MANIFESTO FOR CHANGE IN US EDUCATION
Leading US educators call for radical changes to improve the quality of teachers and teaching and more schools choice-sounds familiar?
How to fix our schools– a manifesto recently signed Joel Klein,the Chancellor New York Education Department , Michelle Rhee Washington DCs Education Chancellor ( leaving her job) and a host of other US education leaders, agrees with President Obama’s view that the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the colour of their skin or their ZIP (post) code or even their parents’ income – it is the quality of their teacher. Yet, for too long, the signatories claim, “ we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance. The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher – and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession – has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.” There isn’t a business in America, they point out, that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. “That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.” Local leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. They say “When teachers are highly effective – measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more. Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.” They continue “ Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school — a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds. Just as we must give teachers and schools the capability and flexibility to meet the needs of students, we must give parents a better portfolio of school choices. That starts with having the courage to replace or substantially restructure persistently low-performing schools that continuously fail our students.” The signatories point out the obvious that “ if all of our neighbourhood schools were great, we wouldn’t be facing this crisis. But our children need great schools now — whether district-run public schools or public charter schools serving all students — and we shouldn’t limit the numbers of one form at the expense of the other. Excellence must be our only criteria for evaluating our schools.” The US education has consistently underperformed in international league tables. It has many of the challenges we have, low social mobility, lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills in too many pupils, disadvantaged pupils failing to secure good qualifications, while often stuck in the worst performing schools.
It is interesting that the reformists say the solution is in focusing on the quality of teaching and in structural reforms-delivering greater school choice to pupils. So not too different then from what is happening here under the coalition government. And what do US reformers see as the greatest obstacle to radical reform-the unions.
Many on Goves team think the same here, but have so far been less explicit about this in public for political reasons. Remember just 18 teachers have been sacked for incompetence in the last 40 years in England. What is clear though is that the quality of teachers and schools choice are now heading the reformist agenda in both the US and UK.