Center for Ethics and Leadership

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama and Educational Reform

President Obama has given his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wide berth is allocating more than $4 billion in federal aid to states. The hook is that he wants regulations limiting charter schools relaxed and teachers' pay linked to student performance. The two largest teachers unions, National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are on board with those concepts and acknowledge the need to improve public schools. They remained concerned about pay.

I don't think we have heard enough from the teachers about the difficulty with the pay issue. Clearly, teachers are not the only factors in learning. How can a pay plan be devised that allows for the generally better performance of students who are winners in the social lottery, and, more important, for the poorer performance of those who have not been so lucky?

Add to that the manner in which many states fund schools through local real estate taxes. The matter becomes more complicated still when the unusually high number of school districts in certain states (Pennsylvania and New Jersey are chief offenders) is taken into account.

There is a broad debate on charter schools necessary as well. Many claim higher performance, but there have also been scandals.

The president pointed to the serious issues in education. Our schoolchildren cannot continue to lag behind as seriously as they do, and the particular problem of poor schools serving poor children is a matter of basic fairness.

There does not seem to be a simple answer or a magic bullet, however. The problem of K-12 education in the U.S. may be as complex as the problem of healthcare.


  • I have a limited understanding of some of the particulars associated with school management and governance. Charter schools, like school improvement programs, divert public funds into private companies. I see that as a problem. Could you imagine a public school that forced an admissions process and could select the students it would serve? How about a public school that required parent involvement? Or limited special education offerings?

    If better performance means higher pay for teachers, one would suspect over time that the already better performing schools (and statistically better paid districts) would end up 'earning' the majority of the bonus money available. Read estate taxes are controversial - but wealthier neighborhoods like to and can spend more money on their schools. California has seen, in wealthier areas, a proliferation of private funded PTAish organizations providing services to their local schools. Te end result is the same, poorer schools have poorer facilities.

    Public schools do not get to choose who they educate or what they teach. Perhaps some of the freedoms being given to Charter schools have to be given to public schools, perhaps the public funds transferred to charter schools need to be limited to some per student cap, rather than the per district allocation (including special education supplements) currently being made available. Perhaps charter schools need to run buildings and service ALL students. Perhaps education reform is alot like health care reform. It sounds good, and necessary, but is not only complicated by the encumbered by a system that serves a wide range of conflicting interests. Prioritizing shareholder interests and putting the taxpayer somewhere near the top of the list seems to be asking a lot, unfortunately, it seems to be asking the impossible.

    By Blogger kobe2, At July 26, 2009 8:21 AM  

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