Treating teachers like professionals, giving parents school choice, and using education dollars wisely: these three priorities frame the agenda of Students First, the newly established nonprofit headed by former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The plan, released Tuesday on StudentsFirst.org and outlined by Rhee in The Wall Street Journal and an on Fox News Wednesday, provides further detail regarding the agenda, which she calls “a comprehensive set of policies and legislation that … create the right environment … where transformational school reform can take hold.”
The three priorities are described as follows:
1. “Treating teachers like professionals” by “valuing their impacts on students.”
“Compensation, staffing decisions and professional development should be based on teachers’ effectiveness, not on their seniority. That means urging states and districts to implement a strong performance pay system for the best teachers, while discontinuing tenure as job protection for ineffective teachers. This will ensure that the money spent on teacher salaries goes to the hard-working professionals who are improving student achievement every day.”
2. Empowering parents with school choice.
“States and school districts must remove the barriers that limit the number of available seats in high-quality schools. This includes allowing the best charter schools to grow and serve more students. It also means giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools.”
3. Ensure accountability for taxpayer dollars.
“Over the past 40 years, per-pupil funding has more than doubled, but students have little to show for it. … This funding/achievement disconnect exists because in many cases states have spent money on some ‘feel good’ things that have not been proven to increase student achievement, such as smaller classes or raising salaries based on advanced degrees instead of effectiveness.
“StudentsFirst will advocate for aggressive reforms in critical structural, operational, and budgeting activities throughout the country.
“States and districts must shift new employees from defined-benefit pension programs to portable, defined-contribution plans where employees can contribute a proportionate amount to their own retirement savings. This will help ensure that states aren’t draining their budgets with pension payouts.”
While Rhee clearly states that “we do not pretend that we are the first to advocate for the ideas in this agenda,” she asserts that the nation’s current fiscal situation, along with the continued failing scores of students can “focus the nation on the need for change.”
The ideas struck host Steve Doocy as common sense during his interview with Rhee on Fox & Friends: “Why haven’t we been doing this … for a long time?”
Good question. It’s time for opponents of sensible education reforms to put the needs of children before the demands of special interests—as Rhee’s aptly named group suggests.
As the new year unfolds, parents, policymakers, school administrators, and advocates have the opportunity to put “students first” by allowing such common-sense ideas to take root, helping to ensure the best educational opportunities possible for the nation’s children.