03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Unachievable Dreams?

If you missed it, last week’s guest article by Rona
Wilensky on Education News Colorado
was a devastating assessment of our education system’s current
malaise. In a nutshell, Rona said that all we lack is a critical mass of good
teachers, support to help make all teachers better, time to provide that
support and money to make that time available.

In other words, Rona says that without a major shift in
priorities, we’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got. Some breakaway schools
will be the exceptions that prove the rule, but any systemic improvement is
beyond our reach unless we show through actions rather than words that this, to
use the current buzz-phrase, is the “civil rights issue of our generation.”

How might such a shift in priorities manifest itself? Let’s
dream for a minute.

Funding education through property taxes is an inherently
inequitable system, that increasingly looks unsustainable as well. But any
other form of taxation – sales tax, income tax, VAT, etc., is more susceptible
to annual fluctuations and isn’t a reliable replacement.

I’ll leave this issue to those more expert in such matters
than I. But new and probably different sources of reliable revenue are an
essential condition for systemic improvement

Money alone isn’t the answer, as I have often pointed out
(at times tactlessly) in this space. As the additional revenue pours in,
schools of education must be overhauled. Wouldn’t it be great if schools of education
were as selective and effective as medical and law schools?

Teaching has to become a profession that is seen as a viable
career choice for capable, driven young people. Not only must it pay more, but
the working conditions have to be attractive to the self-motivated and creative.
Higher-needs schools need extra money to offer significant bonuses to attract
the best teachers.

Due process for teachers should still exist, but in a
much-streamlined fashion.

Teaching might seem more attractive to some as a long-term
occupation if a clear career path existed that allowed veteran teachers to
remain close to the classroom. Master teachers and coaches (per Rona’s
suggestion) could rise from the ranks of teachers, and be more highly

In exchange for extra pay, educators would have to be
willing to work year-round, with four or five weeks of vacation, like everyone
else. Built into the year would be time for extensive professional growth

Neighborhood schools would become a thing of the past; an
antiquated concept. After all, this isn’t the 1950s. Most schools aren’t filled
with the offspring of Ward and June Cleaver. All families should have to choose
a school, instead of defaulting into one. Enrollment preference should go to
families who would help bring a good socio-economic balance to any given

In this new reality, charters and more traditionally
structured public schools would still exist. But an observer would be hard
pressed to identify which was which.

How likely is any of this? Not very. There may be
glimmerings of consensus about the end we hope to achieve – but only
glimmerings. On means we are oceans apart.

Read Rona’s piece again. Then ponder our current effort to
win Race to the Top dollars, and ask yourself if any of what we are talking
about in our work groups will spark enough change.

If you see much hope, good for you. Please send me
some of your happy pills.