Friday, August 25, 2006

Teachers Back Ford For U.S. Senate Seat

On my big issues in politics is education. Like many people, I feel that education is the backbone of our society and holds the key to success in the future. And on the flip side, could hold the key to failure if not administered properly.

Congressman Ford agrees with those assertions. He is a rare politician who actually gets the problems that our education system faces in this nation. He understands that it is imperative that we start investing in education, rather than viewing it as a detriment. He understands that times have changed and that the skills our students learn should change. And he understands that the rest of the world is not going to wait on the United States to get its act together on education.

His views on education is one big reason why I am supporting supporting him in this election. And the same goes for the The National Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education group, who Thursday endorsed Congressman Ford and his candidacy for the United States Senate.

Teachers Endorse Ford

The National Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education has voted to recommend the candidacy of Harold Ford, Jr. for the United States Senate. The national action followed a recommendation by T-PACE, the political arm of the Tennessee Education Association. T-PACE members from across the state met on June 23 and voted to recommend Ford’s candidacy. The recommendation is based on Mr. Ford’s strong support for public education during his service in the United States Congress.

Earl Wiman, T-PACE chairman and President of the Tennessee Education Association, stated, “Harold Ford, Jr. clearly understands the problems facing public schools and has a proven record in support of the issues facing education and public school employees. He knows that Tennessee’s future depends on strong public schools and merits the support of all voters interested in the future of education in our state and across the nation.”

Jerry Winters, TEA’s manager of Government Relations, says that teachers will be part of a major grassroots campaign to turn out votes for Ford. “Harold Ford, Jr. is an exciting candidate with a great message for education. Teachers across the state are ready to mobilize to help elect him to the United States Senate,” Winters stated.

TEA is the state’s largest professional organization representing over 55,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.

Ford's 21st Century Education Plan

The nation's education system is crying out for profound changes to be made. Our children, in short, are unprepared for the remarkably globalized and diverse economy and world that awaits them. And unfortunately, things are worsening as teacher shortages make it harder for school systems to adapt to a changing global marketplace demanding more and more from our students. And, at a time when Asia, especially China and India, are producing smarter workers and entrepreneurs eight times faster than we are, the debate in America about education hasn't progressed much beyond a national screaming match about teachers' unions, vouchers and the No Child left Behind Act. There is no coherence to the chorus of how to reverse the steady decline of academic achievement in this country.

What is clear is this - America needs a national education strategy. Ideological partisans will dismiss this as nationalizing public education, which they think will ruin our schools because, among other things, California values will infect Tennessee students and vice versa. Furthermore, the ideologues worry that the federal government will dictate to local school districts what and how to teach. I'm talking about something different.

This strategy, which I call the 21st Century Plan, would actually localize education even more by empowering and funding school districts that reach achievement benchmarks. Imagine if we divided local school districts into clusters no larger than 30 schools with management teams and boards of directors accountable to students and teachers. The management teams, called principals and teachers today, would be highly educated, focused on results and compensated for their achievements - a model based roughly on the one where investment bankers, corporate lawyers and Wall Street dealmakers find themselves.

The 21st Century Plan would be funded at the federal level, eliminating the need for local property taxes to pay for local education initiatives. Decision making would be made at the local level but the expectations would be set at the federal level. Some ask, why at the federal level? Because math in Idaho is the same as in Georgia, correct English, Farsi, Mandarin and Spanish are the same in Rhode Island as they are in Tennessee and biology and physics answers are the same in Florida and Iowa.

More money may not be needed to implement the 21st Century Plan. An inventory of approaches - failed and successful - from across the country would be the first order of business for every level of school, including successful early childhood programs. Second, management teams from across the country would evaluate and study successful models and implement what works in their schools.

The data is irrefutable about educating kids. The best long-term predictor of student achievement is the quality of education the kid gets from birth to five. The brain develops in remarkable ways during that period. Second, the better the teacher is, the better the student achievement.

The first action step to implement the 21st Century Plan would be a national early childhood growth plan aimed at starting kids in preschool as early as 2 or 3 for a healthy diet of being taught the alphabets, numbers and shapes, being read and listened to and constructive play time. The cost of this investment will pay multiples in the future because the preparedness level for kindergarten will cut down on remedial work in later grades.

It will be important that good teachers and classroom instructors are in place. I believe the country would respond to a national call to prepare 1 million new teachers over the next 10 years for every grade level and discipline. A new training system - comprised of institutions of educational excellence as competitive as the nation's top law, business and medical graduate programs - would be adopted so that the best quality would be attracted, prepared and retained to teach America's future. We would accord these educators the same respect we show other valued professionals. For a change, the pay would reflect that. Graduates of these institutions of excellence would be recruited by management teams and boards from all across the nation to come and be education leaders within their clusters. Contracts would be signed, bonuses given and educators would be treated professionally - held to the highest ethical and performance standards.

Each state's governor would appoint a board to monitor and hold accountable management teams across the respective state. The state would be held accountable by the federal government, which would fund the 21st Century Plan. Management teams who miss the achievement mark would answer to the state board and face penalties and possible removal if they don't meet benchmarks.

The goal here is to give our kids the best chance to start on a level playing field, academically and socially. And, then put highly trained and motivated educators in the classroom. The federal government has to be a catalyst in making this happen. Paying for and arranging bricks and mortar issues would be left to local districts and states with some help from the federal tax code.

By that I mean, generous tax subsidies and inexpensive, federally-backed financing plans should invite the construction of small, safe and learner-friendly schools for kids, especially in instances where an existing facility is unfit.

And finally, academic achievement goals would drive the strategy. This mismatch between what kids are learning and what kids need to know is what needs closing. The national expectations, as they would be called, would be evaluated every four years much like the Pentagon does in its quadrennial defense review. The defense review is a proven model of success. It should be applied to our education system as well.

Every state is grappling with the challenge of educating kids, preparing teachers and ultimately building a better American future. In short, a national strategy is needed.

When we win this Senate race, this will be among the first things we do