Learn from D.C. and Study in Vegas

Posted by By at 6 October, at 11 : 31 AM Print

 By any objective measure, public schools are failing: Poor performance, increasing dropout levels, declining international standing, lack of accountability, and chronic underfunding.

 There is no magic bullet to cure the ailment. Folks that tell you, they have the answer don’t understand the complexity of  the problem.

 Eliminating property taxes, reducing pension payments, and consolidating school districts will provide relief to taxpayers, but fiscal reform won’t produce better results in the classroom.

 We all must accept responsibility for decades of neglect, bickering and social impotency. Replaying the same talking points over and over is not going to change the outcomes.

 Teachers, school boards, and administrators, need to be held accountable, and the marketplace will not pick your kids up in the morning, provide lunch or invest in special education.

We need a new script to preserve the social compact of providing quality, public education to our children. There are successful reform models to choose from that don’t involve political zero-sum games.

 Washington D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty was elected in 2007, and hired Michelle Rhee as chancellor of Public Schools to reform a failing urban educational system. Ms. Rhee is also the model of education reform advocated by the Obama administration.

 At that time, Fenty and Rhee came into office, African-American students in D.C. were 70 percentage points behind white students in math. Fenty stated, “We’ve closed that by 20 percentage points, which is a huge gain, but it still leaves us 50 percentage points behind.”

 What did Rhee do that caused so much commotion?

 She shut down two dozen schools, dismissed educators for poor performance, and overhauled the teacher evaluation system to include student performance.

 How did the voters respond to accountability and structural reform in D.C.? They fired Fenty in last month’s democratic primary for his “elitism.”

 Mr. Fenty remains steadfast in his commitment to educational reform: “it’s time we did something about it. At the end of the day, politicians are going to have to make tough decisions and risk their political future because it’s the right thing to do.”

 On the other side, of the net stands an unelected celebrity intent on creating replicable reform. Andre’ Agassi’s Foundation for Education was created in 1994 and has achieved staggering success in urban areas.

 Agassi raised private funds, parented with the Clark County School District and unveiled the Andre’ Agassi College Preparatory Academy in 2001. The K-12 public charter school has 623 students.

 The results were astounding.  In Nevada, only 50% of ninth graders graduate from high school., and only 10% of those survive to graduate from college. Yet Agassi Prep program achieved a 100% high school graduation rate, and a near-perfect college acceptance rate among the senior class in one of the lowest performing school districts in the country.

 How do they do it?

 Smaller classrooms, more time on task — including longer days and an extended school year, full-day kindergarten, ongoing staff development, increased investment in public schools, enhanced accountability through uniform standards to measure student, teacher, administrator and school success, and flexibility in rewarding teachers, regardless of tenure or union status.

 School boards, teachers, privateers, parents, and students should take notice. Agassi achieved measurable improvement while preserving the social compact of providing a quality, public education. Agassi’s success demonstrates that accountable, structured and well-financed P3 partnerships can work.

 In Pennsylvania, we must defeat philosophical gridlock and legislative inertia, and seek out proven urban reform models and P3 partnerships. Doing nothing is not an option. There is no cure-all for public education, but Mayor Fenty and Andre’ Agassi have given us choices.

This post was written by:
- who has written 390 posts for Rock The Capital
Eric J. Epstein is RocktheCapital‘s coordinator and a community advocate for good government for over 25 years. Mr. Epstein is also Chairman of the Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., a safe-energy organization founded in 1977; President of EFMR Monitoring Group, Inc., a non-profit economic development corporation established in 1977, and Chairman of the Stray Winds Area Neighbors (SWAN), a smart growth association organized in 2005. Mr. Epstein was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities at PSU-Harrisburg (1992-1999) and co-authored the Dictionary of the Holocaust, which was released by Greenwood Press (1997) - Email Eric Epstein

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