Self-described moderate Democrats aren’t always the blogosphere’s favorite kind of Senator, but this set of ideas laid out in a new letter from Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) and nine of his colleagues (Sens Carper, Lincoln, Landrieu, Bennet, Lieberman, Nelson, McCaskill, Warner, and Kohl) in the moderate Dems working group are important and correct:
Saying that “now is the time to explore new paths and reject stale thinking,” Bayh commended President Obama for his focus on teacher quality and noted a recent report by McKinsey and Company that highlights the achievement gaps that persist among various economic, regional and racial backgrounds in the United States and the gaps between American students and their peers in other industrialized nations. Based on this report, the senators noted that “had the United States closed the gap in education achievement with better-performing nations like Finland, Iceland, and Poland, our GDP could have been up to $2.3 trillion higher last year.”
In the letter, Bayh expressed support for new pay-for-performance teacher incentives and expansions of effective public charter schools. He also endorsed the Obama administration’s desire to extend student learning time to stay globally competitive and called for investments in state-of-the-art data systems so school systems can track student performance across grades, schools, towns and teachers.
There’s a lot packed into there, but fortunately I wrote a pretty long post on the McKinsey report back when it came out if you want to explore some of their key findings. Extended learning time is something that CAP has done alot of work on over the years. The basic idea is that we need to recognize that some children, particularly those from low-SES backgrounds and English language learners, simply present unusually difficult challenges and we ought to invest in the resources necessary to give them additional time in which to learn.
Pay-for-performance is always controversial, and of course the specific details of the proposal matter. But there’s tons of evidence that the gap in terms of student achievement outcomes between what the most effective and least effective teachers accomplish is enormous. Under the circumstances, anything we can do to help retain the most effective teachers, help encourage the most effective teachers to work where they can do the most good, and inspire the less effective teachers to either improve or move out of the profession can do a lot of good. CAP did two recent reports on teacher quality, one about tryingto find ways to assess teacher performance accurately and one about reformingtenure.
As we had opportunity to note the other day, health care and education are the growing parts of our economy. Under the circumstances, it’s vitally important to find ways to improve the performance of our health care and education institutions. On health care, there’s obviously a high-profile debate happening in congress right now. On education, the issue hasn’t been joined as squarely yet, but presumably it will be soon and the outcome will be critical. You can read the full letter here.