Kill the School Boards

Days after I wrote about a plan to offer teachers in Idaho a bonus for giving up some of their contract rights I read a fascinating essay in The Atlantic about education reform in America. A snippet of the essay by Matt Miller is available to non-subscribers.

I wrote in the Boise Weekly that Idaho schools chief Tom Luna is the first education official to come up with this type of merit pay plan, i.e., that teachers who give up their tenure merit additional pay. I made that assertion in my column after consulting with several people who would know, including national teacher union officials.

But then I read that Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress, a self-described “progressive think tank” headed by former Clinton aide John D. Podesta, also advocates a form of this: “For example, federal aid could be offered to raise teachers’ salaries in poor schools, provided that states or districts take measures such as linking pay to performance and deferring or eliminating tenure.”

That last phrase caught my eye… it sounds a lot like Luna’s plan for Idaho teachers. The essay contains many other recommendations that might not sit so well in Luna’s department, like getting rid of local school boards. In fact, the title of the article is First, Kill All the School Boards.

Miller argues that the lack of standardization in America’s education system is much to blame for holding our schools back on the international stage. The American tradition of “radical localism” for schools leaves us with no accurate measure of student achievement, stunted research on curriculum divided up into some 15,000 different districts, incompetent school boards, union dominance and inequitable school funding.

The solution: kill the school boards. Jack up federal spending on education. And implement serious national education standards.

And maybe, take away some of the clout of the teachers unions.

Talk of education standards has always made me nervous, especially when the process is political, as it has been in Idaho. And talk of “national standards” does not go over well in independent states like Idaho. But maybe Luna’s ideas on teacher pay have been fleshed out a bit more than I thought. I’d like to see a serious debate about it in the Legislature, but I’m note sure that’s going to happen.