Wishful thinking isn't going to make up the deficiencies.
The problem isn't necessarily that the Administration's policies are bad, though in this case most of them are. (The Bush Administration's policies weren't much better.)
And let's not forget that each state has the primary role in education anyway. That's federalism and it's usually a good thing. Mississippi's education needs are much different than Massachusetts'. Why should their education policies be the same? Moreover, no one has found the recipe for providing a good education for all students yet, so the need for experimentation remains. And, the more laboratories the better until one state finds a system that works and can be replicated.
To improve education, the Administration needs to take an important first step:
The current system simply doesn't work well for many children (and teachers). The incentives are all screwed up. There is not enough "choice" in the system, hence all the "wars." There is a "reading war" because some parents don't agree with the reading instruction services favored by some educators, yet have no choice when it comes to selecting those services. Educators should be able to choose what instructional services they offer and parents and students should be able to choose which educator's services they want to consume. There would be a market for both "progressive" education services and "traditional" education services.
Henry Ford used to offer his Model T automobile in any color the customer wanted provided they wanted black. Ford's competitors soon offered a choice of colors. Everybody was happy, except perhaps Henry. In education you're only happy if you like black. If you don't, you're at "war" with the system because you don't have a choice.
But I digress.
The first step to improve education has to be to admit defeat. We picked a bad system a century or so ago and it didn't deliver on its promises. We tried to educate the masses and we failed. We don't educate the masses; we educate the same small group of students that have always been easily educable. For the rest, we offer an expensive facsimile of education that fails to educate. We're good at claiming we've educated; not so good on delivering the education. We're good at shifting goal posts to make it appear that we're doing a good job, but few people are fooled.
Worse yet, the present system has attracted many powerful entrenched special interests whose best interest is to maintain the status quo. Those special interests are not students or teachers.
Instead of playing the blame game, it is more productive to say that the education incentives are not aligned. They need to be aligned for the system to work. Until they are aligned, no "reform" is going to work. There is lots of data proving this point.
To get the incentives aligned you need to take the right second step after you admit defeat. Admitting defeat provides the political will to take the second step. And, there's only one right second step. And that is to ...
The system needs to be rebooted.
We need a do over.
All the existing ties need to be severed. Then they can be rebuilt. The right way.
After the reboot what would have when the system comes back online?
- A bunch of students with varying education needs.
- A bunch of teachers with varying teaching abilities.
- A bunch of administrators and support personnel with varying administrative capabilities.
- A bunch of school buildings where education services and transportation services can be provided.
- A lot of instructional material and many publishers willing to supply almost any instructional need.
- Over $10k per student for operational expenses from existing tax revenue.
- An information superhighway capable of providing all the information services needed for a transparent network linking parents, students, taxpayers, and educators.
That's more than enough to get us started on Education System 2.0 - 21st century edition.
Actually, you need to do one more thing. Throw out all the existing rules and regulations and institute a ten year moratorium on all education-specific rules, like we did with the Internet when it was opened up to consumers. When the reboot goes into effect, you want only a bare minimum of rules in place to bootstrap the new system.
Then its just a matter of realigning the incentives which is easy.
That'll be the next post.