Bean: Reform should come from educators

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 11:10 AM

It’s easy to be a fan of Sen. Kay Hagan, D–N.C., of Greensboro. For those who have seen her in action, she brings a sense of calm, focus, fairness and compassion.

As much as Hagan is a person to be respected and admired, neither she nor anyone else should be followed blindly. Not that she and others are unworthy. It’s just always better to follow principles and beliefs.

As a politician who’s stumped for educational improvement and reform, Hagan recently introduced a bill to turn around low-performing schools, called the STAR (School Turnaround and Rewards) Act. The bill is co-sponsored by Joe Lieberman, I-CT.

The bottom five percent of schools in each state would be targeted, with the key word targeted. In order to receive $3 million in stimulus funds, the schools must agree to one of four options.

Two of the four options include first firing the principals. One of the four options includes the firing of some of the teaching staff. A third option is to adopt a charter management plan and the fourth is to close the school and send the students to other schools.

In Hagan’s defense, her bill was drafted because the No Child Left Behind bill is considered too punitive.

In fact, both bills are too punitive.

Any legislation that mandates firing principals, without first some assessment, is far beyond punitive. And, do we really believe that by closing schools that somehow the students are going to get smarter? It’s not the walls and floors that determine academic success.

It’s not that Hagan’s bill is intended to be punitive. It’s not. If one reads the lengthy document, there is plenty of constructive and very positive material.

Hagan is right to shine a light on what goes on at the administrative level and within the classroom.  Maybe her bill stops short by not also looking at what goes on in the superintendent’s office and at the board level?  If school leadership and community together have high standards, legislative solutions are likely to not be needed. For educational outcomes to change, all components need to be examined.

It doesn’t come as a shock that the highest performing schools tend to be located in highly educated communities. That doesn’t make the teachers and administrators there necessarily better at their jobs.

It also doesn’t come as a shock that our lowest performing schools tend to be located in lowly educated communities. That doesn’t make the teachers and administrators there necessarily worse at their jobs.

Let’s play “what if” now. What if the STAR Act were to pass? Would anyone be shocked if the best teachers and administrators bailed on their lower-performing schools in favor of more job security somewhere else? All that would be left would be the folks who couldn’t get a job elsewhere. Want to talk about the impact of the staff now?

With all due respect to elected officials, this is why educational reform should come from educators.

As a footnote, my boys were educated in both urban schools with plenty of educational distractions and more rural ones with far fewer distractions and higher academic reputations.  They had excellent teachers in both settings and their education never suffered. Excellence exists everywhere.

Congress cannot solve this problem.  Educators, it’s time to speak up above all the noise. What are your solutions?

Once our educators have spoken, communities are you/we willing to do our part to provide students ready and eager to learn?

Rick Bean is publisher of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6501 or at rbean@heraldsun.com.