Bold reforms for U.S. schools

As promised throughout last year’s presidential campaign, President Obama has proposed bold public school re-forms that would, among other things, pay more to good teachers, root out poor teachers, move the states toward a unified set of academic standards, require longer school days and longer school years.
Tuesday, in his first full-length speech on education policy, Obama said: “Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance. ...
“Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us,” Obama said. “The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.”
The president urged:
— States to adopt world-class standards rather than a specific standard. The economic stimulus plan includes $5 billion to reward states for boosting the quality of standards and state tests.
— Improved pre-kindergarten programs because preschool learning has proved to be so effective. Again, $5 billion is in the stimulus plan to grow Head Start, expand child care access and do more for children with special needs.
— Reducing student dropout rates. To students, Obama said: “Don’t even think about dropping out of school.” But he said that reducing the dropout rates also requires turning around the worst schools, something he asked lawmakers, parents and teachers to make “our collective responsibility as Americans.”
— Everyone to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training, with the goal of highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.
Obama also spoke at length about what he described his policy to-ward teachers, what he called an “unprecedented commitment to ensure that anyone entrusted with educating our children is doing the job as well as it can be done.” In up to 150 more school districts, Obama said, teachers will get mentoring, more money for im-proved student achievement and new responsibilities.

HERE ARE TWO more direct quotations from his address: “Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching.” ... “The challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom. If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America.”
Obama’s reforms will require strong administrators, strong school boards, cooperating teacher unions and an accepting public.
Merit pay for teachers has been opposed by teacher unions on the grounds that administrators would not judge them fairly. But there is no other way to pay teachers according to their teaching abilities and results except to trust administrators to do that crucial administrative function well. The incentive to make this fundamental reform is that study after study has shown that superior teachers produce super-ior student performance. Putting superior teachers in every classroom should be a national goal.
Longer school days and more of them are needed because today’s economy demands a higher level of learning and understanding. Longer school days and years will give America’s youth a leg up in the worldwide competition for desirable employment — and will keep the United States on top in the global economy.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.