Strengthening our Nation's Schools

Op-Ed

By:  Judy Chu
Date: June 21, 2010
Location: Unknown

Published by Politico.com on June 21, 2010.

How often do U.S. enterprises - public , private or nonprofit - try to fix performance issues by firing all their staff and replacing them with new, inexperienced workers? Or by closing up shop and shelving the dreams of their owners, employees or shareholders?

That is not a recipe for business success - and it shouldn't be for our nation's schools.

Yet this is what current school reform proposals call for. This is the folly of continuing down No Child Left Behind's punitive, overly prescriptive path to education reform.

We need a positive alternative to the current standards offered for education reform. That is why I proposed a plan, Strengthening Our Schools, to give districts an array of tools, not box them into a select few.

With this plan, we can come to the rescue of our most challenged schools and give the entire community a voice - and a choice - in how to move forward.

As a teacher and professor in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, I know the challenges that face our nation's schools. In my district, nearly 70 percent of students are classified as economically disadvantaged, and 135 of our 165 schools are Title I, meaning they educate the most at-risk student populations.

My district serves the neediest students, those whose parents work two or three jobs and may have never gone to college or who may not speak English as their first language. But such socioeconomic problems exist in areas across the country.

Effective schools promote flexibility and collaboration. Too many schools suffer under a top-down approach. Though it's clear to teachers and parents where funds and effort should be concentrated, there is little collaboration on improvement plans. With this plan, we can provide the flexibility and partnership necessary to help each school address its unique challenges in a way that works for individual communities.

Effective schools remove barriers to student success. For many of these students, going to a strong school and learning from the best teachers aren't enough to help develop the skills needed to succeed. Many students aren't able to focus on learning because they are hungry or abused or can't understand their teacher. These students attend the schools that are struggling most.

With this plan, we seek to address these barriers to student success by providing holistic services - such as behavioral support, English language resources, outreach to parents and mental health services.

Effective schools foster teachers and school leaders. Teachers vary in effectiveness. But teachers can improve through a personalized evaluation and training approach that allows them to understand what they must do better. We intend to foster good teachers and school leaders through professional development, better support networks and research-based teaching.

With the plan's comprehensive strategy, we can finally have a workable system that strengthens our schools instead of disrupting our communities. We can give every American child - no matter his or her background - a path to success.

Our schools are in crisis. Students' needs are not being met. Teachers need better tools and support to improve their craft. Above all, our schools need flexibility to address their unique problems and find options that work for them.

Current school-reform models seek to improve our country's lowest-performing schools, but they fall short. I am pushing for Congress to rethink school improvement and imagine a new way of strengthening schools to ensure the success of our neediest students.