NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 5, 2004

While there's no instant panacea for fixing failing public schools, a first step requires recognizing the problem, not denying it, says USA Today.

Political leaders and school officials in some cities, such as New York and Chicago, acknowledge that their schools are in crisis. They've shaken up their systems by closing dozens of chronically low-performing schools and opening up dozens of new ones, many under the charter-schools concept, which promotes greater innovation.

More needs to be done. There are two other reforms worth considering, says USA Today.

Expand school choice:

  • More than 750,000 students are enrolled in 3,000 charter schools, public schools that operate free of many bureaucratic rules in return for the promise of higher student achievement.
  • Chicago's 17 charter schools outperform their adjacent neighborhood schools, and most have waiting lists, says Chicago public schools CEO Arne Duncan.
  • Five states have voucher programs that offer public money for low-income students to attend private schools; supporters say such competition will prod public schools to improve.

Merit pay:

  • Union contracts often make it difficult to reward excellent teachers and get rid of poor ones; but linking teacher pay to student performance has produced solid academic gains in pilot programs in Denver and Phoenix.
  • Ending tenure for teachers who fail to meet accountability standards also can improve classroom instruction, as can bonuses paid to encourage effective teachers to work in poor-performing schools; in Chattanooga, Tenn., a bonus plan reduced teacher turnover by 50 percent during two years, and student scores improved dramatically.

Source: Editorial, "Teachers give public schools a revealing report card," USA Today, October 5, 2004.


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