As Superintendent of Houston’s public schools since 1994, Dr. Rod Paige has distinguished himself as an education reformer who is not afraid to depart from conventional educational wisdom in a quest of academic results. The passing rates of children in his 90-percent minority district on the state’s TAAS test have risen from 37 percent in 1995 to 73 percent this year. In the cause of reform, he has allowed children in failing schools to choose private alternatives and has converted some of the district’s schools into independently run charter schools that are accountable for results.
Dr. Paige will bring to Washington the much-needed perspective of an experienced educator for reform. Here are three critical challenges for him:
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is up for congressional reauthorization, should be completely revamped so it doesn’t reward repeated failure. Washington has funneled more than $130 billion into compensatory programs that were supposed to boost the achievement of underprivileged children. Repeated evaluations show the children have been helped little if at all. Dr. Paige did not hesitate to offer private choice or charter schools as a lifeline to families stuck with hopelessly failing schools in Houston. He should do no less for children in federally aided classrooms across America.
Scrap failed programs that are beyond repair. For starters, pull the plug on federal support for bilingual education. As the evidence has become overwhelming that bilingual education just doesn’t work, states across the nation from California and Arizona to New York and Connecticut have undertaken major reforms. But in Washington the U.S. Department of Education has nurtured a cottage industry within the education establishment that has vested interests in prolonging English learners’ stay in non-English-speaking classes for outlandishly long periods, up to seven years or more. Replacing bilingual education with structured English immersion is the critical next step to helping our nation’s Hispanic and other language-minority young people.
Get help to classroom teachers, as opposed to education bureaucracies. Eliminate all vestiges of federally mandated programs like Goals 2000 and School-to-Work that generate mountains of paperwork and seek to direct policy from the top down. Limited federal resources instead should be put at the disposal of local reformers, including teachers, who implement proven practices keyed to local needs. Charter schools are one valuable means to that end.
Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public-policy think tank in Arlington, Va. Don Soifer is Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute.
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