Give teachers more authority, parents more options

Phil Moffett
Phil Moffett

At issue | Aug. 15 commentary by Gov. Steve Beshear, "State needs to transform education again; Public input is a crucial part of building 21st century plan"

Mismanagement of Kentucky's K-12 public education system continues to damage prospects for growth and prosperity in our commonwealth. Improvement is unlikely until leaders properly diagnose key problems.

Simply put, our public education system operates on a failed business model. It is a system in which no one can be held ultimately accountable. School performance is reported in obscure ways masking its true failures and giving Kentuckians a false sense of security about our children's education.

Most Kentuckians aren't aware that one-third of our public school students drop out prior to graduation.

Sixty percent of the students who graduate need remedial education to enter one of our state colleges or universities, including some students who graduate at or near the top of their classes.

Nearly 39 percent of our high school seniors are not proficient in reading. Fifty-nine percent are not proficient in mathematics.

Minority and low-income students perform roughly 10 percentage points lower than the average student. Student test scores get worse the longer students are in our public schools.

This failed business model can no longer be tolerated. We need to get back to common sense and basics. Our focus must return to core competency in reading, math and writing. Without excellence in these areas, nothing else matters.

First, accountability must be improved at the district level. Superintendents must be held accountable and be allowed to act like business people with full authority over budgets, curriculum, format of the school day, length of the school year and all personnel decisions.

Second, principals and teachers need to be given control of their schools and classrooms. They too must be encouraged to act as business people.

In the current system, students can be as disruptive as they wish with little fear of punishment. Every minute a teacher spends with a chronically disruptive student is a minute of quality instruction taken from the rest of the students.

This must stop. Teachers and principals must have the authority to kick chronically misbehaving students out of their schools. These children, and their parents, need to understand their actions have real consequences.

Principals and teachers must be allowed to adapt curriculum and classes to accommodate students who are not keeping up. We must rid ourselves of the failed practice of "teaching to the test."

Third, parents need the power and protection of public school choice. Freedom to choose among multiple alternatives works for everything else and works well in other states who offer more choices than we are inexplicably denied. Kentuckians have waited too long for this common-sense reform.

If a child is not doing well in a school, for whatever reason, parents must be free to send that child to another public school, regardless of district.

Continued official resistance to public charter school innovations serves no useful purpose for Kentucky families. Changing state law to provide educational alternatives, more transparent accountability and greater flexibility to meet individual needs presents risks only to protectors of current mediocrity in our schools.

The power to choose will empower parents to become more involved in their children's education and introduces competition to public school systems.

Free market competition improves quality and reduces costs. We desperately need this in public education.

Gov. Steve Beshear's Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) appears to be little more than just another reform attempt focused on the system, rather than on the students.

Constructive reform will come when local districts are empowered to focus on their students and parents are empowered with public school choice.