In Budget Crises, an Opening for School Reform
Michelle Rhee with her first major article (an op ed in the WSJ) about what StudentsFirst is all about:
Three weeks ago, I founded StudentsFirst, a national organization to defend and promote the interests of children in public education and to pursue an aggressive reform agenda to make American schools the best in the world. In the first 48 hours, 100,000 Americans signed up as members, contributing $1 million in small online donations.
StudentsFirst's efforts will center on three key areas:
• Treating teachers like professionals. Compensation, staffing decisions and professional development should be based on teachers' effectiveness, not on their seniority. That means urging states and districts to implement a strong performance pay system for the best teachers, while discontinuing tenure as job protection for ineffective teachers. This will ensure that the money spent on teacher salaries goes to the hard-working professionals who are improving student achievement every day.
The budget crisis inevitably requires layoffs of school staff. Teacher-layoff policies are a good example of how recognizing quality over seniority translates into responsible decision-making during difficult economic times. Currently, layoff decisions are based on seniority, which means the last person hired is the first person fired. However, research, such as a recent study by Dan Goldhaber at the University of Washington, shows that when teacher layoffs are determined by seniority it hurts students and teachers.
• Empowering parents and families with real choices and real information. Parents, especially those who live in lower-income neighborhoods, have limited educational options for their children. StudentsFirst believes that states and school districts must remove the barriers that limit the number of available seats in high-quality schools. This includes allowing the best charter schools to grow and serve more students. It also means giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools. All children deserve the chance to get a great education; no family should be forced to send kids to a school they know is failing.
StudentsFirst also urges legislation to equip parents and communities with the tools they need to effectively organize and lead reform efforts when their public-school system fails them. California's "parent trigger" law, for example, forces the restructuring of a poor performing school when more than 50% of the parents whose children attend it sign a petition.
• Ensure accountability for every dollar and every child. Due to the financial downturn in the states, it is critically important to ensure that every dollar spent on public education has a positive impact on student learning. Unfortunately, billions of dollars today are wasted on things such as paying for advanced degrees for teachers that have no measurable impact on student achievement.
- JANUARY 11, 2011