US Education Reforms focus on teachers and rewarding high performance

But Klein worries that reforms are losing pace


Education policy in the  United States  operates within a Federal system so States and local education boards mostly run the show. Indeed, many Republicans are positively  against any Federal interference in education , although others within the party see such  central interventions as a means of undermining unions influence in education., while placing more power  in the hands of parents.  However, poor school standards and underperformance against international benchmarks have resulted in more Federal programmes (No Child Left Behind , Race to the Top etc ) .    President Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top Fund, is a programme that requires states to compete for big federal grants, and rewards accountability systems that measure whether teachers add value. Several states—including Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Ohio—have enacted legislation moving in this direction. Under Michelle Rhee’s leadership, Washington, D.C., adopted a merit system with the agreement of its local and national teachers unions. The District was authorized to award substantial merit pay (resulting in salaries of up to $130,000) and to sack teachers who were not performing well. Rhee sacked more than 200 teachers. Standards in the classroom improved. Joel Klein ,the CEO of the Educational Division at News Corporation and former Chancellor of the New York City Education Department (the largest education department in the country)  is one of the key figures pushing reforms  He said “  By recruiting teachers mostly from the middle and bottom of their college classes, as America has done for decades now, not only did we not get the talent we needed, but we also fostered a culture where excellence and merit don’t matter. A rational compensation scheme is critical to fixing this core human-capital weakness: rather than just pay for longevity and lifetime benefits, we must reward excellence and enable the system to meet its needs. If, going forward, we eliminated all the automatic raises and promises of huge lifetime benefits, we’d have an enormous amount of money to devote to merit pay, hardship-assignment incentives, and recruiting in subjects where we have shortages.”

Kleins experiences in New York convinced  him of the importance of good teaching, of getting rid of bad teachers and fostering innovation and new approaches in the classroom. He managed to lift, backed by Mayor Bloomberg, the cap on Charter schools in New York and sees these schools as at the cutting edge of reforms. Charter schools are generally popular in the most disadvantaged communities. He summed up his struggles in New York as follows “It required taking risks, knowing that not every change will work out and that your critics will focus mercilessly on those that don’t. But most of all, it required building community and political support.” But Klein is clearly worried now that the leadership and drive for reform is ebbing. Time is running out, he fears. “Without political leadership willing to take risks and build support for “radical reform,” and without a citizenry willing to insist on those reforms, our schools will continue to decline.” Rhee is no longer in charge in Washington DC, so others are worried  also  that the reform movement may now be lacking  the local leadership required to keep up the momentum, removing the obstacles to reform.


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