December 27th, 2011
08:10 AM ET

My View: The best and worst education events in America in 2011

Courtesy Santa Clara County Office of Educationby Bill Evers, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bill Evers is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, project coordinator for the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education’s Best and Worst Project, and served as U.S. assistant secretary of education for policy (2007-2009).

As the campaign for next year’s presidential election heats up, we can expect an accompanying debate on how to boost the academic achievement of America’s next generation of students.  This issue affects our children, our teachers, our pocketbooks, and our schools.  Successfully educating our children means giving parents more power over where and how their child is educated, and having policies in place that foster gains in student learning, and bring competitive pressure to bear on sluggish schools. We need to properly educate our next generation of builders, entrepreneurs, inventors, and everyone else.  And this necessitates reform.  Reforming our education system should allow for increased teacher accountability, greater parental choice, and system transparency.  This change is not only long overdue, but we owe it our students and to ourselves.

As a progress report of sorts, scholars on the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education have released their list of the best and worst developments in American education this year.  In devising this list, we analyzed hundreds of events, laws, programs and studies.  Notably, we found that Congress, yet again, is stalling on education, President Barack Obama is engaged in legally-questionable maneuvers, and there have been several setbacks at state and local levels.  Such disappointments show that there is considerable room for improvement; nonetheless, the task force found positive developments nationwide.

Topping the list as the best development in education in 2011 is re-invigoration of school choice via opportunity scholarships and charter schools, particularly in Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.  For years, opportunity scholarships, also known as vouchers or choice scholarships, had been blocked by special interests, but now have escaped from suspended animation to provide a mechanism for children to transfer out of failing schools and a mechanism that applies competitive pressure that will encourage public schools to improve.

Another success: Indiana’s record on labor reform, opportunity scholarships, and charter schools.  The state moved elections for school boards to November, giving the broader public a say in school issues.  The Indiana state legislature also enacted a program of opportunity scholarships for low-income students that the Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has correctly described as “the nation’s most expansive.” In sum: Indiana has the best reform record of any state in 2011.

Further success for school reform came when once-untouchable collective bargaining agreements and teacher-evaluation systems became subject to reform this year.  Change here can improve management flexibility and teacher quality.  Also noteworthy, parental power to turn regular public schools into charter schools was normalized in California—a major milestone.

The worst development in 2011, according to the task force, was the way in which some in the media reported on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.  When student test scores failed to reach benchmarks, some APS teachers and administrators doctored the tests.  But the news media let the cheating educators off the hook.  The news media, time and again, has made excuses for this cheating (and future cheating) by saying that educators were under stress.

For example, John Thompson in the Huffington Post argued that the Atlanta cheating was caused by “data-driven accountability”.  The New York Times reported that national teachers union leader Randi Weingarten considered the Atlanta cheating a “by-product” of an accountability policy that called for gains on student test scores.

The Christian Science Monitor emphasized in its news story that testing critics consider the Atlanta cheating “a tacit indictment” of test-based accountability.  It quoted a critic who said that educators “feel pressured” to get good test scores for their students “by hook or by crook.” According to this test critic, accountability has created an “incentive to manipulate, to cheat.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution asked whether existing policy on testing and accountability can “trigger” cheating by teachers.  The newspaper wrote that teachers who admitted to cheating told investigators they felt “inordinate pressure” to have their students do well on tests.  It quoted a non-cheating Atlanta teacher saying she felt too much of this same “pressure.”

In truth, it is precisely when you are under stress, that you should take care to stick by what you know to be the legal and ethical course.

We found the Obama administration and both parties in Congress dismal when it came to administering reform programs and fixing laws that need updating. Congress has delayed the overdue re-authorization of the main federal aid to education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Both parties share the blame for the delay.  Using the dilatory Congress as his excuse, President Obama has turned to backdoor legislation through legally unauthorized waivers.

The Obama administration’s signature reform program has been “Race to the Top” grants that use stimulus money.  But grant-winning states have been slow to keep their promises about innovating and improving, and the administration has acquiesced in states’ dithering.  Taxpayers watching this fixed race should demand their money back.

Deeply troubling is California Gov. Jerry Brown’s utopian philosophy about testing and accountability.  Brown dismissed the use of test-score data and complained that a proposed law did not ensure “good character or love of learning.”  Brown also truckled to the teachers unions when he signed a law that forced districts with tightening budgets to keep all the teachers they have on staff, but cut the number days that the teachers will teach.  Not a winning strategy.

In 2012, we expect presidential candidates will offer alternatives on education policy, and Congress will debate the best way to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  States and local districts will undertake most of the practical work of school improvement.  In 2012, Hoover’s Koret Task Force will continue to support school reform and policies that foster academic gains and increase choice, so that the “Best” get better and the “Worst” are less bad.

You can read the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education’s complete annotated list of the best and worst in American education in 2011 here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bill Evers.

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    January 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  2. autorkata

    Nice image .

    January 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  3. Tom Arnold

    A good article about the best and the worst education events that took place in 2011. american international student centers tim martin.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  4. ethelroussel

    Online instruction and testing done by High Speed Universities can be as good or better than classroom, if done well. One of the things I do is create learning management sites using the Moodle content management system, and design and author courses for them.

    December 28, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Yen-Hong Tran

      How can I get in on that?
      I have a Masters of Education with an Emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction
      from the University of Texas at Austin.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  5. swebit

    I think we'd be a lot better off if we went back to basics in education (basic fundamental math, US history, basic reading and writing skills, and life skills), directed those kids who would be better served in vocational schools to do just that instead of telling them that college is the only answe

    http://www.swebit.info

    December 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Joris

    Rarely have I have seen a more politically biased report on a very politically biased study. Let us find consensus–not compromise and not this ideological claptrap.

    December 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Amused

    This article is a very slanted version of Bill Evers general opinions on education, It basically implies that any effort to undermine public education "must be good" and all "charter schools" are even better! But where is the data, results, reasons or justifications for any of this right-wing fluff? Nonexistant. This article is meaningless crap designed to influence guilible people into supporting right-wing religion based charter school nonsense.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  8. Jim

    If any American really wants to improve education they need to look around the industrialized world and see what other nations are doing right. In truth, America is pushing for last place in a race which will determine who leads the future world in commerce and national wealth.

    Perhaps if Congress would do a bit more TTR (tax the rich) America could repair her schools and pay all of her teachers a living wage... but then Hell would likely freeze over first.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • ddblah

      Short sighted congress would never do that.
      Rich people can always get their best share in education. They now can make money overseas. So, hell with US education.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  9. Grim Reaper

    More teachers and less administrators.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • ddblah

      Better pays to teachers.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  10. ddblah

    US public education is and has been a very successful story, despite the negative campaign.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • ddblah

      The US education system has served the entire population for the past centuries and is the most important driving force of the US economy and the advancement of the society.

      Anybody who wants to destroy this wonderful system is a treason.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  11. joedog

    I have taught for 33 years. I would never consider cheating on test results...ever! Excusing such dishonest behavior by claiming that test results would "trigger" such dishonest and yes, criminal behavior, is lunacy.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • ddblah

      Why cheating in one school automatically becomes the problem of the entire education system?

      December 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  12. palintwit

    It is every students dream to attend the prestigous Sarah Palin University in Arkansas.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  13. disptcher645

    I ferventily believe that kids who have the energy and intelligence to want to go to college should be given every tool possible. However, most kids don't want to go to college. The lack of vocational and technical edcuation at the midddle and high school level is appalling. It is time that there is some common sense applied to schools. If you want to see what a good vo-tec high school does, check out the site for the Montour-Columbia County PA Vo-Tec does. This is two different counties with several different school districts who have joined to prepare kids who do not want to go to college for jobs. It's time to quit dumping the kids who do not want to go to college.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  14. Robert

    Not all children were meant for college, and we should stop measuring a school's success by the number of kids who go on to college. I think we'd be a lot better off if we went back to basics in education (basic fundamental math, US history, basic reading and writing skills, and life skills), directed those kids who would be better served in vocational schools to do just that instead of telling them that college is the only answer. We also need parents to be more engaged in their child's education.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  15. Yakobi

    NCLB is a failure, and even Evers knows this. It was ill conceived and doomed to fail from the start.
    The notion that charter schools are more successful than non-charters is a myth. Those that don't cherry pick the best students fare no better than public schools. And what happens to the students not accepted by charters? They're relegated to poorer performing schools. A schism is then created resulting in the "haves" and "have-nots".
    With regard to vouchers, who's going to make up the difference when your state cuts education funding in lean years? YOU!

    Could it possibly be there are actually stupid children and uninvolved parents? Or too many English learners and students tagged as "special education" draining thinly spread education dollars? No, because no one wants to admit this reality.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • chefdugan

      The solutiion is easy. Get rid of the teachres union, stop hiring grads from colleges of education and start hiring liberal arts grads, get rid of PTA's, ( parental involvement is NOT good), start a discipline court for unruly kids (parents docked a days pay to come to court will get them "involved" in a hurry) and get back to basics of teaching math, reading (above all) and science. What makes me so smart? I'm a former college president who had to deal with those functional illterrates those so-called teachers were turning out!

      December 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
      • Yakobi

        Teacher accountability is a necessity. But one question: How effective are liberal arts grads going to be at teaching math and science? Recalling my own public education, some of my best teachers were those who taught math and science, but some of my worst were liberal arts grads–they tended to be too esoteric and opinionated.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
      • ddblah

        Demanding accountability to the parents and tax payers first. Why a society in which teachers can't make living by teaching has the rights to demand outstanding teachers? Absurd!

        December 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
      • Silence

        First of all, what kind of degrees do you think elementary teachers have? They have liberal arts degrees. Secondly, what college did you graduate from? You have trouble creating coherent sentences.

        December 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
      • vintage 274

        Wow! The lack of understanding some posters here have about college majors is amazing to me. A liberal arts graduate has a Bachelor's degree in a specific major field of study such as Biology, Mathematics, English, French, History. The liberal arts major has a MINIMUM of 36 credits in their major (that's 12 classes). The person who majors in education has a minimum of 12 credits (that's 4 classes). The difference in knowledge of subject matter is evident. That means that in many high school classrooms in this country the teacher has a minimal knowledge of the subject he/she is teaching. It's why textbooks provide intricate teacher's editions explaining concepts for teachers and suggesting how they be taught. Teachers trained in History who happen to have 12 credits of science can be asked to teach a science class. Or teachers with a science or math degree and 12 credits in hostory can be asked to teach hisory. When I was teaching high school, I had a total of 102 credits in my subject matter compared to the 24 credits the other teachers in my department had. Guess who got loaded with honors and AP classes? Before I joined the staff, teachers with minimal knowledge of their subject matter were trying to teach AP (entry level college classes). Ridiculous.

        December 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  16. ALinWI

    This whole article is clearly bought and paid for by the Republican Party. No doubt about it.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • alan seago

      Seems like with any article, on any subject, someone will comment that it's all the Democrats' fault, or all the Republicans' fault. My heavens. Can't we ever consider any article, on any subject, without slipping into political partisanship?

      December 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
      • valston

        I agree Alan Seago. I must admit that I stopped reading once the political bashing commenced! This country is going no where fast. And if we do not realize this soon, I predict the fall of the great American Empire!

        December 27, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
      • ddblah

        Yeah, it is not obvious? The fact that the authors considers Obama's decision to by-pass the do-nothing congress as the worst is not enough a bias to you? Should Obama wait for the do-nothing GOP congress? That would be a best thing for education?

        December 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • ddblah

      It is a right-wing propaganda disguised as academic research.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • DiabloR

      Weird, considering CNN is a totally left leaning, lib endorsing, Obama loving site/TV station

      December 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
      • ddblah

        Relative to FoxNews, everybody else is Obama-loving.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  17. Jherndo

    Charter schools are a joke with faked and modified results. The charters end up coming up with various ways to discourage learning disabled children from joining, which results in the charter school having artificially inflated test scores. It's the addition through subtraction model, if you can just reject or discourage the bottom 10% from attending your charter school you're test scores skyrocket while your cost per student plummets.
    Enrollment data from Florida showed that 86 percent of the charter schools in didn't have even 1 child with a severe disability enrolled. The nation’s 24th-largest school district, Pinellas County, reports no charter school in their district that serves a single severely disabled child.

    And they wonder why the charter suddenly looks better by cost per student and receive higher average test scores? Give me a break! Until we start forcing these charter schools to start accepting and providing the same standard of care and accessibility as public schools you can not judge them equally!

    December 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Af090391

      How does that make them a joke? They are doing what the rest of the education should have done years ago. People who can learn shouldn't be held back by people who can't. Life isn't fair, and by trying to bring people down to make it fair, we only hold ourselves back.

      People who are learning disabled should be put in other programs that augment their own abilities. Trying to force them throgh education that they don't comprehend fully, and then putting thim into the world with uncomprehended knowledge is a disservice to the community and to them themselves.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
      • ddblah

        Can you give me a sound reason why a charter school would be better than regular schools?
        Do they pay the teachers more, thereby can hire better teachers?

        December 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
      • Amused

        And exactly HOW does a charter school address any of these issues at all? It sounds like you are trying to claim that students with disabilities don't matter and don't deserve an education? Is that really what you are saying?

        December 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • wparzick

      Jherndo- you obviously need to read up on your charter school knowledge a bit. Charter schools aren't discouraging learning disabled students from joining...they're flocking in DROVES to charter schools because charter schools work very well (in most cases) for providing an excellent environment in which to learn. Don't just lash out at something you obviously don't understand because you think you need to do defend an ideological 'idea' or 'theme'. Charter schools are GOOD for America, and they're good for students. I should know. I work for one.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
      • ddblah

        Really? Because you work for one it has to be good? What if you have a self-interest to make it sound better?

        Good or not, parents have the final say.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
      • Jherndo

        Really? Is that true? READ THE FACTS THAT I POSTED! The charter schools, especially in Florida, are purposefully excluding disabled children! This is where their so called "results" come from. I was nice enough to cite specific numbers that you can easily Google for source information. Now let's see yours if you have them, because every single place I've read indicates that charter schools do nothing but regularly raise barriers for the education of disadvantaged students.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
      • Amused

        Learning disabled students are flocking in DROVES to charter schools that intentionally exclude them!?? Uh yeah, right... whatever you say...

        December 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Failure of Reality

    The cheating scandal in Atlanta is a symptom of the failure of education in America. There is no longer any regard for knowledge. The only result of education is grades. Students are given good grades because no one questions teachers about learning when good grades are given. This occurs in public and in private schools.

    So when students are tested, it turns out that they did not learn. The teachers are confused by the calls for accountability because they gave good grades, just as required by parents, students, and administrators.

    The disintegration of education began with Special Education. Students who were identified as learning disabled were given special help. But since the special education teachers did not know how to help the students learn, they gave good grades instead. This was required by law. The law requires that the schools help the students who have learning difficulties perform well in regular classes with the other students. But since no one knows how to help the learning disabled students, the teachers gave good grades to create the appearance of complying with the law.

    Since the students with learning disabilities are in regular classes, the content of the classes was made easier. The content was made easier for all students. But no one questions the content of the courses because the students get good grades.

    Students like good grades. Parents like good grades. Teachers like good grades. Everyone is happy. Students have high self-esteem and good grades.

    Why ruin the illusion? We have an illusory economy. We have illusory politics. Why not illusory education?

    December 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  19. JP

    My kids went to public schools in DC, they had some great teachers and some that should have been fired decades ago. As long as the teachers union determines who teaches we will never fix education. You cannot be prochild and prounion you have to pick a side.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Andy

      Amen

      December 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • analogkid

      Unions do not decide who can teach. The state sets the standards for teacher education and the administration hires the teachers. The administration can also fire teachers. Unions impact the environment in which the teacher works and the process needed to remove them.

      December 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  20. Jason B.

    Of course, all the pressure is on the teachers to crank out those test scores! The kids couldn't give a hoot. Nothing happens to the kids one way or the other. And look at the mandates teachers have: "Raise your scores or you'll be replaced!" "Raise your scores by X amount per year or we'll lose funding!" "I don't care if every one of the kids in your class is a drooling idiot, they have to be 100% at grade level!"

    And shoving everyone to private/charter schools isn't the answer either. What about those low-scoring or low-income kids? "Sorry Timmy, you're too dumb & poor to go to the "good" school. You stay back here at the "failing" school while the rich, smart kids move on."

    December 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  21. Jason

    what about the dumbing down of Northeast school curriculums by forcing them to conform to national standards that are weakened by the deadweight southern states? Standard division algorithms are now taught for the FIRST time to 5th graders.... Not to mention that there are 10 different ways to teach multiplication that parents no longer have the ability to help their child with their homework simply because they don't know the new methods.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Andy

      Parent Math Night. Teach parents how to help their kids.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • mathedinmass

      Long division algorithms are taught closer to when the children are expected to learn Algebra, and new skills have been added at lower grades. It is not a matter of dumbing down. It is shifting things so that the students have an opportunity to learn more. Basic skills in math are taught differently than they were when we were in school. In our district we have supplies so that the parents can learn the skills that they need to help their children with homework. There are also occasional workshops run at the schools. As a parent who has worked in technical fields I can only applaud the changes in how we teach math. The situation is much better than it was when I was in school. We still need more teachers who are prepared to teach math and science, but I think it is hard to find people with the ability to teach and the ability to do the necessary math. It is always a tradeoff.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  22. George

    The 'pundits' are dismayed because tests scores reveal that 20 years ago student achievement was higher as measured by standardized tests. They are also concerned with the US global comparisons. This is how it is explained:
    1. 20 years ago "Inclusion" was introduced (students who were classified as Learning Disabled) and these students' scores were averaged in.
    2. We do not have "Vocational" high schools like China, Germany, etc., even if you plan on becoming an auto mechanic, you take all the standardized tests college bound students take and these scores are averaged in.
    Why? Because the US is a democratic country that whats to open up opportunities for students regardless of economic background and/or academic performance.
    I say stop comparing apples with oranges, stop worrying about whether teachers do their jobs, because most do. There is enormous problems with over expenditure by the CIA, Military and Congress investing in Stocks using inside information. We have to be smarter about how we look at the "problems" in education. Students waste hours playing video games created by an industry that makes products with questionable ethics, and profits handsomely in the process. Hollywood makes movies for teenagers that portray adults as incompetent, evil or both, and profit handsomely in the process. Why is everyone hating on teachers? Easy, it is easier.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • alan seago

      I was with you, George, until the part about problems with overspending by the CIA, the military, and Congress investing in stocks with inside information. What those allegations have to do with flaws in our education system, well, the connection eluded me. Actually, I would go so far as to suggest that of all the problems with Congress, their stock investments are one of the lesser problems.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  23. Surthurfurd

    There are countries around the world that are beating the US in education. So why do we not do what they are doing? We do not because the Left and Right oppose such changes. The left opposes the responsibility that these other nations place on the parents and children and the Right opposes changing from our old traditional production line model of education to one that is based on problem solving and team development. The Left is comfortable with the notion of teaching targeting the lowest performer. The Right is comfortable with refusing to teach real facts in Social Studies and real Science because it gets in the way of their dogma. We fail because we (Left and Right) agree that we want to use education to indoctrinate as oppose to educate.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Silence

      You are correct! Politicians have been using education as a platform issue for too long and children have suffered.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  24. JMH

    Clearly slanted to the right. Who holds the parents accountable? If this guy had a class room full of kids who hadn't had any breakfast or never brought in homework but whose parents then screamed bloody murder at the teacher because their kid was doing badly, he'd think differently about teachers, So would Obama.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Skychief

      In other words, when a child is not fed , disciplined or encouraged properly, then it is the government's
      responsibility to bring them up to speed, then release them to the same dysfunctional environment? Parents should not be responsible? How has any government program solved a problem instead of expanding it? I do believe, if this was your intention, that teachers should have more authority in the classroom. Without the fear of being fired or sued. Teachers spend 80% of their time on 10% of the students. I suggest that unruly students be transferred to a small group (less than 5) and have student teachers give them one on one time. Compensate the student teachers with free course credit. If a child is not going to college, then why can't we copy Europe and send them to a trade school so they can learn something practical? Also, if you make a parent pick up trash or paint a school one Saturday a week if their kid continually misbehaves, then trust me, the parent will take more of an interest in behavior modification. Or is that not fair to the parent to be more responsible?

      December 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
      • Silence

        With the current system, the only ones who are made responsible are the teachers.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
      • Andy

        Lets face it. For the longest time, Schools were not expected to produce results. Teachers got away with passing kids on without them actually learning. There is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. We need to address what we do for kids who do not learn, whatever the reason. The system has for the longest time treated education like a catch and release program. Kids showed they didn't learn and they(parents included) were released with a grade of some sort.That is where the story ends. No interventions, no accountability (parents and teachers) no results. It is most obvious at the secondary level. Teachers give a grade and leave it at that. No reteaching, no reassessment, no expectations.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
      • Silence

        Andy Teachers have no control over a student who refuses to do assignments. They also have no control over a student being promoted to the next grade. Parents have total control over this part of education. They get to decide if their child is retained or not.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  25. Skychief

    Here's a thought on improving education. Also, I thought Obama outlawed charter schools in DC because of the pressure from Unions.
    Say a state pays 10k a year to educate a child. I propose that qualified home school moms and dads be allowed to take in as many kids in the neighborhood that choose to sign up. Pay the parent or parents teaching 6k per child, pay 2k to the school they were going to attend and the state saves 2k. There are many companies that would donate or sell at cost computers and internet connections for those of modest means. Testing can be done through proctors, like we had when we took our SATs. With computers you can even hire someone to monitor the classes, which the state should do. I strongly believe that children should be computer literate in this day and age, especially inner city kids. There have been questions of fraud being brought up, but I believe there are solutions for that, too.

    The result would be 1) The state would save money 2) The school would have more money per child to spend 3) Some unemployed parents can be at home, provide a service to the community and make a living 4) The child would get a better education (statistically speaking), more individual attention, social skills and a chance to graduate early. 5) Hopefully, less teachers and their unsustainable benefits packages 6) Choice for people who cannot afford to have one.

    Also, if a child does graduate early, say one year early, then they should get 5k from the state to go to further their education, whether it be college or a trade school. Home schooled children should also be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities like band or sports. Transportation would be the parent's responsibility.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Amused

      This would be a good plan IF average parents actually made good teachers! But, in general, they DO NOT make good teachers! Which is exactly why MANY home schooled students are getting a rather poor mix of education as compared to public schooling. I know that there are some home schooled families that are doing good jobs, but they are few and far between! Your average parent does not have a good overall grasp of what to teach nor how to get it across to their students! Parents ALWAYS assume they know what is best for their children, but rarely do in reality!

      December 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
      • Skychief

        Statistically, home schooled children are dramatically more prepared for college than public. 25% of home schooled children are a grade or more further along than their public counterparts. What is wrong with healthier options? I would take a college educated parent teaching my child way before letting a teacher that doesn't care and can't get fired. Watch "Waiting For Superman" and you will be disenchanted with our public system. Besides, statistics prove you wrong.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
      • Silence

        Skychief Not sure where you get your statistics, but most home schooled children do not go to college. You hear about the high profile success cases where college educated mothers or fathers home school their children and assume they are the norm. Last three or four home schoolers I tutored came from parents who hated math and parental math skills were at a 5th grade level. The children were supposed to be in 7th grade and their math skills weren't even at 5th grade. Parents were unable to teach what they were uncomfortable with.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Silence

      Not sure what planet you come from, but low income neighborhoods generally don't have well educated adults. Many have difficulty writing complete sentences. And math skills beyond multiplication tables are often nonexistent. This is not a comment designed to be insulting. I have volunteered at an inner city tutoring center and know from experience that the parents bring their children to the center because they can't help them. If there were so many parents with these skills, their children would not be behind. They would already know how to teach them. Your ideas are utopian. Also, computer companies won't even give at cost computers to low income schools and libraries that serve the poor. Trying to get free or at cost computers to serve tutoring centers for homeless children is next to impossible, and internet is not provided for free.
      Just get the kids to school regularly, and have consequences for them not doing assignments or misbehaving and you will fix schools. Also, reduce the class size. Have you ever tried to concentrate in a class with 40 other people? The ambient noise alone is too much to allow good focus, and you can forget about individual attention when their is a problem understanding a lesson.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
      • Skychief

        So you are saying that there are not enough smart people in poor communities to even give the idea a chance? Shame on you. I know many families in poor districts that have the parent(s) has a college education and are unemployed. Not to mention how they dread sending their kids to a school with criminals. I use to teach the Palm Beach School district's teachers on how to recognize and deal with child abuse. The stories I hear of abuse to teachers and others is overwhelming. Many, if not most of the teachers, are happy just to get through the day. Blame who you will, but our system is not working. I would also like to see your statistics on how incompetent and how home school kids don't go to college. Here's one of many from me http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/rudner1999/Rudner2.asp.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
      • Silence

        This has nothing to do with intelligence. Shame on you. Many people living in poor communities have very little formal education. This has nothing to do with intelligence. You are arrogant to think that parents can just pull themselves up by their boot straps and educate their own children because you can . If that were the case, then their children would not be behind. If you have ever worked with children coming from poor homes, you would know that in general, they start school with a weaker vocabulary than their counterparts in wealthier neighborhoods. This is research backed data. Language acquisition governs success in school. This has nothing to do with intelligence. But, if you think you have a better idea, have at it. My guess is that like the charter schools and home schooling, it will have limited success. One size does not fit all and their are many solutions to the problems to education, but to think that you can replace public schools with parents teaching their children is ludicrous. After all, those parents came out of the same school system you want to replace. You are saying that they got a good enough education from these very schools? What happened? I'll tell you what happened. Class size, lack of accountability on the part of parents and children happened. Lack of respect for teachers and education happened. I have had some of these children come to me for tutoring and they tell me how they act in class. They brag about talking back to the teachers.
        If you don't like public education, take your child out and home school him. But don't expect good results for the vast majority using your method.

        December 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  26. Sybaris

    Why is this such a hard thing?

    Why is it hard to copy the model of a system that is successful and produces highly educated individuals?

    Why?

    December 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Richard

      Most “educational reforms” as stated in this article, are bound to fail for one simple unspoken and uncomfortable reason. The critical ingredient contributing to the mounting failure in educating children are parents.

      Uncaring, semi-literate, self-absorbed parents raising children in physically and psychologically broken homes are the problem. Parents are solely to blame for the devastatingly large and increasing dropout rate and should be held accountable. Only they are responsible for the creating a destructive home environment causing emotional traumas impacting their child’s life. As most psychologists will tell you, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

      Placing the bulk of blame on teachers, teacher unions, and collective bargaining are ludicrous, dogmatic, full of empty rhetoric, and tunnel vision. When teachers have students that are dealing with emotional or physical abuse, no home education such as learning to reading, economic household crises, lack of food, no home supervision, and violence, how can anyone expect the outcome will be positive?

      I challenge any of these task force members, politicians, pundits, educational reformers, or people with only their experience as students in high school to prognosticate, to spend two weeks teaching in a standard inner-city school. Give them the “opportunity” to teach anything, measure positive student performance, survive the ordeal, and feel successful. Needless to say, none would accept such a challenge.

      However, teachers must face these grueling realities and challenges each day. Want a better, more successful educational system? Start first with the parents!

      December 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • vintage 274

      It's hard to model other successful systems because we in America want everyone to have the same opportunities and we don't want to hold parents accountable; we somehow think EVERYONE is an educational expert (witness the responses here). European systems of education start weeding out their college material at a very young age. The others are put into trade school tracks. By middle school the decisions have been made. Or by the Asian models education is VERY rigid. Children MUST conform and behave. If a child falls behind, it is the parents' duty to get extra help outside of school, hence the popularity of special classes for math, for example. Misbehavior is not tolerated. Parents do not argue with educators or principals. It is what it is. Your child either succeeds or is a shameful failure. I was a career educator. I did not get burned out by our system, and I think I pretty well succeeded in educating in a significant way all the students who passed through my classroom doors. That being said, I know very well the flaws in our system. If we want to include everyone, if we think that everyone deserves the chance to go to college, if we believe that parents know better than educational experts, then we are doomed to failure from the start.

      December 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  27. EMP

    The problem with gauging a teacher's performance by the test scores of their students is that it eliminates the accountability of the students to pay attention and actually learn the material and of the parents to take an active role in their childrens' education. There are a large number of parents who never attend parent-teacher conferences, never ensure that their children do their homework or study, never pay any attention at all to their childrens' progress in school, never discipline their children or instill in them any sense of responsibility for their own actions, and then blame the teachers when their children fail time and time again.

    Entirely too much emphasis is placed on testing. If teachers were able to input the information into their students like data into a mass storage device, then testing the students' output of that information would make sense. In the real world, however, there are many other factors that need to be taken into account.

    I certainly wouldn't completely defend the unethical practice of fraudulently altering students' test scores, but when a teacher is put in a position where they could lose their job because their students and their students' parents refuse to do their parts, that's unacceptable.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Andy

      We have to treat all kids as if they were orphans. We are given a responsibility to teach them regardless of their backgrounds. We hold the child responsible and the teachers responsible for making it happen.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Silence

      Andy We are not holding kids responsible and if we treated the kids like orphans, we would have more control over students who refused to do assignments and continually disrupted the education of others.
      The current system holds only teachers responsible and every state plays by different rules. California schools never see the test until the day it is given. They don't see the results until the next school year when the teachers have a new class of students. North Carolina, students are given the test, the results come back immediately, and those students who do not pass, are given tutoring based on the test scores. Then the students (who failed the test the first time) are given the test over again.
      Tell me how that is fair?

      December 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • jegeka

      exactly my thoughts. Students have to carry certain responsibility. Imagine, you come to a doctor. He/she prescribes you a medicine, but you don`t take it. can you then blame the doctor that he/she didn`t help you?
      Teachers cannot carry all the responsibility for students` learning; students involvement is a must!

      December 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  28. George

    The 'pundits' are dismayed because tests scores reveal that 20 years ago student achievement was higher as measured by standardized tests. They are also concerned with the US global comparisons. This is how it is explained:

    December 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  29. Mr. Medved

    Um, I went to read this article to hear about new and noteworthy events in education, and instead got a bunch of political drivel. Any new studies? Ideas? etc? Sheesh.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  30. Rick

    "Topping the list as the best development in education in 2011 is reinvigoration of school choice via opportunity scholarships and charter schools."

    In other words, the best advancement in American public education is the increased ability to go to a private school...

    December 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  31. Anthony Coggins

    The problem with "education reform" is very few of the "reformers" have ever been in a classroom. This would be akin to having someone with an MBA tell a surgeon how to run an operating room. You need people who have been in the trenches FROM BOTH SIDES (believe it or not, there are conservative teachers and those who do not follow in lockstep with unions) to make the policy. It isn't logical to have people with no education experience tell educators how to run a classroom or a district. Just because you have a degree in SOMETHING doesn't mean you know what to do to fix education. Our political candidates from both parties have proven that.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Anchorite

      Finally, the voice of reason. Well the problem is that nobody is interested in reform, they are just using education as yet another political football, and teachers and their union as yet another scapegoat, to privatize America. "Everyone hates government right? Everyone hated school right? Well so do we!" Just look busy, scramble it up, these things take decades to prove themselves, and by the time we decide privatizing schools worked about as well as privatizing two year colleges we'll have the whole thing impossible to reverse and too big to fail.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • DYBO

      You hit the nail on the head! 38 years teaching shop- retired

      December 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Andy

      "They" get involved because sadly, what we have been doing is not working.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
      • ddblah

        What has the society do to education other than underpaying the teachers?

        December 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  32. hypatia

    Funny how everything this particular 'think tank' likes is repug......slanted much?

    December 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Skychief

      Maybe because there are more thinking Republicans.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Jdomn

      Why is slant such a problem to you? The truth is always slanted. Would you accuse a student of being too slanted if he answers all the questions correctly? You just don't like the article because you don't agree with it. If it were slanted in a way that you agreed with it, you wouldn't make a peep.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm |