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Published in Print: February 16, 2000, as More Incentives Would Drive Schools To Improve, Business Alliance Argues

More Incentives Would Drive Schools To Improve, Business Alliance Argues

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More incentives for schools, educators, and students are needed to pick up the pace of improving public education, a major business group advises in a new report.

For More Information

Read "Improving Performance: Competition in American Public Education," (requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader). From the National Alliance of Business.

The National Alliance of Business, a 5,000-member organization that focuses on workforce-competitiveness issues, argues for more competition-related initiatives in the schools. The Washington-based group is promoting a wide range of incentives, such as school report cards, schoolwide rewards for achievement and penalties for failure, public school open enrollment, charter schools, and promotion "gates" and graduation "hurdles" for students.

"The private sector encourages hard work, innovation, and high standards through the risks and rewards of competition," the report says. "But in public schools, educators and students have faced few consequences for their failures and even fewer awards for their successes."

"Improving Performance: Competition in American Public Education" was written for the NAB by education journalist Thomas Toch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"If schools can embrace competition on their playing fields, there's no reason they shouldn't reap the benefits of competition in the classroom," Mr. Toch said last week.

Incentive programs can be either fair or unfair, he added. "The devil is in the details," he said.

Carrots and Sticks

The report touts a North Carolina plan in which all members of the instructional staffs of high-achieving schools share in bonus money. It argues that such a model is an improvement over merit pay, in which teachers compete against each other for rewards, "to the detriment of staff unity."

North Carolina rewards schools that improve their test scores, not just the top-achieving schools, thus giving "even those schools with very low-scoring students an incentive to work hard," the report says.

Another approach it cites is sanctions, such as those adopted by the Chicago school system. Low-performing schools are subject to reconstitution, in which a school's principal, staff, or local governing council could be replaced.

The report also promotes various incentives for individual educators and students. Some states provide cash bonuses to teachers who pass the rigorous certification process of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, it notes, while Edison Schools Inc., the nation's largest private manager of public schools, has a bonus system for principals tied to student performance.

For students, the report praises Chicago's crackdown on social promotion of pupils deemed academically unready for the next grade, and it calls on employers to make their academic performance in high school a factor in hiring decisions.

While the report discusses the role of charter schools and privately managed schools in adding competition to traditional public schools, it steers clear of any mention of private school vouchers.

Roberts T. Jones, the president of the NAB, said the voucher debate detracts from the larger discussion of how to improve the entire public school system.

"At the presidential-campaign level, it's characterized as either school construction or vouchers," he said. "Here are 17 things that have a more positive energy for creating change in the system."

Vol. 19, Issue 23, Page 8

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