FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
SENATOR SCOTT LAUTENBAUGH ANNOUNCES EDUCATION REFORM PACKAGE FOR 2014 SESSION
The new OPS board is performing admirably, and the board and the new superintendent are taking steps to move the district in the right direction. My continuing interest in education reform in Nebraska does not reflect a lack of faith in them, to say the least. There are additional changes to state law which need to be made, however, to give them what they need to succeed, and/or to improve opportunity for all students in Nebraska.
I still believe that Nebraska needs to authorize independent public schools within the OPS boundaries—especially where OPS schools are persistently underachieving. The parents in these areas need the neighborhood-based, public alternatives that such schools would provide. Putting at-risk kids on a bus for two hours a day to get them to a quality school does not constitute a fair choice for them, and will not engage their parents in that distant school. I will continue to fight for a better option for these kids.
But there is still much more to do. I will introduce legislation to do the following:
1. Increase pay for teachers who are Board Certified.
A recent report by Harvard’s Strategic Data Project on the nation’s second-largest school district found that, on average, board-certified teachers in Los Angeles public schools significantly outperformed peers with the same level of experience. Under my proposal, a district which has more than 50% poverty would reimburse the tuition for board certification on the condition that the teacher stays employed with the current district and works in a high-poverty school for five years. The district would pay an additional 10% stipend for board-certified teachers who meet the following criteria:
1. teach in a district which has more than 2000 students
2. teach in a district which has more than 50% poverty within the district.
3. teach at a school with more than 70% poverty.
The state would reimburse the district for the cost of the additional stipend and Board certification.
2. Grade our schools based upon performance, and provide monetary awards and merit pay for success
In 2001 and thereafter, Florida embarked upon an ambitious education reform agenda—with spectacular results. I believe we can emulate Florida’s approach in many ways, and achieve gains here as well. Florida required public school students in grades 3 through 10 to take annual standardized, state-specific tests in reading and math, called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. They combined these scores with a school’s graduation rate to grant each school a grade from A-F. “A” schools, or those that improve by a letter grade, are given a bonus of a sum of dollars per student to be distributed among the teachers in that school.
Florida also instituted merit pay that provides teacher bonuses for those teachers whose students earn passing grades on AP exams. Currently, teachers now earn awards of $50 for each student passing an AP test –up to a total of $2,000. Additionally, to increase efforts in low-performing schools, teachers in D and F schools earn a bonus of $500 for each student who passes an AP test, up to the $2000 cap. I will pursue programs similar to these in Nebraska.
3. End social promotion after 3rd grade and raise graduation requirements.
In 2003, Florida ended “social promotion” for third grade students. To move on to fourth grade, students had to attain a minimally acceptable score on the FCAT reading test. Students who fail the FCAT reading tests are given other tested opportunities to demonstrate grade-appropriate reading skills. Students who still cannot demonstrate reading skills are held back and provided with extensive and intensive reading programs as well as the opportunity to learn fundamental skills needed to advance grade levels.
It is crucial that students have the basic ability to read at the third-grade level before moving on. It is at this point that they must move from “learning to read”, to “reading to learn”. They cannot learn and perform in higher grades without this foundation, and we are doing them harm by passing them along without requisite reading skills. Nebraska should adopt this policy.
Florida also raised the bar for high school students. In 2002, the state raised the grade equivalent level of its longstanding high school exit exam from an 8th grade level test to the 10th grade level on the FCAT test. Schools were given greater control over program funds, so as to divert them to areas and subjects were they found students to be disproportionately failing. The state also set aside funds to ensure all 10th graders could, and would, take the PSAT in preparation for the SAT or ACT. I will pursue these programs in Nebraska.
I will pursue this approach in Nebraska as well. As it now stands in Nebraska, we are graduating too many students from our high schools who must take remedial courses before starting college course work. This should not be tolerated.
4. “Recipient Principal” approval for teacher transfers. To put an end to what has colorfully been referred as the “dance of the lemons”, I believe we should legislatively mandate that both the principal at a teacher’s soon-to-be former school, and the principal at a teacher’s potential new school should have to approve any teacher transfers. We should prohibit the practice of transferring failing teachers from school to school every few years, rather than otherwise deal with a failing teacher.
5. Change tenure and pension rules. I believe we should pursue both tenure and pension reform in Nebraska. We should explore teacher tenure reform, and eliminate administrator tenure completely. Principals and other administrators should be at-will employees, as they are in most places other than Nebraska, I believe. With regard to teachers, I further would eliminate “Last in First out” firings, and instead opt to “riff” the lowest performing teachers regardless of seniority.
Finally, I believe our existing pension system allows a teacher fully to vest in a pension after five years, retire, begin drawing a pension, return to work again, vest in a second pension after five years, retire again, and begin drawing a second, separate pension. If my understanding of this is correct, it does not make sense to me. This unusual and expensive system needs to be changed.
6. Provide alternative routes for teacher certification
Other states have allowed multiple pathways for people to become a teacher by offering alternative routes to certification. For example, potential teachers who have a college degree in a field other than teaching can work at any public school district and receive intensive, effective support and on-the-job training as they teach. Others can enter teaching by completing programs at Educator Preparation Institutes offered in community colleges. Some states also accept teaching certifications through reciprocity from any other state in the country.
I believe we should explore additional certification routes to bring the talent we have available in Nebraska into our classrooms. Under the current rules governing who can teach in Nebraska, we are not allowed to participate in programs like Teach for America. As a result, instead of drawing talent into our state or retaining local talent, we are losing out on extraordinary individuals who go elsewhere to pursue such service. Still worse, if and when these individuals do return, despite having been successful elsewhere in classrooms we would label “challenging”, they are often barred from Nebraska classrooms under our current certification regime.
IN CLOSING, our system needs reform, and we can do better by our children. The answer is not always ever-increasing spending. Sometimes we need to adopt better practices, end bad practices, and/or raise the standards for all involved. We can’t keep writing kids off and tolerating failure–it is time to act in the best interest of our children, not defend the status quo.