How to End the Education Reform Wars

Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Institute on Education recently delivered an address to the New York State Council of School Superintendents about how to end the American education reform wars. Admittedly coming from a more conservative perspective, Petrilli advocates three main goals for school leaders:

  1. Be the voice of the sane, sensible center.
  2. Grab the ball — and run with it.
  3. Demand charter-like freedoms.

Below are summaries of his key points for each goal.

Be the voice of the sane, sensible center:

Petrilli urges school leaders to advocate for and implement policies in which schools are judged by individual student growth. This holds high standards by not allowing failing schools to continue failing, but it also avoids the ridiculously unfair standards of No Child Left Behind that wind up penalizing schools that truly are making a difference for students.

Secondly, he calls for education leaders to reinvigorate career and technical education, which provides students with more choices, is proven to be successful by research, and prevents yet more students from starting some higher education only to drop out with a pile of debt.

Finally, he advocates an end to the extremes of zero-tolerance discipline policies yet also an end to policies that prevent any use of suspensions or expulsions. Neither one gives the most students the greatest chance to succeed.

Grab the ball — and run with it:

While acknowledging that it can be nearly impossible to fire teachers in many states, Petrilli holds out for school leaders to at least refuse tenure to teachers in probationary teaching stages. This is within state limits and puts more importance on the value of teacher evaluations.

Second, Petrilli demands a more rigorous principal recruitment plan. Promising young educators must be sought out, encouraged, and mentored toward leadership, rather than simply leaving it up to random teachers deciding to go back and get a master’s in education leadership.

Demand charter-like freedoms:

Finally, Petrilli, despite recognizing the hostility toward charter school education among his audience, still urges education leaders to at least fight for the sort of autonomy and freedom to make needed reforms that charter schools have.

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