That time

JUST as some parts of the United States have just warmed up into a suitably summery temperature range, it's time to start looking ahead to the new school year. What will the nation's returning pupils and students find at the old schoolhouse?

Education has been going through one of its phases over the past few years as the locus of a great national concern: Are young American minds being closed? Are young people (is anyone?) culturally literate? What does that mean, anyway? Are Americans going to be able to compete with the Japanese? If so, will it be because of having gone to computer camp and had lots of math enrichment courses? Or because of being as much in touch with their cultural roots as the Japanese are with theirs?

Since 1980, 45 of the 50 states have raised their high school graduation standards. Revenues dedicated to public schools have risen, per pupil, an average of 17.21 percent across the country. Most states have set up some sort of new ``career ladder'' for teachers.

The report card on all these programs is, however, mixed. Former Education Secretary Terrel Bell's capsule assessment is that the top 70 percent of American schoolchildren have benefited from the various reforms, but that the rest - largely low-income minority children - have not been reached. From other quarters come more positive reports of rising test scores and, less tangibly, increased morale and enthusiasm.

Education is hugely important, but like a mighty river it is unlikely to change its course in a short time. What's remarkable is how much change there has already been.

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