In Florida, the state legislature finally passed landmark education reforms first championed by Gov. Jeb Bush; unfortunately, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the legislation. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie fought to bring spiraling education costs under control, and he won voters’ support. In liberal cities like Washington, D.C., and New York City, schools chiefs have fired teachers who can’t teach and embraced charter schools.
Even President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are encouraging reform. Yes, the president killed school choice for poor kids in Washington, D.C., and he recently bailed out teachers’ unions with $31 billion we don’t have. But to the administration’s credit, Obama and Duncan have stuck to their guns on their Race to the Top initiative, which at least ties federal education dollars to structural changes in state education policies.
Private or religious schools should be an option for all Americans, not just the privileged few. Public schools should be forced to compete in a field where they will be judged by who has the best teachers and the best outcomes. Schools, districts, and states should embrace market-based reforms that reward good teachers and principals, while removing bad ones. And alternative formats like home schooling, vocational apprenticeships, and online learning should be supported and further integrated into our public systems.
At the federal level, we should create “charter states,” freeing states from the regulations tied to federal education dollars in exchange for transparency and, most important, results.
As schoolchildren return to class across the country this week, the forces for reform are closer than ever to guaranteeing every child a high-quality education. The era of education policy written for and by teachers’ unions is drawing to a close.
– Tim Pawlenty is finishing his second term as governor of Minnesota.