NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 19, 2004

Many creative solutions to improving education are initiated by outside groups. While these approaches have raised students' academic achievement, superintendents and school boards tend to stick with familiar academic methods, even when they aren't working well, says USA Today.

By failing to be more innovative, school districts risk generating only more outside pressure for radical reforms to improve student performance.

Examples of ways that districts have resisted change:

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers have identified successful reading instruction methods that break words into sounds (phonics); for nearly a decade, however, districts have ignored such research, preferring to stick with less-effective traditional methods that expect students to memorize words.
  • Nearly all schools base teacher pay on years in the classroom, largely because teachers' unions oppose pay linked to student performance; in a rare exception, Denver teachers this month approved a "merit pay" system that has produced positive results in the past four years as a pilot program.
  • In 31 Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, students' average scores on national tests have increased 51 percent in math and 27 percent in English; despite this record, only a handful of similarly creative schools have emerged from the nation's other 15,000 school districts.

Defenders of public schools cite innovations such as independently run "charter" schools financed by taxpayers. But charter schools were forced on districts by dissatisfied politicians and parents. Other recent reforms were adopted only after Washington provided money.

As public pressure for better student performance grows, school systems can look for ways to be more innovative themselves, or be prodded to change from the outside, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Struggling schools forgo innovation for familiar fare," USA Today, May 19, 2004.

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