Let's not miss a chance for serious reform of our schools
The reform of public education is one of the most important issues we must tackle. My colleague Richard Conlin and I presented part of the case for reform in an opinion piece that ran a couple of weeks ago in The Seattle Times. Response to the essay was mixed; many of the people responding at the Times website or to me personally were negative and accused me of attacking our teachers. (The economic argument in favor of strong reform measures in Seattle was presented by local business leaders this week.)
The reforms needed in public education involve the entire system, not just teachers. Everyone involved in public education — administrators, principals, school board members, and teachers — is responsible for the system we have today that routinely fails a third to one-half of our children. There is enough failure for everyone to share.
Part of my thinking on education reform is influenced by the work of the Brookings Institution. This paper is a thoughtful and careful analysis and includes specific reform steps that should be taken, especially related to early education and teacher tenure. And this paper deals specifically with teacher performance.
Teachers are the single most important factor in a child's education, so discussion about reform often centers on how they are evaluated, rewarded, and recognized. Teachers fill a very important role in the upbringing of our children. They deserve to be honored, respected, and well paid for their service; this doesn'êt happen today. In fact, if I had my way, I would double teacher salaries, once fair and effective performance evaluation systems were put in place.
At the same time, parents deserve to know that their children are in the hands of the most capable and effective teachers. This is the crux of a national debate playing out here in Seattle between teachers and the Seattle School District. Here is an interesting analysis of the Seattle contract negotiations from an independent organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Last weekend, The Los Angeles Times published a blockbuster analysis of student and teacher performance in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Here is their first article in their planned series on education effectiveness. Thousands of LA students have fallen behind and have failed to receive the education they deserve because school officials neglected the hard work of measuring teacher performance and then acting on those evaluations.
These issues are not simple nor easy. Indeed, education reform is not going to happen overnight. But no one can deny that reform is needed, not when a third of our kids don't graduate from high school and barely one quarter of those who do are prepared for college.