Monday, December 1, 2008

Education: Reform Not Rocket Science

There are "four straightforward things," writes former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner in today's Wall Street Journal, needed 'to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education." Everything else either doesn't matter or supports the four items, which are:
1. High academic standards for all with a rigorous curriculum.
2. Greatly improve teaching quality and pay the best teachers a lot more.
3. Systematically measure student and teacher performance via tests and assessments.
4. More time in school each day and more days in school.
Gerstner wants President-Elect Obama to convene the 50 governors and cut a deal to:
1. Abolish all local school districts. Keep state-wide districts and districts in the 20 largest metros.
2. Set a national core curriculum starting with reading, math, science and social studies.
3. Test every 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th grader against national standards.
4. Set national teacher certification standards. Pay the best teachers more than $100,000. Fire the worst.
5. Extend the school day and year.
As a skeptic about national involvement in K-12 education, I'm cautious but intrigued. To start, there is the source of the ideas. Gerstner saved IBM. How about the schools? Certainly it ain't working in New Mexico where the latest proposed fix is massive tax increase. We have huge governance problems, not even counting the existence of a 100 or so districts in the state. That's because we have a state department of education that controls the money, therefore making all local decisions subject to state override and making mockery of any claims to local control.
The other intriguing aspect of Gerstner's proposals is that they are a gift to Republicans, who could offer a package in the coming legislature and begin to stand for something.

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