Too often the debate about education reform boils down to a simple, but false, dichotomy: The status quo of public schooling or a completely privatized system. This oversimplified view ignores many opportunities for incremental change within the current system.
While defenders of the status quo often argue that education shouldn’t be treated like a business, reformers know that market forces can work – even within a public program. For example, this is the case in Medicare Part D, where participants choose among private drug plans. Choice and competition lead to lower costs, better quality, and properly aligned incentives.
In education, this means de-standardizing the classroom.
Teachers should be free to design their own curricula, and they should be rewarded for their effectiveness. Right now, a rigid, top-down set of regulations pay teachers according to years in the classroom – which doesn’t always correlate with effectiveness – and a “common core” curriculum has been proposed.
A favorite book of educators since 1984 is John Goodlad’s “A Place Called School.” In this manifesto, Goodlad laments the “extraordinary sameness” in American schools. His book was written before some modern attempts to standardize learning even further, including the No Child Left Behind Act and Common Core legislation.
Sameness is not a product of a diverse and free market, but of government overregulation. While the goals behind such regulation may be “fairness” or an equal education for everyone, the result is what Goodlad described as boring and joyless schools lacking diverse, exciting educational options for students.
Common core should be rejected on its face. Teachers, not a body of politicians and bureaucrats, should be free to determine what they will teach and how to teach it. Young people do not enter the field of education to teach to a test, to read from a textbook, or to carefully unwrap a pre-packaged set of activities for their students. Teachers – at least the good ones – want to be creative and inspiring to students.
Outside of America’s schools, other industries are changing rapidly. The Internet, smartphones, and other advanced technologies are changing the way we do business. The same needs to happen in our schools. The good news is that some public schools are embracing online courses when there are too few students to make a class or simply to take advantage of new methods of engaging students.
Online courses open doors to students, encouraging them to explore new disciplines, and providing a different learning relationship that can cater to their unique needs. More options better serve students who otherwise would have had to elect a less desirable course. And teaching online is a new avenue for educators who prefer it over (or in addition to) the traditional classroom setting.
With more freedom and autonomy for teachers comes more responsibility. Principals and leaders of individual schools should have the freedom to hire, fire, and pay teachers according to their merit. One challenge to merit pay is repeated too often: “But how can you measure a teacher’s effectiveness?” Test scores are obviously not ideal.
But somehow in American businesses, workers are evaluated and paid according to their contributions. Somehow, even in service industries, each person is free to negotiate with his or her boss about compensation. Teachers should be no different. This would reward and attract great teachers, while weeding out those who are only interested in babysitting.
Principals would be free to use more resources to retain and reward valuable teachers. At the same time, our schools should shed the concept of “tenure” which protects teachers from younger competition. Too often, school leaders have to layoff energetic, effective young teachers because of “last in, first out” policies.
On the subject of attracting great new teachers: Let them come. Lateral entry has been a great innovation in education policy, and other forms of alternative teacher certification should be allowed and encouraged. Great teachers aren’t just needed for the next generation. Our schools needed them yesterday.
All of these changes should be embraced by school-lovers on the Right and Left. These incremental reforms would not “corporatize” our schools, but would smartly acknowledge that more choices and competition benefit students and teachers alike.
Hadley Heath is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Jacob Hayutin