Parents ask only for safe schools, competent teachers and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public school fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
The answer to education reform in Arizona begins with two points on which most everyone agrees: Every public school child deserves a first-rate education. And too many of our schools are producing second-rate results.
Beyond that, the education debate divides quickly into two camps. Some say all that's needed is more taxpayer money, along with more prekindergarten and after-school programs. Others believe that the basic structure of the education system is flawed, and that fundamental reform is needed. You can put me squarely on the side of major reform.
These days, the cause of education reform crosses all boundaries of party, race and financial means. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have taken up the cause of reform, as have many others, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. These men are strong supporters of the Education Equality Project, a group dedicated to finally changing the status quo in our education system.
This group of leaders is no longer willing to accept a public school system in which many students never even graduate or learn the basics of math, science and English. As Chancellor Klein puts it, "In large urban areas the culture of public education is broken. If you don't fix this culture, then you are not going to be able to make the kind of changes that are needed."
The chancellor speaks for many, and especially for parents who cannot afford a private school. Consider the example of the Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington, D.C., which serves more than 1,900 children from families with an average income of $23,000 a year. More than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all share is the desire to get their kids into a better school.
Yet Democrats in Congress oppose this program. Not long ago, addressing the American Federation of Teachers, he dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." That went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave children who are stuck in failing schools?
John McCain will continue to fight for school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. We will pay bonuses to teachers working in our most troubled schools because we need their fine minds and good hearts to help turn those schools around.
We will award bonuses as well to our highest-achieving teachers. And instead of measuring teacher achievement by conformity to process, we will measure it by the success of their students. Moreover, the funds for these bonuses will not be controlled by faraway officials.
Under these reforms, we will put the money and the responsibilities where they belong -- in the office of the school principal.