Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Solution to Getting Better K-12 Results Is a Simple But Not Easy One ... Let Good Teachers Teach and Get the Bureaucrats Out of the Way

Solutions to hard problems are often simple. That said, the solutions frequently aren't easy to achieve. And that's the precise difficulty we face in K-12 education today -- We tend to confuse what's simple with what's easy.

The city of Indianapolis has demonstrated that local K-12 schools can be improved dramatically and without spending more taxpayer money while doing so. Paying good teachers well, having fewer non-value added administrators and bureaucrats on board, and greater local control are the simple keys to success. As I said, easy and simple aren't equals.

Our American federalist system of governance was designed to function with continuous improvements at the local and state levels as the best practices of individual cities and states were observed, considered, adopted and then continuously improved upon by other American cities and states. These laboratories of experimentation and freedom serve to make our unique system of federalism such a potentially powerful force for productivity and improvement.

But sadly, in today's centralized political environment, We the People have abdicated control to the educational 'experts' who claim to be all knowing and always acting in our best interests. These self proclaimed 'experts' are too often neither all knowing nor acting in our best interests.

Liberating Indianapolis Schools From District Control is subtitled 'An innovative new law grants some schools autonomy and even exempts them from a collective-bargaining pact:'

"One of the biggest challenges facing America today is the lackluster state of the K-12 education system. More than half of American workers are not prepared for today's jobs and therefore are condemned to declining wages, with dire implications for the economy and for individuals' ability to thrive in a 21st century workforce.

The wages of male high-school dropouts, for example, adjusted for inflation, have contracted an alarming 33% between 1980 and 2013, according to data from the Digest of Education Statistics. Those with only a high-school diploma saw their wages drop 26%, and those with some college but no degree saw a decline of 17%. This is especially worrying because noncollege graduates make up the majority of the population—64%.

Without dramatic action to reform K-12 education, this is unlikely to change soon. The good news is that change is possible. We're seeing it first-hand here in Indianapolis . . . . In 2009 . . . the (Magnet Middle School) was granted autonomy from the school district's central office and given the power to make changes, including staffing changes. The results . . . the percentage of its students passing math (grew) to 93% in 2013 from 39% in 2009. This occurred even as the percentage of students in poverty . . . grew to 92% from 72%.

But such improvements can be found across the country, if you know where to look. Schools are proving that students—regardless of economic or other life circumstances—can excel. Take Uncommon Schools, a Boston-based network of public charter schools, where three-fourths of students are considered economically disadvantaged, yet more than 80% are English proficient and 85% are math proficient.

What these effective schools have in common is not extra funding, dazzling curricular models or other factors that one might assume lead to success. They simply have the conditions that attract excellent teachers and maximize their transformative power.

Specifically, these schools have autonomy from the centralized bureaucracy of school districts, which gives them more control over curricula and hiring. Because principals control budgets at autonomous schools, they're able to pay great teachers more and reward high performers.

Why is a teacher-centric approach so vital? Ample research shows that excellent teachers are the most critical factor in student success. A 2011 analysis by Stanford University's Erik Hanushek showed that by replacing the bottom 10% of teachers with average teachers, the U.S. could reach the education achievement levels of top-performing countries such as Finland and Canada.

Paying teachers more is an important part of the solution. Many believe this must be done through increased spending, but the answer often lies in more effective allocation of existing resources.

In Indiana the growth rate for non-teaching staff and teaching assistants from 1987 to 2012 was 70.3%, nearly 10 times the 7.7% growth rate among students . . . . Had growth among non-teaching staff and teaching assistants merely kept pace with that of students, Mr. Scafidi estimated that every Indiana teacher could have seen a nearly $26,000 salary increase on the $51,000 base that average midcareer Indiana teachers receive today.

Such facts underscore the need for shifting dollars and decision-making to the school level, which would enable principals to reward excellent teachers by compensating them well. Creating such a system is not easy, in part because there is significant resistance.

Some of that resistance is driven by self-preservation. The jobs of thousands of administrators in top-heavy district offices depend on keeping centralized control. Unions want to protect jobs and seniority-based hiring and compensation. They fight giving school administrators the authority to assemble teams of quality teachers, regardless of experience, and the power to terminate underperforming teachers.

Yet with strong local leadership and enough political will, educators and families can defeat the forces against change. . . .

We all know that changing K-12 education is difficult. Achieving it begins with allowing more autonomy for schools and teachers, and less control from unions and administrators. The future of the American economy—and of today's students—depends on it."

Summing Up

First, let's not confuse simple with easy.

And let's resolve that it's time to take control and make our schools better --- and dramatically so.

The futures of both our country and future generations of Americans are at stake.

Letting school officials serve as keepers of the status quo  --- and whose primary activity is to protect the jobs of too many unnecessary administrators and bureaucrats, while kowtowing to the leadership of the teachers unions, whose primary activity is to collect membership dues and protect the few bad teachers in the system --- and maintain control of what goes on in our schools is a terrible practice and has to be stopped.

That goal is both simple and easy enough to accomplish if enough of We the People sign up to make it happen.

Good teachers in the classrooms who are well paid, properly incentivized and allowed to do the job of educating our young Americans can and will make good things happen.

And making good things happen in today's America must be a concern for all of us.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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