Democrats seem to be winning the public relations battle to claim the platform of innovation and reform. In reality, however, reform and innovation are more synonymous with conservative ideology than with liberal ideas. Regardless of what is happening in Washington, some conservative governors and state legislatures around the country are advancing reform agendas that perhaps do not fit old conservative stereotypes. In this article, I will focus on providing an initial overview of various education reform measures being implemented across the nation.
Trailblazing governors and state legislators are standing up to the teachers’ unions in order to not only give low-income children a better opportunity to learn, but also to turn the way we think of education upside down. There will be a day when we wake up and realize that those states that have established an innovative agenda have left behind those that are clinging to the status quo.
Aggressive reforms such as an increased focus on accountability (for teachers, individual schools, and entire systems), merit pay for teachers, ending both teacher tenure and social promotion for students, and passing legislation allowing for charter schools and school choice, are bipartisan issues. In fact, the only sector of society that seems to be opposed to many of these measures are the teachers’ unions. Accountability, for example, means not only setting high standards, but also creating a system for measuring results. When goals are met, teachers and schools are rewarded, but when targets are missed, they are given incentives and more oversight.
Many politicians talk about setting high standards, but very often there is no system in place for measuring progress. It is imperative that measures are in place to evaluate results. As former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has often said, “if you don’t measure, you don’t care.” We must raise our standards for all children, as opposed to watering them down by the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Children can, and will, learn if we will rise to the challenge of providing them with the necessary tools and environment in which to excel.
It is true that the federal government can implement some of these reforms. For example, President Bush and Congress, in conjunction with the D.C. city government, has implemented a voucher program which has allowed more than 2,600 low-income Washington children attend 54 different private schools since its inception. Moreover, while admittedly not perfect, the No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”) legislation has proved to be a giant step in the right direction in improving public schools.
However, state governments have the most immediate and positive effect on education. We should look to the pioneering conservative governors who have made inroads in their respective states in the area of reforming education, and follow their examples. In future articles, we will take a closer look at some of these governors and the policies they implemented.