We have read several articles about the new report prepared by McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” mostly along the same lines making the same arguments so we are going to address these arguments.  The quotes we will be using come from “The Kansas City Star” online, Real education reform begins with real respect by Mary Sanchez.

Using rankings by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the study compared the U.S. education system to those of the highest performing countries in the study.  According to the most recent PISA, the U.S. was ranked on average at 19th for science, 15th in reading and 27th in math.

The report found four key differences between successful countries and the U.S.:

•Successful countries, hold teaching in much higher esteem. Entering the profession is difficult. Candidates are drawn from the tops of university classes. These countries provide more resources for training and professional development, and they give teachers more responsibility for leading reform.

•High-performing nations establish rigorous achievement standards, premised on “the proposition that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so,” according to the report.

•The U.S. spends more money per pupil than almost all countries studied but lavishes resources on economically advantaged schools. Elsewhere, budgets are much smaller and extra resources go to disadvantaged schools.

•The U.S. is no more stratified socioeconomically than the average country studied, but class differences have a much more pronounced effect on educational achievement here than in high-performing nations.

We would like to discuss a few of the assertions this and other writers are making:

A good place to start: upgrade how we value teachers. Education must be held in high esteem. We’re too busy blaming teachers to allow them to be part of the solution.

We all know and love a teacher, but unless you were educated in Utopia, we all remember those really bad or creepy teachers as well.  We all value great and even good teachers and hold them in high esteem.  However, as in many other professions, an unwillingness to weed out the bad apples continues to diminish the profession as a whole.  Respect (to be valued) must be earned and cannot be handed out via fiat.

This is where tenure is damaging.  Just because you were skilled enough to earn tenure does not mean you will always remain a good teacher and should be guaranteed lifetime employment.  It is an aspect of human nature for too many among us that if we know we can’t get fired there is no motivation to improve or give our best.  By keeping and protecting failing teachers we not only damage children, but the reputation of teachers as a whole.

This is also where collective bargaining and union power are so destructive.  Unions make it nearly impossible to remove bad teachers.  The valuing of seniority over ability is a tenant of unions when it comes to cutbacks.  Unions also fight any competition or innovation that would take taxpayer dollars away from union controlled schools.

American teachers are better paid than their peers in higher-performing countries, but they are underpaid compared to similarly educated workers in the U.S. That’s one way to measure the value of a profession.

Again, union control is to blame for teacher’s pay being lower than other professions in the US and the realities of supply versus demand cannot be denied.

First, collective bargaining requires all teachers, good or bad, to get paid the same.  However, there are only so many taxpayer dollars to go around and if we cannot pay bad or inexperienced teachers less, then we cannot pay the best or more experienced teachers more.  Union contracts deny the ability to reward excellence.

Second, unions restrict free market completion to maintain control of taxpayer education dollars.  However, were education a free market where schools were free to compete for the best teachers, the salaries of the best teachers would necessarily rise-supply versus demand-thus encouraging less skilled teachers to improve in order to compete.  There are numerous examples of this within charter schools which have been freed to compete for excellent teachers by offering higher salaries than their public counterparts.

Testing and assessment should serve not to punish schools, as in the U.S., but to assess which students and classrooms need more attention, as in high-performing countries.

We agree testing should be used to help identify areas a child needs improvement, but it must also be used to identify schools failing to educate children.  Closing a failing school, allowing the students to attend a better school or handing control over to new leadership should not be considered punishment.  It should be seen as responsible guardianship of the children in that school.

Bottom line?  Competition has improved the quality of life in the US in uncountable ways, from stocked grocery stores to cell phones and computers.  Were we to open up the education system and give parents the power and responsibility to find the proper school to educate their children we would see great schools expand and flourish, bad schools close and parental involvement increase.  As it stands now, parents who don’t have the means to get their children out of failing schools have no power.  Schools are controlled by union contracts, federal and state guidelines and mandates and bureaucratic barriers.  If you have no power, why get involved?

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