Real school reform needed immediately

Word from Washington is that Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet is being considered by Barack Obama’s transition team as a possible nominee for secretary of education.

Bennet wouldn’t be a bad pick. Under his guidance, CSAP scores for math and reading that were released last summer showed students in the Denver school district gaining more than any other large district in the state.

More importantly, Bennet has strengthened the district’s pay-for-performance program for Denver teachers, despite initial, adamant opposition from the teachers’ union.

Bennet isn’t the only person being considered for education secretary. Some of the other candidates have stronger reformist resumes. Others have less.

One thing is clear. The time is long past due for serious education reform. That was reinforced last week with the news that roughly one third of Colorado’s high-school graduates need some remedial classes just to handle a basic college curriculum. That number has remained relatively constant in recent years, and is on a par with what occurs in many other states.

So, 10 years after Colorado launched its CSAP program, seven years after the federal “No Child Left Behind” law became law, and after decades of warnings about the declining state of American education, we have seen virtually no progress at all.

The federal government isn’t primarily responsible for public education. It controls only a small portion of the education budget. Reform must also come from states and local school boards.

But the president and his education secretary can set the tone. They can highlight examples of what works to reform education. Many of those are ideas that teachers unions don’t support — things like charter schools, vouchers for inner-city parents and pay-for-performance salary plans for teachers. Also needed are much better discipline tools for teachers who must deal with unruly students.

No matter which candidate Obama chooses for education secretary, we hope that person and the president will fight hard for meaningful reform.


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