Bringing a New Strategic Focus to the Education Debate
Four recent postings by Justin and Andrew (here, here, here, and here) have brought us back to the important education policy debate.
Many reader comments on their postings have raised a number of issues related to education in Rhode Island and beyond, including: teacher salaries, automatic salary step increases, merit pay, accountability, union contract terms, pension retirement benefits, healthcare benefits, politician/bureaucrat/union behaviors, corruption, political power, union bashing, Governor Carcieri bashing, Mayor Laffey bashing, and the effect of poverty on educational outcomes.
Yet, however relevant some of these comments may be, they are reflective of the non-strategic nature of the current public debate on education. Dwelling on these largely granular or tactical issues alone has the unintended consequence of playing into the hands of those who defend the failed status quo. Alternatively, inspiring a passionate commitment to change across our society will only occur if certain core strategic questions finally become central to the public debate on education.
There are four such strategic questions:
1. Do we believe a quality education is the gateway to the American Dream for all children?
2. Whom do we trust to make better educational decisions for children: their parents or the government?
3. Within each neighborhood school, who is in the position to make the best decisions regarding individual students, individual teachers, and the curriculum: federal bureaucrats, state bureaucrats, unions or the school’s principal and teachers?
4. What incentives will ensure accountability to taxpayers and parents as well as reward behaviors which lead to improved educational performance outcomes?
Answers to these four strategic questions lead us to one overarching question:
Can the failed status quo be made to work by minor adjustments at the margin or will high-quality performance only come from a completely different structural approach to delivering educational services?
Let’s work diligently to alter the education debate so it focuses on these core strategic issues. With the proper focus, we can unite rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans as well as people of all colors in a common mission dedicated to finally making a quality education available to every child in America.