Moving Education into the 21st Century

Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. A number of ideas for improving this act and making the educational system more responsive to 21st-century demands are now under debate. Two that seem particularly worthy are alternative pay programs for teachers and extended learning time options for students. A review of relevant data indicates that both of these reforms would find a very friendly reception among the American public.

Take alternative pay programs for teachers. In the June, 2007 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on the public’s attitudes toward public schools (the 39th edition of this annual survey), 92 percent thought “financial incentives for teachers based on their performance” would be a very effective (59 percent) or somewhat effective (33 percent) incentive plan for attracting and retaining teachers who are highly qualified public school teachers. In addition, 87 percent thought “higher salaries for beginning teachers” would also be an effective incentive plan for attracting and retaining teachers (see chart below).

Similarly, the public supports several extended learning time options. In a 2003 Lake Sosin Perry/Tarrance Group/Afterschool Alliance poll, 88 percent of the public said they favored (including 58 percent who strongly favored) providing comprehensive, five-days- -a-week after-school programs in their community, including 58 percent who strongly favored this option. Moreover, 77 percent said they favored having the federal government set aside funds to pay for these programs.

And in the same Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll cited above, 96 percent thought that providing “more instructional time and other help for low-performing students” was a very effective (65 percent) or somewhat effective (30 percent) way to close the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving public school students (See chart below).

The public is obviously ready for some serious change in the way we run our educational system. Let’s hope Congress is, too.

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