Education Trends

Turning the Tide: Taking Competition Out of School Reform

February 10, 2011

The overall education policy and even more strongly, in my home state of New Jersey, encourages the development of charter schools. Often, support for charter schools is framed in the context of competition being good for education, as it is in business. It is difficult for me to understand why we want, need, or should tolerate competition for a public function such as education.

We don't have competition for police and fire services. These are required to be uniformly excellent and equitable. They are not always, but when they are not, they must be improved directly, not by siphoning funds for alternatives.

Parents should not have to take children out of public schools to put them into what are, in essence, experiments in education -- charter schools. We have a department of education in every state that should be responsible for upholding every child's right to a free, appropriate public education. This needs to take place with support and guidance, in a spirit of continuous improvement, not a punitive or punishing one. Perhaps it is not the local schools, but the departments of education, toward which greater accountability should be directed.

Valuing Teachers

Punishment, sanctions, and incentives (sticks and carrots) for educators have not proven to be successful, and in fact, may be harmful. (Please check out Barry Schwartz's talk at for a succinct summary of why we are moving in the wrong direction.) Just this week, an independent arbitrator has just found that Michele Rhee's 2008 firing of seventy-five teachers in Washington D.C. was unjust. That district must re-instate those teachers and pay their lost wages.

The vast majority of educators go into the field because they care about children and want to have a positive impact on the lives of children. They do not go into the field for fame or money. And children enter school with excitement and great enthusiasm about learning because they have no real sense of any limitations about what they can become. We must align our education system with these powerful motivational forces.

Working Together

Schools are and must be resources in their local communities. It hurts schools when parents of the most savvy are moved to take their children out. And what hurts schools also hurts their communities. It's not about the money, and no system outside of public education will ever have the widespread impact necessary to touch the lives of the majority of students.

Let's stop playing politics with children's lives and futures and provide the resources necessary for every public school to be a source of excellent educational opportunity, social and emotional learning, character development, and community pride.

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