from The Columbus Dispatch, April 23, 1005 - "Teacher Pay Key in Fixing Public Schools"

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Saturday, April 23, 2005


by William L. Bainbridge

"American schools are broken. Here's what CEOs are doing to fix them.'' This statement from the cover of the April 2005 i ssue of Chief Executive magazine speaks volumes. The article points to "a committed effort by CEOs to champion school reform.''

Business leaders have justifiable concerns regarding the performance of schools. They point to weak test scores, low graduation rates and student and staff safety issues as evidence that schools are failing. The question is: What can business leaders do to help schools improve?

Some CEOs, such as Microsoft's Bill Gates, former IBM chief Louis Gerstner and former SUNCO Carriers leader Hunt Berryman, have strong credentials for the work they've done in the business sector. They have focused on research-based initiatives such as Gerstner's intense interest in teacher training and pay, Gates' infatuation with small schools, Berryman's focus on improving broken governance structures and GMIS software founder Chris Gabrielli's passion for extending school hours.

Some CEOs have little or no experience with public schools. A few CEOs who would like to tell the schools how to improve have tainted backgrounds from running their own companies unprofitably. Not valuing the central purpose of public schools -- educating all citizens -- a few CEOs have been known to give excellence awards to school systems with dropout rates of more than 50 percent.

Typically, business leaders propose applying principles from the business world such as competition, accountability and merit pay by suggesting these are fundamental changes in the governance of public education. Examples include:

* Vouchers to permit the use of public money by church-affiliated and private schools in places such as Milwaukee and Cleveland.

* Charter schools founded by private organizations of community members, parents and even teachers that operate under a written contract with state and local tax dollars. Dayton is a national leader in this effort.

* Mayoral takeovers where local government assumes control of schools, as in Cleveland and Chicago.

* State takeovers where academically ineffective districts are managed for periods of time by state departments of education, beginning many years ago in Jersey City, N.J., and, once again, in Cleveland.

* Private companies running schools from Baltimore to Miami to Long Beach, Calif.

When the voucher-driven, magnet, charter and privately operated schools are evaluated, studies normally find no empirical evidence that these schools are any more successful or effective than the public schools they were attempting to improve.

Business leaders have been known to claim victory with unscientifically selected schools. Many of the private-sector evaluators have little understanding of the social and demographic forces affecting a school's effort to educate its children. The schools pointed to in the research usually are comprised of those with select student populations, special teacher and administrator groups and/or programs designed for particularly motivated students and parents.

These solutions all seem to ignore the basic problems of schools through an end-around approach. Rather than fixing the systemic organizational faults, they try to avoid conflict and assume the structures are not repairable. It is doubtful such an approach would be used in their organizations.

The most striking fault of our public school systems is the major human-resource management problem that needs to be addressed. Concepts needing to be addressed and adopted in school human-resource practices for educators include marketplace pay in areas of shortage, peer review, recognition systems and an extended work year.

Foremost we need to implement "marketplace pay'' for teachers. Since schools operate in a milieu of market pressures, it makes good sense when examining the critical shortage of teachers in fields such as mathematics and physical sciences. Many schools with low test scores in these disciplines are proliferated with teachers who have neither majors nor minors preparing them to teach subjects such as chemistry and calculus.

Systemic reform in other areas will work only after these human- resource management practices have been addressed.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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