She points out what she did and the battles she faced improving the quality of education in the district.
When I started as chancellor in 2007, I never had any illusions about how tough it would be to turn around a failing system like D.C.’s; the city had gone through seven chancellors in the 10 years before me. While I had to make many structural changes—overhauling the system for
evaluating teachers and principals, adopting new reading and math programs, making sure textbooks got delivered on time—I believed the hardest thing would be changing the culture. We had to raise the expectations that people had about what was possible for our kids.
I quickly announced a plan to close almost two dozen schools, which provoked community outrage. We cut the central office administration in half. And I also proposed a new contract for teachers that would increase their salaries dramatically if they abandoned the tenure system and agreed to be paid based on their effectiveness.
Though all of these actions caused turmoil in the district, they were long overdue and reaped benefits quickly. In my first two years in office, the D.C. schools went from being the worst performing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress examination, the national test, to leading the nation in gains at both the fourth and eighth grade in reading as well as math. By this school year we reversed a trend of declining enrollment and increased the number of families choosing District schools for the first time in 41 years.
She talks about the state of public education in America, which isn't very good compared to the rest of the world.
After stepping down, I had a chance to reflect on the challenges facing our schools today and the possible solutions. The truth is that despite a handful of successful reforms, the state of American education is pitiful, and getting worse. Spending on schools has more than doubled in the last three decades, but the increased resources haven’t produced better results. The U.S. is currently 21st, 23rd, and 25th among 30 developed nations in science, reading, and math, respectively. The children in our schools today will be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than the previous generation.
And finally she says the major impediment to reform is the teacher's union which believes it has a vested interest in the status quo.
Education is no different. We have textbook manufacturers, teachers’ unions, and even food vendors that work hard to dictate and determine policy. The public-employee unions in D.C., including the teachers’ union, spent huge sums of money to defeat Fenty. In fact, the new chapter president has said his No. 1 priority is job security for teachers, but there is no big organized interest group that defends and promotes the interests of children.
You can see the impact of this dynamic playing out every day. Policymakers, school-district administrators, and school boards who are beholden to special interests have created a bureaucracy that is focused on the adults instead of the students. Go to any public-school-board meeting in the country and you’ll rarely hear the words “children,” “students,” or “kids” uttered.
Instead, the focus remains on what jobs, contracts, and departments are getting which cuts, additions, or changes. The rationale for the decisions mostly rests on which grown-ups will be affected, instead of what will benefit or harm children.
The teachers’ unions get the blame for much of this. Elected officials, parents, and administrators implore them to “embrace change” and “accept reform.” But I don’t think the unions can or should change. The purpose of the teachers’ union is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they’re doing a great job of that.
What that means is that the reform community has to exert influence as well. That’s why I’ve decided to start StudentsFirst, a national movement to transform public education in our country. We need a new voice to change the balance of power in public education. Our mission is to defend and promote the interests of children so that America has the best education system
in the world.
I think change is in the air. For one, we, as society, don't have the money to keep throwing at public education. In Minnesota, K-12 education constitutes roughly 40% of our state budget. When facing a $6 billion deficit, changes will be demanded in public education. I also think technological changes will force to public schools to change. The online revolution is and will continue to dramatically change how education is done.
I compare it to the state controlled economy of the Soviet Union. On the surface, it seemed to be doing fine. But inside the system was rotten and ready to collapse. Same is true with our current public education model. It's unsustainable as it currently stands.