2010 was marked by 

  1. The implementation of sweeping changes in teacher employment and pay in NYC and DC
  2. The release of three movies covering the need for broad education reform across the nation
  3. The first-time use of parent trigger to turn a failing school around in California
  4. A wider awareness of the positive role technology can play in raising academic achievement
  5. A growing public debate on the neglected role of parental choice and empowerment in the education of America’s children.

Policy makers should build on this momentum in 2011 to further improve American education policy.

Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein put teacher performance and union barriers to education reform in the spotlight, and they showed how a fierce leader can do much to turn things around in failing schools. Their education manifestos tell that overcoming union barriers to holding teachers accountable and rewarding them for success is a win-win for students and teachers, and that poverty and supposed lack of funding are no excuses for low student achievement. DC and NYC schools have benefited tremendously from their reform efforts, and other state superintendents could learn much from their successes and failures.

Additionally, three movies changed the debate on education reform this year by highlighting how the entrenched web of special interests are ruling education policy in America to the detriment of students, parents, and good teachers. Waiting For Superman, which got by far the most attention, raised awareness for the plight of parents who lack the financial resources to rescue their children from failing schools. In the absence of wide-spread school choice, parents and teachers were at the mercy of a lottery for the few slots available in better-performing charter schools. The Cartel and The Lottery shed further light on the sad state of an education system that is set up to serve the interests of education professionals over those of students. 

Together, the success stories of NYC and DC and the increased public awareness of the tragedies that take place in America’s schools moved the education debate towards a better understanding of the importance of parental empowerment through school choice in reform efforts. California’s parent trigger law which empowers parents to hold schools accountable, and Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott‘sannouncement that he wants to implement school choice across the whole state, to enable parents to select their children’s education among the broad offering of public, private and virtual schools, are the front-runners in this movement. Parents in other states should demand that their state legislatures follow these examples to put the power to choose the best education for their children in their own hands.

One thing becomes clear as part of a review of the diversity of reform approaches we experienced in 2010. There is no effective one-size-fits all solution to education reform. Attempts by the federal government to reform education on the national level, through Race to the Top and No-Child-Left-Behind for example, are the wrong approach to affecting real change in American education. Decisions over changes to education policy are best made on a local level in states and localities, and the most promising reform efforts are those that empower the main stakeholders to participate fully in the process: parents and children.