The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the arms race and the start of the education race, Gaston Caperton, president of The College Board and former governor of West Virginia, told a Lehigh audience on April 19.
In his talk, “Winning the Race,” Caperton said the U.S. must build the best educational system in the world if we are to continue to be a global competitor.
“The world has become a very different place,” he said. “We have to raise our standards.”
Caperton’s appearance was his first since the new SAT—developed by The College Board—was unveiled, and it was the second lecture in the College of Education’s Distinguished Lecture Series, “Leaders of Practice.”
Caperton explained how, as governor of West Virginia, he turned around the state’s failing schools.
“Thank goodness for Mississippi,” he told the gathering of about 500 community members, faculty, students, and alumni. “At least there was one state that ranked lower in education than West Virginia.”
To improve the educational system, he implemented a school building program, emphasized the use of technology in the classroom and significantly raised teachers’ salaries. He believes the same strategy could be used to improve schools across the country.
And, as president of The College Board, he is spearheading sweeping reforms that have proven beneficial to teachers and students alike, while identifying and encouraging more young people to go to college, particularly those from underprivileged households.
The College Board president also emphasized how important it is for all students to be able to write well, no matter what their interests or college majors. He said that the National Commission on Writing, which he established, is focusing attention on the teaching and learning of writing nationwide, and the new essay section of the SAT has raised awareness of the need to improve writing skills.
Caperton also said record numbers of students are now taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses.
“That’s not because we have lowered the standards,” he said. “It’s because we offer more AP courses, and our schools are doing a better job of recognizing which students are capable of taking them.”
Throughout his talk, Capeton reiterated the importance of the role of educators. “Your jobs are the most important in the world,” he said. “The future of our country and peace in the world depends on what you, as educators, do.”
Caperton ended his talk by saying that as a nation, we must rekindle a passion for education, and strive to create an environment in which every student believes he or she can go to college.
“If the mind can conceive it, and the heart can believe it,” Caperton said, “then man can achieve it.”
--Merry Sue Baum