Federal money a loud voice in ed reform


POSTED: Saturday, March 14, 2009

THE federal government has little leverage when it comes to reshaping public education - except through funding. With $100 billion in stimulus money soon to flow to the states and school districts that do hold authority, President Barack Obama made it clear he intends to push them on education reform. Along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the president also must use the strength of his office to press them to shift from current practices that have allowed the nation's schools to falter.

Congress also should revise the No Child Left Behind law to expand measures of achievement beyond stringent test-score benchmarks, establish a wider range of corrective actions school districts can take and set up a framework to eliminate weak tests some states have adopted to prop up poor achievement numbers.

In his first major speech on education this week, the president sharply criticized school systems and political leaders in both parties whose ideological battles have stymied education reforms.

“;Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance,”; Obama said.

He called for longer school terms, increasing the number of charter schools while setting criteria for closing poorly performing ones, grants to support new education models and increased teacher training.

Most controversial is Obama's proposal for merit pay for good teachers and for removing unmotivated and ineffective teachers. Unions, which have largely supported his party, were predictably lukewarm to the proposal.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association opposes tying pay of individual teachers to student test scores. Test scores should be part of evaluating teachers, but need not be the exclusive measure. Student response, classroom conduct, professional improvement and other gauges also should be factors. In addition, evaluations should be seen through grade-level achievements as well as through an entire campus.

Assessments should be made collaboratively, among teachers and administrators, and should take in to account the makeup of the student population, such as the numbers of poverty-level, special needs and English-speaking students.

Schools also can be rewarded for creative programs that succeed and that can be duplicated on other campuses. The government can then set up a bank of models for schools to explore.

The federal government's money can only go so far in reshaping public education. The president and Secretary Duncan must use the White House bully pulpit to persuade lagging local officials and Congress to get moving.