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Omdahl: Letter to Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg

By Staff | Dec 11, 2015

Dear Mark:

The proposal to invest your $45 billion Facebook fortune in education and health over the next 50 years offers hope in two areas of great need. While the health needs of the nation are real, so are the challenges in education.

We have seen a series of education reform proposals since “Nation at Risk” sounded the alarm in 1983. They have all died an early death even though they were initiated with bipartisan political support and hailed as showing great promise.

In 1994, Congress launched “Goals 2000” as an effort to raise academic standards in schools. The implementing committee was never appointed and the venture died in infancy.

Then in 2002, President George Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy co-sponsored “No Child Left Behind,” another attempt to improve instructional quality and accountability.

Hundreds of North Dakota schools failed to make the progress proposed. That resulted in a lot of finger pointing. The schools didn’t make an effort; teachers weren’t accountable; parents weren’t in the loop; the goals were too ambitious, et cetera, et cetera

Beset with alibis and failures, the program fell upon hostile times. Consequently, there was little support for renewing NCLB when it was about to expire.

No politician wanted to support a system that told us we were losers. The whole thing called for too much transparency and too much accountability.

As NCLB faded, the National Governors Association and State Superintendents of Public Instruction came forward with Common Core to promote a greater degree of national uniformity with common standards for science and language.

As Diane Ravitch observed in The Brookings Review: “There is no such thing as Nevada science, New Jersey math, and Illinois English. The science, mathematics and English that students need to know is the same everywhere.”

Even though the core was supposed to be common, soon it wasn’t. States altered the guidelines to conform to their particular levels of paranoia. In many states, this has meant little or no change. Uncommonness is marching on.

So instead of accepting reform, states been inventing ingenious devices to avoid the cost of providing an equal education for all children.

We have seen a proliferation of charter schools, tax credits, vouchers, open enrollment, free choice and other gimmicks, all to escape the so-called poor schools. As a result, poor schools are becoming even poorer.

Reform efforts have died in the public square because we have failed to dampen the fear of change by communicating the overriding importance of quality education. It’s a communication problem.

Let’s look at what happened in Newark, where you gave $100 million to upgrade the city’s education system. The reforms themselves did not cause failures. The changes were opposed because they were being implemented without sufficient public input.

Looking back at the last 40 years of failures, it is obvious that nothing will happen until an effective communication program provides the public with a full understanding of the intellectual challenges our children face in the rapidly-changing global society.

This is a daunting assignment. Public schools have been sacred institutions through the decades and local control has been more important than teacher qualifications, academic standards, interstate transferability of students, global economies, or equality of educational opportunities.

Accepting the fact that process is just as important as substance, a good chunk of your $45 billion should be spent on informing every parent, every school board and every state legislature about the need to upgrade American education.

History should not have to repeat itself when we know what history already told us over the past 40 years.

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