Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of Philanthropy magazine, recently writes in the Wall Street Journal, “We are now in the midst of a counterrevolution against school reform.”
This could not be more true. Both Republicans and Democrats have at times supported school reforms such as school choice, teacher accountability, and more rigorous testing. Now, as Chris Stewart, education expert at a Philanthropy Roundtable conference commented, “School reformers are getting punched in the face.”
For example, in Texas, Houston’s Board of Education announced it will no longer allow Teach For America volunteers to serve in the district. And in California a panel appointed by the governor placed new constraints on educational choice, allowing local school-district officials the ability to veto public charter schools.
This is damaging to children and these power politics must be rebuked.
As Zinsmeister says, “Democrats are stifling school choice, but the movement has clear results and durable institutions.” In other words, there is hope!
The reason for hope is that education leaders are taking a stand, creating an alternative outside of the status quo. These leaders have broken down barriers in the areas of teacher training, curriculum development, and classroom management.
One example according to Don Nielsen, program chair here at ACTE, is the innovation districts that were approved in Corinth, Mississippi, bringing about significant positive changes:
- A revised school calendar that involves extending the year to 210 days.
- Revised curriculum based on the Cambridge Education System, which is more rigorous than the state-approved curriculum.
- Improved graduation requirements which offer seven different diplomas.
- A planned new compensation system for teachers.
Nielsen asserts that, “Passing legislation to allow for the creation of innovation schools and districts is the best way to start the process of school improvement. We have seen this in the charter school movement, and it can more rapidly occur within the existing public school sector, if given permission.”
The results are clear. Educational choices provide the opportunity for better student performance. What we need is the creation of new models. Unleashing the best minds we have to create schools that dramatically enhance academic achievement should be allowed and promoted. We have this with charters, but it should be available to all public schools.
As Zinsmeister puts it “[They] are still crying out for something better than the status quo.”