'Waiting for Superman' to reform education? He's already here.
The new documentary "Waiting for Superman" makes clear the dismal state of American public schools. But forces of change are aligned now more than ever before. Three key factors create a real possibility for education reform.
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The Bush administration joined both parties in Congress in 2001 to enact No Child Left Behind Act. This legislation provided an important accountability platform. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative uses a different vocabulary, but is pursuing a similar reform logic, and has been willing to use political persuasion and financial incentives to muscle recalcitrant states into line with reform.Skip to next paragraph
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Joining the accountability march, foundations, both corporate and private, have awakened from decades of philanthropic slumber and have begun to regard themselves as investors rather than sugar daddies. They look for a return on investment on their programs, and build in incentives for schools, administrators, and teachers to continue to perform well. These incentives include expanding competition, enhancing data systems, and methods of identifying and rewarding effective teaching and management.
Bankruptcy focuses the mind
Ironically, education reform’s greatest friend may be the fiscal crisis that the nation is facing. Federal government indebtedness, unfunded public-pension liabilities, healthcare costs, shrinking state budgets, and infrastructure decay all underscore the need for greater efficiency and innovation in education. We can no longer to afford to keep throwing money at the problem. In 1920, we spent $710 per student (adjusted to 2007 dollars). In 2007, we spent $12,462. America’s century-long tradition of added per pupil spending is no longer sustainable. Faced with hard choices, school districts will be forced to adopt technologies and management techniques they have long had the luxury of ignoring.
Many of us have grown gray in the quest to change public schooling. But I have never seen such a favorable alignment of forces on reform’s side: real knowledge, scientific evidence, public pressure, and fiscal constraint. The results will be good for students, good for teachers, and very good indeed for America.
James W. Guthrie is senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute and a professor of education at Southern Methodist University. On Sept. 29, the Bush Institute is launching the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership to improve school principal performance.