Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Op-ed In Springfield News Leader

"Missouri Needs Education Reform Now", an opinion piece in the Springfield News Leader, once again shows the urgent need to reform education in Missouri! This is written by Joe Knodell, the state coordinator for the Missouri Education Reform Council:

The state legislature is currently considering school reform issues such as open enrollment and the expansion of charter schools. Performance pay, or merit pay as it is sometimes called, is in the mix, as well.

Missouri is behind many of our neighboring states when it comes to implementing school reform. I could list the statistics that show Missouri lags behind in student achievement and how the USA stacks up against other developed countries in math and science -- but these facts have been in front of us and in the media for quite some time.

We have a new president who advocates reform and is promoting performance pay and charter schools. Time will tell whether President Obama will match the rhetoric with results. New Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also has the credentials of a reformer because of his past work in Chicago.

With all of the momentum for school reform going forward, why is it so hard to pass legislation addressing our failing schools and the need to increase student achievement? Lawmakers from other states that have enacted education reform, including Arkansas and Iowa, can testify that it was not easy. Teachers' unions and the education establishment as a whole do not embrace reform and usually oppose it vigorously. That means state legislators and governors have to enact the needed reforms in spite of the intense lobbying efforts of educators and their organizations. This takes a great deal of intestinal fortitude. Governmental leaders have to look beyond the self interests of the education community and do what is best for students and parents. Whether this can be done in Missouri remains to be seen.

Why does the education community oppose reform? As with any endeavor, there are exceptions to the rule: There are many forward-looking teachers and administrators who understand that the status quo in education is not good enough. They are willing to try new ideas that have proven successful in other states.

But other groups remain opposed to such reforms. Teachers' unions are against the idea of performance pay because they prefer that all teachers make the same salary, no matter the quality of their work. To some, "accountability" is a bad word.

Administrator organizations oppose reforms because they fear the unknown. They wonder if a new charter school, for instance, would hurt their enrollment.

The next couple of months will show Missourians how serious lawmakers are about changing the way our educational system works. Will they send the message that we must do better? Or will legislators bow to the pressure from the establishment and do nothing?

We shall see.

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