My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

10 steps to world-class U.S. schools

I'm a bit late in my newspaper reading, so I just came across this Op Ed from the Hampshire Gazette earlier this week that I thought really suggested some concrete ways we could do education better (not just in Amherst, but across the country). I found all of these points very interesting -- and I agree with the authors that making these changes would have a dramatic (and I believe beneficial) impact on our education system.

Hampshire Gazette - Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The key to U.S. global stature after World War II was the world's best-educated work force. But now the United States ranks No. 12, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and today's younger generation is the first to be less educated than the preceding one.

No Child Left Behind is about getting our lowest-performing students to minimum standards. That is nowhere near enough. To get us where we need to go, we propose the National World Class Schools Act to replace NCLB. To get its fair share of federal education funds, a state would need to:

1. Set standards for licensing teachers that are high enough to recruit from the top third of college graduates, as the top-performing countries do, and never waive them during a shortage. If we insisted on high standards for our teachers and didn't waive them, teachers' pay would have to rise, a lot, and the pay for those in the shortest supply - math and science teachers, and teachers willing to work in tough inner-city schools and isolated rural areas - would rise the most.

2. Get outstanding students to go into teaching and treat them like professionals, not blue-collar workers in dead-end jobs. That means putting teachers in charge of their schools.

3. Reward schools that do a great job. NCLB penalizes schools when they fail but offers no rewards for outstanding work. Provide cash payments of 10 percent of the school budget every year to every school whose students significantly exceed the statistical predictions of performance for students with the same characteristics. Tell principals and faculties that they will get their normal budgets if their students are making adequate progress toward the standard of ready-for-college-without-remediation by graduation, and that they will be handsomely rewarded if their students are making substantially more progress toward that goal than other schools with similar student bodies. The financial reward should come as a big bonus for the school, and the faculty should decide how to spend it. This is better than rewarding individual teachers on the basis of their students' performance, which is hard to measure and will destroy the team spirit essential to a good school.

4. Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses; do the same for every district in which more than a quarter of the schools are under review for underperformance for three years or more. Declare such schools and districts bankrupt and void all contracts with their staffs.

5. Replace the current accountability tests with high-quality, course-based exams. The way we measure student performance is crucial. Rigor, creativity and innovation in student performance require a high-quality curriculum and exams, and will be impossible to achieve if we continue to use the kind of multiple-choice, computer-scored tests that are common today.

6. Collect a variety of information on school and student performance and make it easily accessible to parents, students and teachers. Allow parents to choose freely among the available public schools.

7. Provide high-quality training and technical assistance to every school whose students are not on track to succeed. Most struggling schools are in chaos; their morale is in the basement and their faculties don't know how to improve things. States have little capacity to fix this; the federal government needs to help.

8. Limit variations in any states' per-pupil expenditures to no more than 5 percent by school, except for the differential cost of educating disadvantaged students and those with disabilities to the same standards as students who don't face those obstacles. In this country, students who need the most help have the lowest school budgets - a formula for national failure.

9. Make a range of social services available to children from low-income families and coordinate those services with those students' school programs. We have the most unequal distribution of income of any industrialized nation. If the problems posed by students' poverty are not dealt with, it may be nearly impossible for schools to educate the students to world-class standards. The state cannot eliminate students' poverty, but it can take steps to alleviate its effects on students' capacity to learn.

10. Offer high-quality early-childhood education to, at a minimum, all 4-year-olds and all low-income 3-year-olds. Students from low-income families entering kindergarten have less than half the vocabulary of other students. In kindergarten and the early grades, those with the smallest vocabularies cannot follow what is going on and fall further behind. By the end of fourth grade, they are so far behind they can never catch up. By the time they are 16 and can legally drop out of school, they do so because they can no longer stand the humiliation of not being able to follow what is going on. That is why we lead the industrialized world in the proportion of students who drop out.

Yes, these are radical proposals. But decades of incremental proposals have brought steadily increasing costs and flat performance. Time is running out. It is hard to make a case that the federal government should continue to fund the states to maintain the status quo.

Brock was secretary of labor in the Reagan administration. Marshall was secretary of labor in the Carter administration. Tucker is president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). They are leaders of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, an initiative of the NCEE.


Anonymous said...

Slightly off this topic, but what is the status of the Chinese program?

Anonymous said...

I there are no comments here on this topic is a sign of how depressed and beaten down we all by the budget cuts.

Abbie said...

I guess there are few comments because virtually none of these steps are in our control.

There is plenty that is in our control, however and a lot of it, I would argue, doesn't require more $$ than we already have.

I am surprised that increasing time in the classroom isn't included in the 10 steps (number 11?). I believe that kids in most of top-ranking countries spend a lot more time "in the classroom".

Between losing a couple hours every Wednesday, very frequent fieldtrips, music, Chinese (WW), art, PE and recess there just isn't that much time left over for regular course-work (the 3 Rs)...

Anonymous said...

Very frequent field trips? What school gets those?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Abbie. Also, add in the many hours spent in Assembly every Weds morning.

I for one would love to see assembly once a month and more emphasis on academics.

Anonymous said...

The Wednesday half day is really ridiculous and completely contrary to Amherst's stated committment to social justice! Who do you think suffers more from a half day on Wednesday? Low income students, many of whom come from one-parent households. Not only are they missing out on a few hours of instruction per week, their parents must now scramble to find and pay for after-school care for those extra hours a week. This is a disproportionate burden on those students who can least afford it. Catherine, please bring this up at the next contract negotiation!

Paul said...

What blather!
In Step 10 the authors admit that by the end of fourth grade, some low-income kids “are so far behind they can never catch up.” In step 7 they say that "most struggling schools are in chaos; their morale is in the basement and their faculties don't know how to improve things. States have little capacity to fix this" But in step 4 they assert that if you teach these students in the eighth grade, and they don't succeed we should void your contracts and take over your school.

...and do WHAT??

Well, they don't say.

This is supposed to be meaningful insight on how to make schools better?

Anonymous said...

,,,,Brava Paul,,,Brava!!!!...