Make education count

January 30, 1991

The problems facing public education are many and complex. But the simple fact remains: You can't educate students if they're not in school.

National studies show that children who don't enroll in kindergarten score up to 30 points lower on standardized reading and writing tests in first grade than their peers. On the other end of the spectrum, job prospects for unskilled, high school drop-outs are perennially grim. All told, the demands of a high-tech economy, coupled with the rigors of international cooperation, make a mockery of the notion that a child can start school at age 6, leave at 16 and achieve much more than dependence on the state. Now comes an eminently sensible idea: Start earlier, end later and make the in-between count.

To codify it, a Schaefer administration bill pending in the House of Delegates would require all Maryland children to attend kindergarten. A proposal by Sen. Albert Wynn, also supported by the governor, would require students to stay in school until they are are 18 (the usual age of high school graduation), unless they get their diplomas before that.

Obviously, requiring students to spend more years in school is not the full answer. Governor Schaefer is also pushing for State Superintendent Joseph Shilling's "Schools for Success" program, an innovative plan to raise the standard of public education by 2000, and to make schools accountable for their progress.

So the administration has laid out an ambitious political agenda, and these are tight fiscal times. Nonetheless, the General Assembly must find the will and the money to ensure that public education adequately prepares the state's young people for fulfilling, productive lives. The alternative is unthinkable.

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