Friday, August 13

John Kerry's quietly radical school reform plan

Just read this article in the Washington Monthly regarding John Kerry's centerpiece education reform proposal. Fascinating stuff -- and like his "quietly revolutionary" health care proposal of the government assuming catastrophic care coverage, it seems workable, acceptable, fair and even SIMPLE. That is to say, John Kerry may be a deliberative man who considers all the complexities of an issue, problem or opportunity -- but his solutions are often breathtakingly simple! Some might suspect that that is the result of superior study and planning.

The truth that motivated Lopez was the same one that presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has made the main plank of his education platform: In schooling, a good teacher matters more than anything else. In June, Kerry gave a series of speeches on education that set him up for a battle with George Bush over what has become the president's signature domestic-policy issue. Many liberals had hoped that Kerry would attack the testing requirement set forth in Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which has become increasingly unpopular, especially among teachers' unions. But Kerry, who had voted for NCLB, instead challenged two longstanding, and fiercely defended, union prerogatives: seniority-based pay increases and rules virtually guaranteeing veteran teachers tenure. The candidate proposed a "new bargain"--a $30 billion, 10-year plan of federal grants which would allow districts to raise the pay of teachers whose students consistently test above average, while at the same time making it easier for schools to fire bad teachers. "Greater achievement ought to be a goal," Kerry said, "and it should be able to command greater pay, just the way it does in every other sector of professional employment."

As the campaign moves forward, Kerry's teacher plan may prove to be very clever politics. By challenging the teachers' unions, Kerry gains centrist credibility in an area where he's bucked the liberal line before. (During his 1998 Senate race, he called for an end to teacher tenure.) It also gives Kerry a signature reform that contrasts him with Bush. And his plan ought to resonate with a lot of parents like Lillian Lopez, who know from experience that better teachers are the key to truly improving schools.

But if the plan makes for good politics, is it good policy, too? Is it focused on the big problem? Would it be a credible solution? And is there more Kerry should be doing? The answer to all four questions is yes.

Now if only the media would pay attention and give his platform some air time, the citizens of the U.S.A. just might be heartened to know that there ARE solutions to our challenges out there -- we just need to "hire" some serious, solutions-oriented people to look for them.


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