also contributing significant percentages. The federal government supplies only 7 percent of the costs of primary and secondary schooling, mainly targeted at particular groups of students, such as those from low-income families.

Substantial reliance on local property taxes raises equity issues in that it gives a relative advantage to wealthy school districts, where property values are high. In the early 1970s, a school finance reform movement emerged to challenge the fairness of this system, first in federal courts and then in state courts. In many of the state-level cases, the plaintiffs were victorious, and states were forced to take such steps as subsidizing districts with low property values. Reformers have continued to press school finance cases based on equitable inputs. Michigan recently abolished local property taxes as the basis for financing schools, and Vermont adopted a statewide property tax.

Nevertheless, substantial inequities have persisted in the amount of money that different school districts can spend on each pupil. As a result, over the last decade the focus of the debate over school finance has shifted from inputs to outputs—from concern about equity in the resources going into education to a concern with whether funding levels are adequate to ensure acceptable educational results. As a recent report on school finance by the National Research Council put it, "It seems that finance reforms of the past, with their emphasis on the fiscal capacity of school districts, insufficiently address pressing equity questions of today, which include how to use the finance system to foster high levels of learning for all students, regardless of background, and what to do about the desperate social, economic, and educational problems that plague some central-city schools."

A turning point in the discussions came in 1989 when the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that the state system of education was failing to meet the requirements of the state constitution, not because of spending inequities but because the quality of education in Kentucky schools was too low. The court ordered the legislature to enact sweeping changes in the entire education system—not merely in the way it is funded but in its governance, accountability, and other structures as well. Courts in numerous other states have since ruled that students are guaranteed an adequate level of educational opportunities.

Debate over school finance in the 1990s has thus focused on how to structure a finance system that will provide schools not only with sufficient operating funds, but also with professional training, incentives, and accountability mechanisms to promote student achievement. The policy debate is complicated because it is difficult both to define what constitutes an adequate education and to determine what level of per pupil funding is sufficient to achieve such a result. Technical challenges also arise when determining how much more it costs to educate children from disadvantaged backgrounds than those from more privileged circumstances.

Discussions are also complex because, as we shall see in the following section, reformers differ in their view of what steps will lead to higher student performance. Some see professional development of teachers and administrators as the key to improvement. Others focus on the importance of incentives and favor solutions such as charter schools or vouchers. Each of these approaches implies a different way to allocate funds.

3. School reform strategies

The standards movement has developed in large part because of the widespread belief of the American public that schools do not provide students with the level of education they need to be competitive workers, citizens, and family members in the years ahead. Much of this concern about quality centers on urban schools and those serving high proportions of low-income and minority youngsters.

With public concern rising over issues of quality and equity, a national debate developed in the United States during the 1990s over which strategies are likely to be the most effective in improving academic achievement, especially in schools serving high proportions of disadvantaged students. A number of distinct ideas have emerged about the roots of the problems facing U.S. schools and promising ways to address them. These ideas, in turn, have become the basis for a number of distinct strategic approaches to school improvement.

The most important ideas currently being debated by school reforms in the United States include:

Decentralized governance and management. As already mentioned, the United States has a decentralized system. Public education is, constitutionally, a function of the 50 states, which in turn delegate most authority for operating schools to local districts. Federal funds account for only 7 percent of all spending on primary and secondary education, with most of this money targeted at specific educational needs, such as those of disadvantaged or handicapped students. Despite this relatively decentralized system, many school reformers believe that the roots of low student achievement rest in overly centralized governance structures that deny local schools the freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of their particular students. They assert that educational decisions, including instructional choices, should be made as close to the point where they are implemented as possible. Numerous districts have experimented with site-based management systems under which districts devolve decision-making authority to individual schools or principals share authority with teachers and others within schools.

Diversity of learning options. As a large country with a diverse and often independent-minded citizenry, the United States has traditionally been characterized by considerable variety in its institutions, including its schools. Private and religious primary and secondary schools have flourished alongside public ones, and the educational landscape is replete with schools organized around particular pedagogical philosophies. In recent years, such supply-side diversity in schooling has increased. Thousands of public schools have been reorganized as "magnet" schools specializing in particular academic areas such as fine arts or the sciences–often as a means of promoting racial desegregation. The push for institutional diversity has also been prompted by findings that students differ widely in their learning styles and thus in their educational needs.

Another sign of increased supply-side diversity is the push for "charter schools." These are regular public schools that agree to teach to specified academic standards in return for being exempted from many of the rules and regulations that restrict the actions of other public schools. The first charter school was established in 1992, and, according to the U.S. Department of Education, by 1998 more than 1,100 of them were operating in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

A parallel trend has been an increase in the number of primary- and secondary-level students being schooled at home by their parents. Estimates put the figure as high as 1.2 million children, or about 1 percent of the school population. In the past most parents who taught their children at home did so because they believed that the climate and teaching in public schools were inconsistent with the family’s religious and moral values. In recent years, however, such parents have become a minority among home schoolers. A growing number of U.S. parents are keeping their children at home because of disillusionment with the quality of instruction or because they believe that public schools are unsafe. Many parents take advantage of courses available on the Internet to reinforce their own knowledge.

Market competition. Some school reformers believe that public schools lack adequate incentives to raise achievement levels because they enjoy a "monopoly" position and benefit from a guaranteed stream of students. If schools were put in the position of having to compete for students, this argument runs, they would find ways of improving the quality of their offerings. Such reasoning is implicit in charter schools and voucher schemes, and it assumes that principles of the economic marketplace can be applied successfully to the delivery of social services such as education.

Parental choice as a right. Giving parents the right to choose the school that their child will attend is variously seen as a way of introducing diversity into school systems and causing schools to be more efficient and effective. Since the late 1980s, school districts have offered three basic types of choice programs: intradistrict ones in which students can attend various schools within their home district, interdistrict ones that allow students to chose public schools outside their own district, and magnet school programs under which schools offer distinctive educational programs designed to attract students with particular interests. Some reformers also believe that, regardless of any strategic value for improving education, parental choice is a fundamental right of parents and children.

Local schools as the focus of reform. During the 1990s, a growing number of reformers argued that the proper unit on which to focus attention is the local school. They argued that the school is the place where all of the elements of education come together–teaching, learning, curriculum, administration, testing, etc.–and that the key to reform is to ensure that schools function as harmonious and effective organisms.

Value of incentives. Many policy makers believe that the key to successful reform lies in providing administrators, teachers, and students with the greater incentives to perform at a high level. To accomplish this, many states have set up accountability systems typically involving both carrots, such as financial rewards to schools that surpass learning expectations, and sticks, including state takeovers of schools with a high proportion of low-achieving students.

None of the ideas described above can be said to imply a particular full-blown strategy for school improvement. Rather, school reformers have put together various combinations of these and other ideas. At least four distinct approaches to school improvement have emerged in the United States over the last decade:

1. Systemic reform–This strategy, an important product of the standards movement discussed above, seeks to align all of the major elements of an educational system so that they are working harmoniously toward specific learning objectives. The first step is to develop public consensus around an ambitious set of educational outcomes, such as those contained in national standards. The next step is to provide schools with the resources and the operational latitude to work toward these outcomes; the final component is a system under which students, teachers, and entire school communities are held accountable for reaching these goals.

Numerous states have launched systemic reform programs aimed at coordinating curriculum standards with the content of curricula, textbooks, and statewide examinations. The performance of students, teachers, and schools is then monitored, and a variety of rewards, including financial awards to teachers, and sanctions, including taking over failing schools by the state, are then imposed. Teachers’ professional development is usually key to the success of system reform efforts.

2. Governance changes–Many reformers believe that new governance structures are the key to school improvement. School-based management is one manifestation of this approach, charter schools are another. Charter schools have been organized by a wide range of sponsors, including groups of parents or educators, community organizations, and teachers unions. Proponents view charters as a way of introducing diversity and competition into the delivery of education while remaining within a public framework. Some charter schools are started from scratch by parents or educators committed to a particular educational approach or who wish to serve a particular group of students. In other cases, existing public schools are reorganized as "conversion" charters.

The charter school approach combines belief in the virtues of decentralization, diversity, parental choice, and competition. The charter school strategy differs from voucher plans in the important respect that charters are all publicly operated and that no charter funds go to private or parochial schools.

3. Whole-school reform–One approach to educational improvement that attracted considerable backing in the United States in the 1990s is the notion of "whole- school" reform. This approach begins with the assumption that the local school is the most promising unit on which to focus reform efforts. It contrasts with strategies that view areas such as curriculum reform, better teacher training, or governance changes for entire school districts as the keys to school improvement. Whole-school reform focuses on schools as organic units and looks for ways to ensure that their various components work together efficiently and effectively in pursuit of agreed-upon goals. Such projects typically emphasize setting standards, aligning teaching and testing with curriculum goals, and professional development.

Whole-school reform experiments began to appear in the 1980s, and the approach was given a major boost in the 1990s with the founding of the New American Schools Development Corporation, now known as New American Schools. This project, which has received federal and private funding, fostered the creation of what President George Bush called "break the mold" schools. The Federal Title I program aimed at low-income pupils now offers subsidies for districts that adopt designs on a specified list of such schools. In February 1999, the American Institutes of Research published a study that evaluated 24 whole-school designs on their effectiveness in improving student achievement.

The whole-school approach is compatible with the systemic reform approach and can be used under both centralized and decentralized governance systems. It can also be combined with parental choice and charter schemes.

4. Educational vouchers–Many reformers who believe that changing incentives is the key to school improvement favor educational vouchers. Under this approach, parents are given financial chits that can be used to pay for their child at any school, public or private. Although vouchers schemes have been the topic of impassioned debate in the United States, the strategy has thus far been attempted in only two relatively small publicly funded experiments, both directed toward low-income children. There are several privately funded voucher programs, however, and one state, Florida, will soon launch a statewide voucher experiment.

Voucher schemes have attracted support from an unlikely combination of free-market conservatives, who accept the economic model of market competition as relevant to education, and minority group leaders who are have become disillusioned with the quality of inner-city schools and have given up on the capacity of the existing system to improve. One serious restraint on the spread of vouchers has been court rulings barring the use of public funds to pay the tuition of children in Roman Catholic or other parochial schools.

Differences among strategies. There are some important philosophical differences among the various strategies for school improvement described above. In a broad sense, debate has evolved into a conflict between those who want to work within existing structures to improve the current system and those who believe the current structures are beyond repair. Standards-based reformers are on one side of this debate, voucher proponents at the other. Charter backers are in the middle—looking for ways to increase diversity and introduce the incentives of competition but doing so within current structures.

Reformers also differ over whether changes within the current system should be incremental or comprehensive. Some see the answer in particular strategies, such as smaller class size or better teacher training, while others insist that a package of reforms is necessary. Debates over the best strategy for improving schools also reflect a broader political discussion about the proper role of government. Voucher proponents want minimal governmental involvement, while others believe that tampering with public control of schools would be a serious mistake.

The facts that so many ideas have surfaced about how to improve schools and that so many competing movements have emerged reflects the diversity and openness of U.S. education. Americans have always been cautious about prescriptive national policies, and educational advocacy has a long tradition. Educational issues have always been debated and pursued by a wide variety of organizations, from parent and citizen groups and teacher unions to business associations, and the 1990s has seen a proliferation of advocacy groups, think tanks, and forums.

The competing whole-school models have themselves come from a wide range of sources, from individual academics to Outward Bound, a wilderness program. In a recent analysis of the whole-school reform movement for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, James Traub suggested a scenario under which "elements of various species of reform" will eventually be combined to create large-scale change. "It is a very messy way of discovering the truth," he said, "but it is also a peculiarly American way."

4. Information technology

Students growing up in the United States are exposed daily to a wide range of information technologies. Television and radio play an important part in their daily lives, as do computer games, video games, Walkmans, and CD-ROMS. Public television is an important educational force for U.S. children along with commercial channels that specialize in history, science, or the arts. The software industry, which barely existed two decades ago, now rivals the publishing industry as a source of information for children and adults alike. Teachers seeking to supplement the traditional technologies of books and whiteboards in their classroom teaching have a virtually unlimited supply at their fingertips.

Educators, of course, have traditionally been rather slow to embrace new communication technologies. Mass printing was developed by the mid-15th century, but it took another three centuries for textbooks, perceived as a threat to the authority of teachers, to become common in schools. The telephone, radio, film, television, and other modern technologies have had marginal impact on the teaching and learning process. It has been said that the only significant technological innovations of the 20th century to find a secure place in U.S. schools are the loudspeaker and the overhead projector.

This situation now appears to be changing, mainly because of the pervasiveness of the computer and related technologies in today’s world. A significant turning point in public attitudes occurred in 1982 when Time magazine selected the computer as its "Man of the Year." Parents and others soon began pressuring school officials to invest in the new technologies so as not to leave students unprepared for the information age, and the availability of computers in U.S. schools has grown ever since. According to Market Data Retrieval, a research firm that tracks computer use in schools, the number of students per instructional computer in U.S. schools has plummeted from 19.2 in 1992 to 5.7 in 1999, while the number of students for each of the more powerful and versatile multimedia computers has dropped from 21.2 in 1997 to 13.6 in 1999.

The growth of computers in schools has been paralleled by huge investment in new learning techniques on the part of governments, foundations, and private investors. In 1994, the federal government made a commitment to assist every school and classroom in connecting to the Internet, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 made telecommunications services and technologies available to schools and libraries at discounted rates. According to Market Data Retrieval, 90 percent of U.S. schools report having Internet access, up from 32 percent three years ago. About 71 percent of schools have such access in at least one classroom, which suggests that access is moving well beyond school libraries and computer laboratories. More than half of schools have their own home page on the World Wide Web.

Although most U.S. students now have at least minimal access to computers in their schools, educators are only beginning to learn how to make the most effective use of these powerful new machines. Two important policy issues are (1) how to integrate computers into the instructional process, and (2) how to make teachers comfortable using them.

The initial strategy of many school administrators was to make a decision on a particular brand of hardware to purchase and then to look for ways in which those particular machines could enhance teaching and learning. This approach often proved frustrating in situations where available software did not relate easily to existing curricula. Over the years, teachers and administrators in the United States have sought to reverse the process by first seeking to clarify learning objectives and then looking for hardware and software with the capability to serve these ends. Despite this change in orientation, progress has been slow.

In their third annual report on education technology, Education Week and the Milken Exchange on Education Technology surveyed 1,400 teachers on their use of and attitudes about digital content. The survey reported that although 97 percent of teachers surveyed use a computer either at home or in school for professional activities, nearly four in ten teachers say that their students do not use classroom computers at all during a typical week. Only 53 percent reported using software to enhance instruction in their classes, while 61 percent said that they use the Internet for such purposes. The study found that, although there are many exceptions, teachers tend to use computers to do things they already doing—though presumably better and faster. Even at the secondary level, teachers tend to use computers for basic tasks such as word processing rather than exploiting computers as a learning tool. For example, only 22 percent of science teachers reported using software related to "simulations/exploratory environments" at least three times during the previous year, and only 17 percent incorporated spreadsheet or database software that often. Sixty-seven percent of teachers in classrooms with six or more instructional computers reported relying on digital content to a "moderate" or "very great" extent, compared with only 40 percent of teachers whose classrooms have only one or two computers.

The principal reason that more teachers do not use computers for instructional purposes, the survey found, is that, with the exception of so-called integrated learning systems, most software is designed to be a supplemental resource. "Teachers are still relying mainly on textbooks to deliver the core of the curriculum," the report stated. Other factors cited were the difficulty in finding good software, lack of time to prepare or try out software, and the fact that one out of five teachers using instructional software said that they had to pay for it themselves.

Experience with computers in the United States over the last decade and a half suggests that there are a number of keys to making effective use of new technologies in schools. Curricula must be designed in such a way that they can use such technologies, and an infrastructure must be put in place to provide teachers and administrators with technical and other support. Since teachers cannot be expected to create their own courseware any more than they are expected to write their own textbooks, relevant software must be provided. Perhaps most important are the attitudes and training of teachers. In the early days of classroom computing, it was a truism that students and younger teachers were more comfortable with the new technologies than were experienced teachers. Since most teachers now have computers in their homes, however, that attitudinal gap has narrowed. The Education Week survey found that teachers who had received technology training over the past year are more likely to use software and Web sites as part of their instruction. Moreover, teachers were more likely to consider themselves prepared to use computers if they had received training aimed specifically at integrating technology into the curriculum rather than instruction in basic computer skills. The training picture, however, is mixed. A majority of teachers surveyed (57 percent) reported receiving both kinds of training, but only 42 percent of respondents had more than five hours, and only 29 percent had that much training focused on curriculum integration.

Equity remains an issue in the distribution of access to computers in U.S. classrooms. The number of students per instructional computer is just about as low in schools serving poor communities as it is in more affluent ones, but the latter continue to have an advantage—albeit a declining one—in access to the Internet. In 1994, schools in which less than 11 percent of students qualified for subsidized lunch programs were twice as likely to have Internet connections. By 1998, the gap had narrowed to 87 percent versus 80 percent. On average, the larger the school, the more likely it was to be connected to the Internet.

As computers become an increasingly familiar part of the life of U.S. schools, educators and others continue to speculate on future directions for digital instruction. Much of this speculation has to do with the capacity of instructional technology to outstrip the traditional means of delivering education, both physical and chronological. Instructional technology offers the opportunity to extend learning outside the limits of the school day and beyond the walls of the schoolhouse. As Haddad writes, "When education is seen as a continuum, with no marked beginning and end, the architecture of education services and the allocation of resources will be affected. No longer should countries view formal educational institutions as the sole educators, or the only institutions worthy of financial investment. Other channels, from educational television to offerings of virtual schooling over the Internet or Intranet, to community learning centers, to training schemes, will have to be figured into the equation."

Thus far there is little evidence that educators and policy makers are thinking in such terms–at least at the primary and secondary levels. Some primary schools, especially those serving low-income students, make use of integrated learning systems to teach basic skills such as reading and arithmetic, and many home schoolers use courseware from the Internet. In short, most U.S. pupils continue to receive instruction in traditional classrooms.

Nevertheless, some subtle changes appear to be underway, especially in the way teachers are going about their work. Computers and the Internet make information plentiful and cheap and force redefinition of the principal role of the teacher from a source of information to the coach who can lead students to learn on their own. An independent evaluation of one statewide technology initiative in Rhode Island found that 66 percent of teachers reported becoming more reflective about their teaching, 59 percent found themselves more in the role of coach and being willing to be taught by their students, and 52 percent reported spending more time working with other teachers on instructional planning.

Ronald Thorpe, who was involved in the Rhode Island program, listed six shifts in attitude that flow from integrating technology into the instructional process:

• From the narrow, restrictive notion of a finite knowledge universe to an expanding knowledge universe rich in context and connections.

• From the teacher as holder of all information to the teacher as coach and guide for younger, less experienced learners.

• From repeating the old to creating the new.

• From merely gathering information to focusing on essential questions about the information and spending more time on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

• From valuing only one or two learning modes to drawing on a much fuller spectrum of learning modes.

• From learning that takes place primarily through each person’s working alone to learning in collaboration with others.

The evolution of instructional technology in U.S. classrooms over the last decade and a half can thus be understood as a shift in focus from fascination and preoccupation with the technology in and of itself to greater understanding of the way this technology can serve instructional goals, including those not yet fully envisioned. The general news media and educational journals are replete with "gee whiz" stories about particular learning activities that computers make possible, such as primary school pupils all over the world collecting data on acid rain and analyzing it from a central student-run source. While inherently interesting, these activities take on lasting impact only when guided by a vision of broader instructional goals, such as teaching the nature of the scientific method. As Haddad writes, "It is important to remember that technology is not an educational activity—it is a tool, a means to an end. Technologies can be effective if they are designed and implemented deliberately to enhance students’ learning and collaboration."

5. Education for employment and career changes

A recent report to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the transition from education to work characterized education in the United States as "at once vocational and academic." It noted that "programs are often purposeful blends so that academic knowledge becomes applied in the workplace, and workplace skills are harnessed to reinforce academic pursuits." Consistent with such an approach, there is rarely a clear transition from schooling to the workplace in the United States. "Rather than following a linear movement from school to work," the report observed, "young people often combine both activities–pursuing one part-time and the other full-time, intermittently undertaking one activity or the other, or re-engaging either activity after a long hiatus."

The relationship between education and the workplace in the United States is striking in at least two respects. First, in contrast to most other countries, it is commonplace in the United States for high school students to hold part-time jobs, often in supermarkets or fast food restaurants. Some students take after-school and weekend jobs out of economic necessity to help with the family finances; others, however, do so to acquire clothing, music systems, cars, or other consumer items. This custom has both positive and negative effects. When students take jobs, even menial ones, they gain an understanding of how the workplace operates and are exposed to values such as the need to show up for work on time. On the other hand, teachers complain that part-time jobs often cut into the time students have available for their academic pursuits.

A second striking characteristic of education and the workplace in the United States is that it is highly forgiving. As the report to OECD put it, "The United States is the land of second, third, fourth, and even fifth chances." In contrast to countries where students proceed from one level or type of education to another in lock-step fashion, the United States offers many paths to career goals. Students who fail to obtain a high school diploma with their peers at age 18 can obtain an equivalency diploma later on by taking courses and taking examinations in high school subjects. Many institutions of higher education operate continuing education programs in evenings and on weekends for working adults, and many employers offer training and education opportunities at their offices and factories. Some firms, mainly in high-tech fields, are even authorized to grant graduate degrees. Specialized schools offer training and credentials in a wide range of vocational areas, from hairdressing to paralegal work. With the advent of distance learning, opportunities for training and education outside the general education system no doubt will increase exponentially.

Public vocational education became a part of the U.S. education system in the early 20th century when vocational schools were organized around particular industries, such as the building trades or electronics. Following World War II, the concept emerged of the "comprehensive" high school under which public secondary schools offered both vocational and general education tracks.

From the very beginning, policy makers have waged vigorous debates over how best to design vocational curricula. Some have favored highly focused training for specific jobs, while others have emphasized broader skills transferable to a variety of them.

Beginning in the 1960s, the quality of vocational education in the United States went into a period of decline. Academic standards tended to be quite low, and vocational schools came to be known as "dumping grounds" for students who had not succeeded in regular academic settings. Data show that graduates of high school programs with a vocational focus tend to learn substantially less than students with similar characteristics who attend high schools with a broader academic focus. The declining reputation of vocational education programs in high schools can be seen in enrollment figures. As noted on page 27, between 1982 and 1992, there was a more than 50 percent decrease in demand for vocational education courses of study and a corresponding increase in demand for college preparatory and general education program enrollment.

In the 1990s, however, policy makers took a new tack. It became clear that the workplace of the future would require not only that workers possess more sophisticated skills than in the past but that they also be able to move from one job to another. In 1990, the federal government adopted legislation providing funds for programs that "integrate academic and vocational that students achieve both academic and occupational competencies." Programs following this philosophy characteristically emphasize well-sequenced curricula that enhance academic and generic skills needed by all workers, use facilitative rather than didactic instruction, emphasize collaboration between vocational and academic teachers, and pay attention to the skills and knowledge students need to make the transition from high school to work or college.

Another approach that has gained considerable support is "school-to-work" programs designed to familiarize high school students with the world of work. In the past, many young people were exposed to adult work through farming and small businesses run by their families or neighbors. For most students today, however, exposure to the workplace is limited to menial "youth jobs." To overcome this disengagement from adult work, many schools, especially those in large cities, have begun offering programs in which students engage in structured work and learning experiences outside school through means such as internships, mentoring, and "shadowing" of adults involved in various professional activities.

One type of institution that has played an important role in the school-to-work transition and that has been pivotal to second chances has been the community college. These public two-year institutions were founded at the turn of the century as a way of increasing access to higher education in a rapidly growing and industrializing nation. Enrollment soared when baby boomers reached college age in the 1960s, and community colleges now account for 44 percent of postsecondary enrollment.

Community colleges serve commuting students and have traditionally juggled three distinct and sometimes conflicting missions. Some students seek training and credentials, typically an associate degree, in a vocational field, such as computer programming or dental hygiene. Others use them as a convenient and inexpensive way to obtain two years of general education and then transfer to a four-year college. Community colleges also provide lifelong learning in a wide range of areas, both professional and recreational.

Enrollment in community colleges is expected to grow in the next few years as the federal HOPE Scholarship program is implemented. This program, designed to help middle-class families bear the cost of higher education, provides for a two-year tax credit of US$1,500, which is roughly the annual tuition of community colleges.

Considerable controversy has arisen in recent years over the role of community colleges as stepping-stones to a bachelor’s degree for students who cannot afford four-year colleges or who did not go on to college immediately after high school. Demand by employers for more skilled workers has focused attention on this mission of community colleges, but the proportion of community college students who transfer to four-year schools has been dropping since the early 1970s. Some critics blame community colleges for not pushing this part of their mission, while others say that four-year colleges put up bureaucratic roadblocks to potential transfer students. Several states have recently passed legislation guaranteeing that credits for core academic courses obtained at community colleges will be accepted at public colleges and universities.

6. Knowledge-based decision making

The United States has long been a pioneer in the field of educational evaluation. It was at the forefront of efforts by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement to initiate international assessments of student performance, and U.S. educators and researchers played a central role in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. In keeping with this tradition, an important trend in the United States during the 1990s has been a growing effort to inform policy decisions with data and research. Political and educational leaders are increasingly asking whether proposals that come to them are "research-based." The practice establishing "benchmarks" at a particular time and then issuing reports on the financial condition and achievement progress of individual schools, school districts, and even entire states is growing.

The trend toward knowledge-based decision making is, to a large extent, a response to pressure from proponents of systemic reform and others to set quantifiable goals for education and then to hold practitioners accountable for reaching these goals. Such an approach presumes the availability of data on topics such as student achievement, and, as discussed earlier, the result has been a proliferation of state testing programs. A growing number of states are issuing "school report cards" that pull together data on topics such as test scores, attendance, and dropout rates and that allow parents and voters to compare schools with each other on a variety of criteria. Increasing amounts of data are also available at the state level. The National Assessment of Educational Progress is publishing more and more data that make it possible to compare the performance of state education systems, and Education Week, a weekly education newspaper, publishes

annual comparisons of state education systems.

Knowledge-based decision making has encouraged research aimed at identifying practices that will make teaching and learning more efficient and effective. An early example of policy makers using research to inform their decisions is Project STAR in the state of Tennessee described in the accompanying box.

Not all states, however, have taken such a careful approach to policies on class size. In the late 1990s, California embarked on a US$1.5 billion a year effort to reduce class size across the boards in elementary grades. While the policy led to a slight rise in scores on standardized tests, it also had some substantial negative side effects. The need to hire so many new teachers forced schools to lower their standards and to rely on makeshift classrooms, and an exodus of teachers from inner-city schools to wealthy suburban districts was also reported.

Much educational research is now aimed at identifying "best practices" and putting this information at the disposal of educational consumers, both individual and institutional. As mentioned above, the American Institutes of Research recently published a study that evaluated 24 whole-school designs on how well they promoted student achievement. The findings were presented in a graphic style that was popularized by a well-known consumer magazine and was designed to make the information accessible to members of local school boards and other interested citizens and policy makers. Another recent example is No Excuses, a report sponsored by the Heritage Foundation that profiles seven principals of low-income schools who succeeded in maintaining high standards of achievement for their schools.

Class Size in Tennessee

In the mid-1980s public pressure was mounting to reduce average class size in the early grades. Tennessee legislators were nervous about making the huge investment that would be required to reduce class size across the board, especially if it turned out—as some scholars were predicting -- that such a move would not have a significant impact on student achievement. So the legislature decided to try out class reduction on a small scale and in a systematic way. Starting in 1985, 6,500 kindergarten students were randomly assigned to small classes (13 to 17 students), regular ones (22 to 25) or regular classes with teaching aids. Pupils stayed in the three types of classes through third grade.

Researchers with Project STAR found that students who had spent four years in the smaller classes performed at significantly higher levels than those in the other two groups even when they went on to regular classrooms in the higher grades. The positive effects have continued to be felt, with these students graduating from high school and going on to college at higher rates. The impact was greatest on students from minority groups and those in inner city schools.

Another area of educational research that has attracted considerable public interest is the investigations of brain researchers and cognitive psychologists into the process by which human beings acquire knowledge. Findings in this area, which have been the topic of cover stories in Time, Newsweek, and other national publications, have focused public attention on the importance of early childhood education. They have driven home the message that many learning problems can be addressed through clinical intervention, and they have cast doubt on many prevalent teaching practices. As Haddad put it, such research "points to the need to move away from education as it is presently constructed: individual, isolated-learning, extracted from context, focused on superficial (rote) learning. Brain growth and development dictate that education be structured to allow children to make sense of their environments, solve problems, and learn through social activities that have meaning to them in an environment that is secure and challenging."

An obvious contributing factor to the new emphasis on knowledge-based decision making is the fact that computers have made it possible to generate and to use more data than in the past. As already noted, North Carolina, for example, now calculates how much each primary and secondary student progresses in core academic subjects each year and then uses these data to evaluate the performance of their school. Such a value-added approach would have been impossible before the advent of sophisticated computer programs.

The trend toward knowledge-based decision making is not without its problems. Educational research suffers from comparison with the model of medicine, where researchers routinely develop hypotheses and then test them on large numbers of persons using systematic samples and control groups. Schools and even single classrooms are complex social entities that cannot be readily transformed into laboratories for controlled experiments, and there are practical and ethical limitations on the extent to which researchers can make use of control groups. Moreover, education lacks the system of refereed journals, continuing education requirements, and other customs that the medical profession has developed to share findings and put them at the disposal of practitioners. Educational research is also frequently disparaged by critics because it is typically lodged in schools of education, which do not enjoy a high level of academic prestige.

Another problem is that, even when research findings are well known, they are often ignored by policy makers who have particular political agendas. For example, a considerable body of research shows that, in and of itself, retaining students who are not performing at their appropriate grade level does not work. Nevertheless, a movement to "ban social promotion" is now sweeping through the country. The Project STAR findings were all but ignored when they were first released in 1990. It was only when some state governors and President Clinton began pushing the idea of smaller classes that they became widely circulated.

Despite such problems, the United States is moving toward development of national capacity to document and analyze data on educational performance with the intent of providing feedback to policy makers.

7. Public-private partnerships

As in other democratic countries, a major debate is underway in the United States over the relative roles of the government, independent, and private sectors in meeting social needs such as education. In the words of the recent report of the National Research Council on school finance, policy makers at all levels "are examining previously unexamined assumptions about how to deliver publicly financed services and are moving away from an exclusive focus on uniform public provision to public financing with various forms of provision, including private-sector provision."

The issue of the proper balance between public and private interests and responsibilities is most visible in the movements to promote charter schools, parental choice, and vouchers, many of whose supporters say they are seeking to break what they call the "monopoly" that public schools have had on the delivery of education since the mid-19th century. By empowering parents to play a role in enrollment policies and by delegating operational control of schools to parents, teachers, and other sponsors, the argument goes, schools will be more effective, efficient, and responsive to the needs of students and families. Even many who favor more traditional public management of schools, however, are looking for ways to build partnerships with private interests.

The proportion of U.S. students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools has been relatively steady over the years. Private enrollment rose from 8 percent in 1910 to a peak of 14 percent in 1959, and since 1970 it has hovered around 10 to 11 percent. The proportion in 1990 was 11 percent, and it is projected to be the same in 2000. With the exception of the growing number of families engaged in home schooling, there is little evidence that Americans are fleeing public schools.

Like citizens in other countries, however, a growing number of Americans are coming to the conclusion that the challenges of education are too great to be entrusted to government alone. Many would agree with Haddad when he wrote, "No government alone will be able to meet future demands and realize the reshaped vision for education for all, relying totally on public financing and public human resources. In fact, it would be counterproductive for the public sector to monopolize the business of education development. . . . All other segments of society have high stakes: learners and their families, learning facilitators, civil society and the business sector. All these stakeholders should be drawn in as partners in the process of rethinking of education to meet the demands of the age of globalization and information."

In one sense there is nothing new about this. As already noted, the United States has always had a decentralized system in which schools were rooted in local communities, and schools have relied on volunteer labor by parents and other concerned citizens. Policies have been debated and shaped by a wide variety of advocacy groups, and functions that are carried out by governmental agencies in other countries–most visibly publishing textbooks and designing and administering tests–have been carried out by private firms.

Nevertheless, the 1990s have seen a proliferation of interest in building partnerships among public, independent, and private interests, and these have taken numerous forms. One familiar model has been "adopt-a-school" programs under which local businesses provide financial support, volunteer tutors, and other resources to schools in their communities. Such support has tended to focus outside the core academic work of schools, but this has been changing as schools find themselves needing to look beyond traditional funding sources to boost academic performance. In Memphis, Tennessee, for example, the business community, conscious of its own need for educated workers, helped raise US$1.5 million for a new professional development center to support the school district’s "whole-school" reform program. (See Box on page 51.)

The 1990s have also seen an increase in the number of situations in which schools and school districts contract with private enterprises. Schools have long turned to for-profit contractors for services such as bus transportation, food service, and maintenance. In recent years, though, they have been turning to such firms for activities closer to core activities ranging from administrative and financial services to running Title 1 programs and college counseling services. In some cases, school districts have contracted with private firms to run entire schools. One company, Edison Schools Inc., currently runs 53 schools under contract with school districts and 26 more charter schools.

The number of companies offering tutoring, college counseling, test preparation, and other educational services directly to students and their families has proliferated. One company, founded only two years ago, is now offering Advanced Placement courses online to students who want to prepare for the AP exams offered by the College Board. Similar trends are apparent at the tertiary level. The University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution that is barely two decades old, is already the largest private university in the country. A recent report by Merrill Lynch Inc. estimated that US$70 billion was spent on all sectors of for-profit education in the United States in 1998 and predicted that this will reach US$100 billion by 2001.


The relationship of education to eradication of poverty and to development was a theme of the World Conference on EFA, the Social Summit in Copenhagen, the Children’s Summit in New York City, and the summits in Rio, Beijing, and Cairo. The United States joined the nations of the world in the call for "education for all." In the ten years since Jomtien, the United States has assisted the developing world in meeting EFA goals—always in partnership with the host country, sometimes taking the lead, at other times supporting the efforts of other donors and organizations.

1. U.S. Funding for Basic Education in Developing Countries, 1990 to Present

As a donor and partner in development, the United States has helped make a difference internationally in educational access and quality over the past ten years. While facing some of the same educational challenges confronting other nations, it has created innovative solutions to challenges such as dealing equitably with multicultural and disadvantaged populations, extending learning beyond classroom walls, and accommodating supplementary and alternative learning systems and funding mechanisms. The United States has shared many of its experiences and lessons learned with nations worldwide and has supplied funding and technical assistance to help improve school systems and to support other learning opportunities.

This section highlights some of the diverse assistance the United States has provided to help others meet EFA goals. Interventions such as interactive radio instruction, out-of-school learning centers, community-participation activities, and bilingual and girls’ education programs are components of U.S. assistance programs that have helped, and are continuing to help, make a difference in learning achievement.

U.S. Government

The U.S. Government provides assistance to primary, secondary, and adult basic education and early childhood development activities internationally through the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Peace Corps.

For much of the 1990s, USAID did not include education as one if its specific strategic goals. However, in 1997, realizing that a more pointed emphasis on education was necessary, USAID revised its strategic plan and gave prominent attention to its new goal: human capacity built through education and training.

In 1990, when the world’s attention was focused on EFA, annual global expenditures on education totaled approximately $800 billion. Of this, approximately $100 billion—13 percent—was spent in developing countries, where more than three-quarters of the world’s children lived. Of that amount, approximately $115 million came from the USAID budget.

Since 1990, the USAID cumulative contribution to basic education has been more than $1.3 billion, exclusive of additional funds for adult literacy and work force training. That makes USAID the major U.S. contributor, by far, to improving education in the developing world. As Table 3 shows, after reaching a peak in FY95, the funding leveled off and has remained relatively stable. By the end of FY00, when funds from various sources—Child Survival and Diseases, Economic Support, and Development Assistance—are combined, the available aid for basic education is expected to be more than $130 million.

Despite the fact that basic education funding has been maintained at approximately the same level for five years, this investment is insufficient to meet EFA goals. Nonetheless, the U.S. contribution over ten years has been substantial in many respects. For example, the expenditures have been grants, not loans, to the recipients, and they have been mainly for non-recurrent costs in recipients’ budgets, thus allowing for the introduction of new activities to improve access and quality. The investment has fostered innovation whenever possible rather than support to the status quo.

Table 3: USAID Basic Education Obligations by Fiscal year in US. Millions (not available)

The bulk of the spending on basic education for the past decade has been on education for children. Of the $127.9 million in 1997 for basic education in three regions—Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia and the Near East—USAID allocated 96 percent to basic education for children and the remainder to adult literacy programs.

The geographic focus of the spending has shifted over the last ten years. At present, USAID devotes approximately 60 percent of its basic education budget to nine countries in Africa. That proportion is twice as much as in 1990, when the Asia-Near East region commanded the highest USAID budget allocation for basic education. In 1999, the Asia-Near East region is receiving less than one-quarter of that amount. The budget for the Latin America-Caribbean region has fluctuated between $21 million and $37 million (FY99) during this period.

The United States also provides funding to U.S., UN, multilateral, and other agencies that support international basic education programs. These include UNICEF, the World Bank, the African Development Fund, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The fiscal 2000 budget, approved by Congress in November 1999, provides for $123 million of the $370 million President Clinton requested to ease the burden of poor, heavily indebted developing countries. The U.S. education community hopes that at least half of these funds will be added to the basic education budget. The Peace Corps received funds to maintain its current level of volunteers but none for expansion.

Non-governmental organizations and foundations

In addition to U.S. Government funding, private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, and corporations fund education programs in the developing world, although, in many cases, the financial data are not readily accessible.

Foundation funding priorities for international grants changed for the better in the 1990s from those of the preceding decade, although the international share of the total foundation budget remained low—in the 3 to 4 percent range. As Table 4 shows, the bulk of the educational funding went to higher education and graduate/professional education, although elementary and secondary education also benefited.

Table 4 Foundation funding for elementary and secondary education( not available)

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ford Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Foundation are four of the largest international funders in the United States.

Partner organizations

While government funding has made the major part of U.S. international development possible, NGOs and PVOs, other non-profit and for-profit organizations, research institutions, and universities have contributed significantly to many successful international education programs. These organizations have carried out their work in partnership with host countries and, frequently, with the U.S. government. They have fostered numerous successful innovations, including student-centered classroom methodologies, peer teaching, teacher mentoring, interactive radio instruction, low-cost indigenous instructional materials, school clusters, and community learning centers. U.S. partner organizations have also been influential in furthering participatory educational policy reform and helping to develop management information systems.

Partner Organizations Active in Basic Education Programs in the 1990

Academy for Educational Development

American Institutes for Research

Aurora Associates

Creative Associates International

Education Development Center

Juarez & Associates

The Mitchell Group

Research Triangle Institute

World Education

World Learning

Florida State University

Harvard Institute for International Development

Michigan State University

Ohio University

University of Massachusetts

University of Pittsburgh

The accompanying box shows organizations and universities active in education assistance programs during the 1990s. In many instances, they have formed solid partnerships with developing world NGOs to carry out educational programs.

2. Interests and Contributions of U.S. Donors and their Partner Organizations

Basic education directions of U.S. donors and partner organizations post-1990

The 1990s marked a change from the preceding decade in the focus of educational assistance. The hallmark of the 1980s was nonformal education and the role of education in other sectoral and multisectoral programs. As the 1980s drew to a close, however, there was a resurgence of support for formal education, training, and human resources initiatives throughout the world.

In the United States, broad-based support for improving the quality of education and training was fueled, in large part, by widespread concern about future competitiveness in the global economy and about the needs of "at-risk" youth in U.S. inner cities. As already underlined, the 1989 Education Summit, convened by the White House and the National Governors’ Association, established goals for the nation’s schools and highlighted the public’s mandate for improved education and training.

USAID was at the forefront of a similar movement gaining momentum in the developing world. In FY88, Congress instructed USAID to spend 50 percent of its education and human resource development funds on basic education and to initiate eight new projects within the next three fiscal years, with a geographic emphasis on Africa and South Asia. Subsequently, USAID and U.S. non-governmental organizations participated in the World Conference on Education for All in March 1990 and roundly supported its goals and its reaffirmation of global support for meeting basic learning needs of all people so that they might participate fully in economic development. The goals for universal primary education that evolved from the EFA conference coincided with many of those furthered by U.S. donors and their partners in their work preceding the conference.

In the late 1980s, USAID’s flagship education project, Advancing Basic Education and Literacy (ABEL), anticipated and documented many of the critical needs that Jomtien defined. The project engaged a consortium of the most experienced education organizations in the United States to work with other educators and donors worldwide to address illiteracy. The partners and their host country counterparts worked together on solving some of the critical problems inhibiting educational access, learning achievement, and adult literacy. They addressed the need for policy dialogue and high-level administrative reforms to create a climate favorable to basic education.

The ABEL project, which has continued through the 1990s, epitomized the major emphases of U.S. assistance programs of the decade: girls’ education, policy reform, development of local capacity, and partnerships.

Girls’ education

The push to enroll girls in school began before 1990, but Jomtien’s call for universal education made nations increasingly aware of the discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ enrollments, the critical role girls play in economic and social progress, and, as a consequence, the pressing need to educate them. In 1990, it was estimated that 130 million children in the developing world had no access to education, nearly two-thirds of them girls. The United States joined other nations and funding agencies in fighting to place and keep girls’ education on the policy agendas of developing world governments. At the same time, in the United States education NGOs advocated strongly for preserving the funding levels of the U.S. foreign aid education budget, repeatedly citing the economic gains that accrue to nations that educate girls and women.

The ABEL project paid particular attention to educating girls throughout the entire decade. Project staff from Creative Associates International, the Academy for Educational Development, and the Education Development Center worked hand in hand with ministries of education, other educators, and communities around the world to research the issues surrounding girls’ education, document the findings, produce and disseminate publications, and implement programs aimed at increasing access to education for all children, but especially for girls.

ABEL was followed by more programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean that addressed access to education and achievement of basic literacy for all children. The programs introduced innovations such as gender training for educators and communities, flexible school calendars compatible with girls’ domestic responsibilities, and scholarships for girls. Boys benefited, too, when classrooms encouraged participation by all children and parents gave increased priority to all their children. In general, when resources are invested in girls’ education, resources increase for boys also.

Policy reform

During the 1990s, support by USAID and its U.S. partner organizations helped advance education policy dialogue around the world to ensure that grassroots and other development efforts would become sustainable through strong, supportive policies at the level of national government.

With USAID funding, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and Academy for Educational Development developed a methodology to assist governments in education reform. Called education reform support, the process fosters the use of data in policy making and encourages the creation of networks and coalitions that support policy dialogue. This approach to educational reform has been employed successfully around the world. The Research Triangle Institute helped South Africa develop funding norms for educational finance, which were written into law in early 1998. At the invitation of the Open Society Institute and the host countries, RTI assisted Hungary and Bulgaria in developing a reform strategy for their educational systems. A training video, produced by the Education Development Center and Ugandan educators for use in Uganda, demonstrated the methodology for designing and implementing the education reform process. U.S. education policy specialists in Ecuador helped create a civil society consultative group of educational leaders that successfully lobbied policy makers to include education as a component of the country’s new constitution. The group is now helping to draft a new education law.

A large component of U.S. assistance for policy reform has been improvement of national education management information systems. Such assistance has helped increase the accuracy, timeliness, and accessibility of data for basic education policy and program planning For example, a computer program for data processing called ED*ASSIST, developed by the Academy for Educational Development with USAID funding, is being used by ministries of education in Latin America, Africa, and eastern Europe to improve education management. The ED*ASSIST approach has received additional support from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, building on the U.S. investment.

Development of local capacity

Over the past decade, U.S. donors and partner organizations have concentrated a significant part of their development efforts on building local capacity—in educational institutions, NGOs, and communities to improve the quality of education and increase the likelihood of sustained program impact. Most programs today supported with U.S. funds include some form of training to build local capacity.

The range of capacity-building assistance is wide. In Haiti, for example, a local organization received assistance for implementing its management and finance systems and for developing and evaluating distance education/radio programs for reading, mathematics, and teacher education. In Haiti, Africa, eastern Europe, and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union, researchers trained by U.S. educators have, in turn, trained staff of institutions in their countries in data collection and analysis and in classroom observation techniques.

Other donors have helped extend USAID’s investment in Uganda. For six years, U.S. organizations have been helping to strengthen the capacity of Ugandan educators, educational institutions, and communities. The success of this work encouraged two European nations to build on it. The Government of Ireland, working with the Academy for Educational Development, extended educational assistance to the northern part of Uganda not reached by earlier efforts. The Government of the Netherlands funded distribution of additional instructional materials nationwide.

Enabling local communities to become active in basic education activities has had a major impact on educational reform. Throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, communities and parents, frequently with U.S. assistance, are developing skills that enable them to participate in the education of their children. In Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Malawi, for example, committees of parents, teachers, and community leaders are evaluating and addressing the needs of their schools. In Mali and Malawi, with USAID funding, a U.S. private voluntary organization actively promoted community-school partnerships to establish schools in remote areas where none existed. In Pakistan, village education committees composed of parents have been trained to interact with the provincial government to create and maintain girls’ schools, identify local female teachers to teach girls, see that the teachers receive training, and monitor teachers’ attendance and teaching. Worldwide, girls are probably the greatest beneficiary of community efforts to improve schools.

UNESCO has attested to the significance of community involvement:

Countries where the [educational reform] process has been relatively successful are those that obtained a determined commitment from local communities, parents and teachers, backed up by a continuing dialogue and various forms of financial, technical and/or vocational assistance. It is obvious that the local community plays a paramount role in any successful reform strategy.

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