After a pro-union superindentent and assistant superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District were indicted last year on misappropriating public funds, voters in Orange County successfully recalled and replaced two pro-union school board members with nearly 70% of the vote last Tuesday. In a nearly two year campaign, the CUSD Recall Committee uncovered "gross financial mismanagement" and corruption, with the help of The Education Alliance out of Tustin, CA.
Two important observations that I've brought up in previous posts:
- The concept of collective bargaining isn't bad, and the future the conservative movement should not be completely anti-union. Rather, we should frame ourselves as part of a "pro-accountability" movement to make sure that unions aren't on both sides of the negotiating table.
- We need further discussion on how to build a GOP farm team in local and state legislative races, even school board races! There is importance in identifying local issues of importance, and local political talent that can be developed.
But now to the real question: When it comes to public education policy, what principles should be emphasized by the next conservative movement? We've gone through battles with teachers' unions, arguing over No Child Left Behind, and academic debates on school vouchers. While discussion on these matters is still healthy, what policy goals should we try to achieve? Let's take a look at the stakeholders:
When it comes to students, the status quo of a "one-size-fits-all" education system doesn't work. The system we have now caters to the top 10% and bottom 10% of students; we do a great job of challenging and supplementing the education of the most gifted and talented, and we have had similar success in remedial and special education programs. But the middle 80% seem to be getting exactly the same education, which doesn't make sense for either the students or the teachers educating them.
At the same time, we have an assessment system where we try to get students to achieve an arbitrary level of success to be considered competent. I would like to see an education system that targets students on various levels, and instead of having policies that try to achieve "No Child Left Behind," we should have policies that "Move Every Child Forward." These are policies that don't look at whether or not students achieve a certain standard; rather, they look at whether or not each student has improved from where they started.
When it comes to parents, it's all about providing more accountability and more choice. While this discussion should include vouchers, it should not be rooted in vouchers. The discussion needs to be extended to expanding choice within public education. While the system overall might seem bleak, individual schools and school districts have provided ideas that might work in other local areas.
What needs to happen within school district budgeting, as well as all government budgeting, is a comprehensive review of the performance of different programs. Each program, no matter how big or small, should be required to provide a very specific set of goals with the funding that they request. If those programs meet or achieve beyond their initial goals, they should be rewarded with more funding. If those programs make no significant progress on their initial goals, funding should be pulled. It's a simple principle of investment, and I see no harm in applying business principles into school districts.
When it comes to teachers, paying them like professionals should be tethered to making them accountable as professionals. Sounds simple, right? I'm all for paying teachers more, giving them more benefits, and initiating recruitment programs and incentives to hire more teachers. But I once asked a lobbyist for a teachers' union what improvements needed to be made in order to fire bad teachers; his answer: "There's no such thing as a bad teacher." Yeah, I guess there's no such thing as a bad employee. Everybody can point to a teacher or set of teachers that postively affected their lives; but everybody knows that there are also teachers that seem to just show up for a paycheck. There has to be some sort of assessment system where good teachers are rewarded and bad teachers are fired.
Should they be assessed on their students' test scores? No. Should they be assessed by administrators inside or outside of the school that don't necessarily know the daily workings of a classroom? No. So how should they be assessed? In the private sector, a senior employee in a certain division of a company usually assesses the performance of a junior employee in that same division. Will there always be politics in the workplace? Yes. But I see no problem with an experienced social studies teacher assessing the performance of a less experienced social studies teacher.
This all revolves around the central debate over government's role in education. How can the next conservative movement help students, parents, and teachers while also retaining the principle of local control? Maybe this is another argument for paying more attention to local politics and building the farm team that we desparately need.
Thoughts and disagreements are more than welcome!