Improving Education: A State’s Responsibility

Education is a responsibility of the states. Thus, governors are researching ways to improve their education. A recent article in The Economist presented Florida as an example of a state that successfully instituted educational reform.  State politicians attempted these changes without raising taxes by confronting unions.  For example, Florida, which had one of the worst education systems in the country a little more than a decade ago, now has one of the best.  How did this change occur, and what means can state governments use to improve their students’ education?

Raising taxes to fund education does not insure improvement.  Jaryn Emhof, who served as spokesman for Governor Jeb Bush in 1999 states, “It’s not about how much you’re spending, but how you’re spending, how you’re teaching.” 

Florida made a number of changes that dramatically improved public education.  The state instituted a rating system for schools, using grades A to F.  The criteria include annual proficiency tests in reading, writing, math and science.  Schools that receive an A receive extra funding. However, students in schools that receive an F grade for two out of four years are entitled to transfer to other schools.  In addition, the state ceased social promotion of third graders who couldn’t read. Florida also initiated merit pay for teachers whose students pass certain exams.  The state also developed a voucher system, giving parents the opportunity to select public, charter, private, and online schools. Finally, “Florida set up new methods of certification to draw more talented people into the profession, even if those people have no college degree specifically in education.”

Other boards of education are beginning to follow these examples. In fact, New York City recently published its teacher rating system, much to the opposition of the teachers’ union. It still needs drastic change, such as the abolition of the infamous “rubber rooms.” Governor Malloy of Connecticut has proposed comprehensive educational reforms centered upon teacher training, evaluation and certification.

State educators may look to private and parochial schools regarding teacher qualifications. Teachers need not possess state certification in these schools. Rather, they need to possess a background in a certain subject area and demonstrate an ability to relay their information effectively. Simply throwing more money into education has not proven to be the answer for improvement.  The time has come for a shift in the paradigm. 

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