Though the rest of the developed world has continually improved their schools and student learning in response to modern day demands, America’s public education system has changed little since the 1970s. Once the standard of the world, U.S. schools now rank 20th out of 30 countries in high school graduation rates, 24th in college graduation rates, and 27th in college graduation rates of scientists and engineers. It is clear that our nation has failed to adapt our education system to meet the needs of today’s students — resulting in educational stagnation. Today, 70% of our children do not receive the education required to prosper in the 21st Century economy.
The American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE) advocates for fundamental changes to our education system that better prepare students for today’s globally competitive marketplace. We work at the state level to improve the quality of teaching, leadership. and governance of our public schools. Through state level reforms, we aim to advance the talent — and boost the performance — of the people who power our education system. These new educators will then lead to the transformation of our schools — with students as the ultimate beneficiaries.
The fundamental transformation of our schools will not happen overnight. In order to achieve lasting change — and positive results for our students — we propose a multi-year strategy in two phases.
Identify Reform-Minded States. Our early research efforts are focused on identifying states that are positioned for change and equipped with courageous state leaders who are willing to buck the education establishment in favor of meaningful reforms.
Promote Choice Legislation. The formal education of the child, which is probably one of the most important aspect of raising a child, is not currently a parental choice. We promote and support school choice legislation in all its forms — vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and charter schools.
Pass Innovation Districts Legislation. We support passing legislation that will grant greater flexibility for administrators to enact change within their schools. By allowing public school districts to apply for waivers that grant flexibility for school administrators, we empower school administrators to implement innovative solutions to problems that they witness in their classrooms.
Pass Leadership Institute Legislation. We propose the creation of leadership institutes that train educational entrepreneurs to be agents of change within their schools, and to oversee innovation districts.
Appointed School Board Legislation. Change is a difficult, long-term process that is continually impeded by school board elections. Appointed school boards will provide the stability of governance that is critical to implementing lasting, far-sighted reforms.
Modifying Certification Laws. The education profession should be open to our brightest and most talented citizens. By removing barriers that prevent issue experts from becoming teachers, we can hire teachers based on qualifications — not just their certification.
School Funding Legislation. The current funding system greatly constrains innovation by heavily restricting how school districts can spend their money. We believe that education funding should follow the child, and be based on the cost to educate that child — making school funding a function of both the number and the needs of children who are being educated.
Teacher Compensation Legislation. By eliminating the salary schedule, schools will be able to hire and pay teachers based on school needs, market conditions, and budget allowances — ultimately attracting higher quality teachers. This allows high-demand teachers, like math and science teachers, to be paid more.
Graduation Requirements Legislation. Currently, high school credit hours measure how much time a student spends in a seat. Instead, states should redefine graduation standards and requirements to reflect material learned and college readiness.
Donald P. Nielsen is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Chairman of the Institute’s program on public education reform. For nearly 30 years, he has devoted his life work to transforming public education. For two years, he traveled the country studying America’s public education system and authored, Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education. Mr. Nielsen was awarded the Harvard Business School’s 2004 Alumni Achievement Award. In 2009, he received the Leadership Award from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.