Urgency and Ed Reform

In today’s WaPo, Matt Miller offers a useful critique of Obama and Romney’s respective education reform proposals. Instead of removing poor teachers, we should focus on attracting good ones:

What about starting salaries of $65,000 rising to $150,000 for teachers (and more for principals)? And federally funded “West Points” of teaching and principal training to model for the nation how it can be done? And new federal cash for poor districts now doomed by our 19th-century system of local school finance, so they can compete in regional labor markets for the talent that today gravitates to higher-paying suburbs?

In other words, the teaching profession has been devalued—in both salary and society—to the extent that our nation’s talented college graduates generally will turn towards other professions. Though “fast-track” certification programs like Teach for America (in which I participated) have helped a bit, the harsh and uncomfortable reality remains: our country’s youth don’t become teachers if they can find something better. And they usually can.

Miller is right to say  this; he asks the right questions and provides useful answers. What he fails to grasp is the urgency of the failures of public education in America, particularly in cities. Though I agree that the upcoming retirement of thousands of teachers provides a great opportunity to improve teacher quality, we can’t just sit idly by until that happens. Expanding charters, “turning around” or closing failing schools, and pushing for accountability should be used in conjunction with our pursuit of systemic change. Though perhaps politically complicated, the strategies are not mutually exclusive. As we discuss how to change the system, let’s not lose sight of the thousands of kids who have no choice but to attend terrible schools each day. Stubborn ideals should not lead us to write off an entire generation of children.

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