The road not taken

Well, it wasn't for lack of conferences. Typically they were attended by interested private citizens, like me; all of us attended on our own nickel and governmental officials, similarly attending on our nickel via taxes, and there was a lot of enthusiasm, in those mid- and late-'60s Philip Hoff gubernatorial years.

A few of probably remember Gov. Hoff: first Democrat Vermont governor in 150 years; even more remarkable, although never media-mentioned, was that he was chosen by a Vermont electorate which hadn't yet become gentrified with their imported Volvos and "Buy Local" bumperstickers.

Typically, there was a lot of talk about the then widespread three-legged stool image of the Vermont economy: agriculture, industry, and tourism, and a lot of con jecture about an education fourth leg.

There wasn't any left versus right ideology of the contemporary sort, just a general consensus that Vermont's destiny as the Education State would be comprised of both public and private sectors.

The public sector would be building on its recent successes in installing the Goldilocks-ideal high school prototype-sized just right, with academic subjects taught at the several-in-a-county level and vocation subjects taught at the regional level, with high productivity and achievement everywhere.

The high productivity shows up in low costs: in 1960, U.S .average annual Current Expenditure (somewhat lower than total at $471) was $375 per pupil; Vermont came in at $344.

The private sector would consist of just that range of country day and boarding schools, two-and-four-year colleges, and proprietary vocational schools then sharply boosting their enrollments.

Especially in Vermont, a handful of the latter sprang up and were instantly profitable, even though some cynics ascribed male college enrollment to the side-benefit of a Vietnam-service draft exemption, subject testing being less demanding than infantry service.

Conversely, the low achievement levels, fundamentally unimproved since being revealed in the initiation of federal NAEP testing in 1969, weren't as problematic then, when rapid improvement was confidently assumed, as they are now, when spending has soared but, for example, the percent of students scoring 300 (out of 500) in reading went from 39 percent in 1971 to 38 percent in 2004. The other 61 percent then, six years ago and today, would be deemed non-proficient-unable to handle grade-level expectations in reading.

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