Education reform

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 13 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:56 am in

The Gazette Editorial Board

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The lead-up to legislative discussions about education reform has had a much different flavor than it did last year.

No grand gubernatorial pronouncements or take-it-or-leave it blueprints for change. Instead, some well-researched and considered recommendations by a half-dozen task forces, made up of various education stakeholders, charged with studying distinct potential areas of reform.

If many of those recommendations aren’t exactly new, they at least were arrived at with plenty of input from school administrators and classroom teachers.

We support several of those recommendations toward improving our current K-12 school system — such as boosting staring pay for teachers and changing class time requirements from 180 calendar days to a minimum number of hours.

We’re waiting on details about how other ideas — such as a proposal to implement a statewide teacher evaluation system and expanding online learning opportunities for students — might work.

And the No. 1 priority for changes must be: How will this help students achieve?

Now comes the hard part: It’s up to legislators to choose reform priorities and find whatever money is needed to turn those priorities into realities.

As always, the hardest part is in the details: Exactly how do you carry out an idea to make it effective and what are the financial and others costs?

OPEN THE DOOR

And while they’re considering changes intended to improve the current system, legislators also should look for ways to open the door for truly transformational change. Whether it be through pilot programs, charter schools or other means, schools need more flexibility to experiment with new ways of teaching that align with the needs of 21st Century learners.

The reforms so far under consideration could make our public schools better, depending on how they’re carried out, but they won’t be enough to transform an industrial-age model of teaching and learning into one better suited to our digital age.

That should be the ultimate goal of comprehensive school reform.

IDEAS WE LIKE

Reports are in from five of six task force committees that have been studying ways to improve our public school system. These are some recommendations we believe have merit:

l From the Instructional Time Task Force: Encourage districts to extend school hours by providing after-school programs and other extended-day opportunities for students. Require schools to meet a minimum number of instructional hours, rather than the current day requirement, in order to make more effective use of instructional time and ensure students are not shortchanged.

l The Administrator Evaluation Task Force: Create a process to measure administrator effectiveness and one of professional supports to help administrators improve.

l The Teaching Standards and Teacher Evaluation Task Force: Develop an improved statewide teacher evaluation system that would replace the current system. (We think it should be fairer, more comprehensive and collaborative, while also ensuring that teachers who don’t meet standards aren’t retained.)

l The Task Force on Early Childhood Assessment: Adopting a statewide school readiness assessment to ensure consistency across districts.

TEACHER FOCUS

Still, the likely centerpiece of reform efforts this year is teacher compensation.

The Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation’s recommendations would create separate career tracks for teachers based on their interests and abilities. Model teachers, career teachers, mentor teachers and lead teachers all would have different roles, responsibilities and time spent in the classroom.

They also recommend increasing starting salaries for teachers and providing extra pay incentives for hard-to-fill teaching jobs.

These ideas have potential. There seems ample evidence that low pay is one deterrent to many would-be teachers. The idea of specialized career tracks has intrigued many stakeholder groups.

But here’s where those pesky details become important. Where will the money come from? How would those career tracks work?

Those are details legislators must wrestle with in the weeks to come.

l Comments: editorial@sourcemedia.net or (319) 398-8262

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