Mandate for Change Offers Education Blueprint

Published April 1, 2009

A charter school advocacy group has offered the new administration a set of recommendations for education reform.

The Maryland-based Center for Education Reform in late January issued Mandate for Change: A Bold Agenda for the Incoming Government, asking for better accountability, transparency, charter schools, school choice, and teacher quality.

“Fixing public education is hands-down the most leveraged domestic policy opportunity of our time,” said Samuel Casey Carter, who edited the publication. “No other investment available can simultaneously enhance the workforce of the future, help rebuild the infrastructure of the present, and seek to wipe out the civil rights injustices of the recent past.

“If we fail to replace our public education system, which as a whole is itself monumentally broken, we the people may soon find that we are fundamentally unequipped to govern ourselves, let alone provide governance to others we thought [were] in greater need,” Carter said.

The publication consists of five essays written by prominent education reform activists.

Major Reforms

The report calls for:

* Merit-based systems for teachers. Richard Whitmire, president of the National Educational Writers Association, points out children who have highly effective teachers for three consecutive years have much better test scores than students who draw poor teachers for three consecutive years. He argues teachers should be hired, promoted, and fired based on their effectiveness, not tenure.

* Increased government accountability. John M. Engler, president of the National Manufacturers Association, notes accountability is closely tied to good measurements and transparency. “Manufacturers live and die by the credo: To measure is to improve,” Engler writes. “The same should be true with education.”

* Improved choice. “One size doesn’t fit all,” writes Kevin P. Chavous, a distinguished fellow of the center. The traditional public school system has morphed into a bureaucratic business of its own, focusing on self-preservation at the expense of improving children’s achievement.

* Charter schools as role models. Free from many of the bureaucratic shackles that constrict their traditional counterparts, charter schools are overseen by authorizers that hold them responsible for meeting their academic and fiscal goals. Traditional schools often try to replicate what charter schools pioneer, Chavous said.

Phillip J. Britt ([email protected]) writes from Illinois.