America’s education system is broken. Today we release our plan to begin fixing it.

January 10, 2011 posted by StudentsFirst

There’s a lot of talk about what exactly we need to do to fix our schools. Real change requires more than talk. We all have to open our eyes and challenge an education system that has become, bit by bit, a bureaucracy about adults. We absolutely must look at education through a new prism. We must put students first.

But how do we change something so deeply entrenched in the system? If we want to get beyond talk, we have to get specific. And now we can, because a few reformers around the country, inside and outside the system, are beginning to show us the path. What we need now is to clear away the barriers that stand in the way and to tell politicians and education leaders that we expect them to be bold on behalf of children. Several prominent public figures have pledged their support. We are advising Florida Governor Rick Scott and are in discussions with several other governors about their legislative plans, including New Mexico, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee and Indiana.

Since starting StudentsFirst last month, we’ve been talking to teachers, students, parents, administrators, reformers, policy makers, and political strategists throughout the country. We also asked you which issues matter most to your family.

Today, more than 140,000 members strong, we release the results of this ongoing dialogue and announce our priorities.

It won’t be easy. It won’t come overnight. But with our members, resources, partners, and the facts on our side, we can fight to shift the balance of power in education.

Our policy agenda outlines our immediate objectives and the reasoning behind them. It’s a big document, about 20 pages, so here’s an outline of our core priorities:


Priority One: Elevate the Teaching Profession by Valuing Teachers’ Impact on Students

StudentsFirst believes that all students can achieve at high levels when they have effective teachers. We will work to ensure every child is guaranteed that right. Excellent teachers and principals are the backbone of public education, they must be recognized as professionals with whom we entrust the awesome responsibility of developing our nation’s future.

For this reason, we will work to ensure, among other things, that teachers are evaluated based on evidence of student results rather than arbitrary judgments; that principals are evaluated for their ability to attract, retain, manage, and develop great teachers; and that excellent teachers are paid substantially more for their vital work.

Part of this will involve separating teacher evaluation from collective bargaining in union contracts (given the inherent conflict of interest), and removing certain seniority-based policies, such as “First in, Last Out,” which require districts to terminate the most recent hires when layoffs are required. The bottom line is that we can make teaching a profession based on respect and performance, not tenure.


Priority Two: Empower parents with real choices and real information.

Parents naturally put the interests of their children above the interests of the system, so the more power parents have over their children’s education, the more our education system will be a students-first system.

We will work to create more high-quality, public-funded school choices by removing caps on the number of charter schools allowed, eliminating the barriers to replicating high-performing public charter schools, and supporting private-public scholarship programs for students without quality options.

Likewise, we will work to empower communities by giving them the power to reform failing schools; we will encourage open enrollment policies that allow families to choose better-suited schools outside their neighborhoods; and we will offer parents clear and useful data about their schools, such as whether their child’s teacher has a track record of helping students progress academically.


Priority Three: Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely to Get Better Results for Students.

Over the past 40 years, per-pupil funding has more than doubled, but students have little to show for it. Student achievement has remained flat. This funding/achievement disconnect exists because in many cases states have spent money on some “feel good” things that have not been proven to increase student achievement, such as smaller classes or raising salaries based on advanced degrees instead of effectiveness. They also spend a lot on infrastructure, technology and facilities that could be streamlined and redirected to proven areas that improve student progress.

StudentsFirst will advocate for aggressive reforms in critical structural, operational, and budgeting activities throughout the country. We will work to eliminate laws that hamper superintendents’ and principals’ abilities to optimize their resources, help curb ineffective spending on the state level, and end bureaucratic policies that force district leaders to choose the cheapest food and facilities services, without regard to quality.


Let us know what you think.

Members are asking “What can I do?” In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more specific information and tools on the issues, actions for you to take and we’ll zero in on certain states and cities. There are 23 new governors this year and 10 big city mayoral races. So there is a lot of energy behind education reform. And we are ready.