There are two things that almost all Californians agree on. First,
our public education system is failing its most important
constituents – the students. Second, the California State
Legislature, California Teachers Association, along with entrenched
bureaucrats and administrators scattered throughout the public school
system, have effectively blocked incremental, meaningful reform.

Efforts to stop significant and lasting change could not be any more
staunch or selfish than those that have thwarted mere incremental
reform, meaning we’ve seen the worst the irradicable can do.
Therefore, it’s time to be bold and enact four dramatic measures that
would transform public education in California and make it a source
of pride, not embarrassment.

1. Competency testing: every year, every grade. While we have
instituted a high school exit exam, it is too little, too late.
Currently, we don’t meaningfully test students until they are seniors
and by then, it’s too late to repair the damage done by automatic
grade promotions and a lack of standards and expectations.

We need to establish a set of core competencies for every grade and
only when those standards have been met, does the student move onto
the next grade. My plan would take 12 years to implement, starting
next year with first grade, then adding a new grade (second, third,
etc.) each subsequent year so that 12 years from now, every student
graduating high school will have met 12th grade standards in a
variety of subjects.

2. Terminate tenure. Tenure does one thing: protect bad teachers.
The CTA refuses to acknowledge what even Democratic Presidential
candidate Senator Barack Obama acknowledges: some teachers are bad.
Senator Obama recently told Readers Digest that if bad teachers are
given the resources and still do not improve, “they should be
removed.” A successful example of this took place in Queens, New
York, at Public School 49, which in only 10 years went from 37% of
fourth-graders reading at grade level to 90%. When Principal Anthony
Lombardi was asked how this happened, he responded, “by getting rid
of incompetent teachers.” Give school principals the responsibility
and the authority to have the best teachers possible.

3. English only. The CTA consistently reminds us of the unique
challenge faced in California of having so many students who do not
speak English. They are right, and it needs to end. Multilingual
teaching is a drain on finances and having to teach class in two (or
sometimes more) languages waters down the education process.
California public schools should teach in English only, period. If
students are not capable of comprehending, reading and writing in
English, they should be withdrawn from class, regardless of grade,
and entered into a separate program designed exclusively to teach
English. When they reach a defined level of English competence and
are capable of reentering the classroom, they can do so at the
appropriate grade level.

4. Focus. Our public schools have strayed too far from their core.
We need to focus our attention and resources (time and money) on
three critical areas: communication, (reading and writing),
perspective (literature and history) and relevance (economics, math
and science). Everything else is secondary. Public schools should be
about education first and sports, the arts, clothing, food,
healthcare – and anything else – secondarily. Leadership is about
priorities and ours are screwed up. Until we can teach our children
how to read, write, add and subtract, we shouldn’t be worried about
teaching them how to throw a football.

Public education in California is proving incapable of dealing with
its mounting challenges. Most classrooms haven’t changed in 100
years (rows of desks facing forward, teachers lecturing, tests based
predominantly on memorization) and for a rapidly growing number of
Californians, education now has very little to do with traditional
public education. Home schooling is now mainstream, charter schools
are exploding in number, online schooling is becoming popular, and
the idea of vouchers is gaining in acceptance.

The time has come to dramatically improve our public schools, or
abandon them. We need to establish clear standards for teachers and
students, focus on core competencies, and earnestly prepare our
students for a world that is changing faster than at any time in
history. The one thing we can all agree on is that we owe that much
to our children.