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October 15 2009

Wanted: Leaders in Education

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

Michelle Obama has penned a column in US News & World Report on the importance of teachers in children's lives. As she explains, "I can't help but think that some of the most influential people in my daughters' lives won't be the ones they socialize with on the playground or read about in the pages of a book-they will be the people who stand up every day in front of their classrooms."

Mrs. Obama states:

Today, we need a new generation of leaders to take their place in our nation's schools. We need passionate, talented, committed men and women to step up and devote themselves to preparing our students to succeed in this new century.

We need universities to double down on their efforts to prepare teachers and to improve and expand effective alternative routes to certify teachers. We need to encourage more experienced professionals to consider teaching as the next chapter in their careers. And we need to treat teachers like the professionals they are by providing good salaries and high-quality professional development opportunities. We need parents to do their part as well to match that leadership in the classroom with leadership at home. We need to set limits and turn off the TV. We need to put away those video games and make sure that homework gets done. We need to reinforce the example that's being set and the lessons being taught at school and make sure that learning continues at home.

(Note: she echoes many of the same themes - parental responsibility and education reform - that IWF highlighted in our TV special, "About Our Children"!)

Expanding teacher certification is a great idea to get new teachers into classrooms, and I'm really glad to see the First Lady advocating it. The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence has a lot of information about a few programs available.

But as long as we're talking about finding and keeping good teachers, why stop there? My friend Marie Gryphon wrote a good study for the Cato Institute a few years ago on this topic that I recommend, because hiring and compensation procedures are skewed against the best and brightest teachers.

On the compensation front, merit pay for teachers seems common-sense, but has been met with much resistance from teachers' unions (unsurprisingly.) The President has expressed support for this in the past, as has Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Let's hope they keep at this issue.

Reforming teacher tenure has also been met with resistance from teachers' unions, but it's a big problem that needs to be addressed across the board.

Of course, none of these things matter if a school can't attract good teachers to start with, or provide safe schools for children to learn in. That's why children need to have an escape valve if their schools are failing them. Private schools and charter schools give families real alternatives to traditional education options; programs like education tax credits (early education and special-needs have been particularly successful, which is likely to be replicated when expanded to a broader audience) and school vouchers can help fund the switch.

Mrs. Obama is right - we do need a generation of leaders to teach our students. But we also need a generation of leaders who will rise above partisan bickering and special interest lobbying to put our children's needs first.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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