Tilson On School Reform

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* I believe that an excellent school has small classes, experienced teachers, a full curriculum, a well-resourced program in the arts, science laboratories, and a gymnasium, situated in a well-maintained and attractive building. Students should have the opportunity to study history, literature, the sciences, mathematics, civics, geography, technology, and have ample time for physical activities, sports, and exercise. The school should have a well-stocked library with a full-time librarian. It should have a school nurse, a social worker, and a psychologist. The principal should be an experienced teacher, with the authority to hire teachers and to evaluate their performance. Teacher evaluation should be based on peer review and classroom performance, not on test scores.


* I believe that the primary purpose of public schools, based on my studies as a historian of education, is to develop good citizens. The most important job that citizens have in our democracy is to vote thoughtfully and to be prepared to sit on juries and reach wise decisions about the fate of others. Citizens must be well informed and knowledgeable. They should know how to collaborate with others to accomplish goals. They should care about the fairness and future of our democracy. They should be knowledgeable about American and world history. They should understand the basic principles of government, economics, and science so they can understand the great issues of the day.


* I believe that public education is one of the basic building blocks of our democracy. As citizens, we have an obligation to support a good public education for all children, even if we have no children or if our own children are grown or if we send our children to religious or private schools.


* Because I believe in the importance of public education, I oppose all efforts to privatize public schools or to monetize them.


* I believe that the primary responsibility for shaping education policy should be in the hands of educators, not politicians. Educators are the experts, and we should let them do their jobs without political interference.


* I believe that teachers should not only be respected, but should be paid more for their experience and education. I do not believe that education will get better if teachers have less experience and less education.


* I believe in school choice, but I do not believe that private choices should be publicly subsidized. Anyone who wants their child to have a religious education should pay for it. The same for those who want their children to attend a private school or to be home-schooled. Parents have a right to make choices, but they should not expect the public to pay for their choices.


* I would like to see today’s reformers fight against budget cuts to public schools, against segregation, and against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests. I wish we might join together to lead the fight to improve the living standards for children and families now living in poverty. I wish we might advocate together for higher salaries for teachers, smaller classes for students, effective social and medical services for children who need them, and excellent public schools in every neighborhood.


* I would like to see all of us who care about children, who respect teachers and want a great education for every child, join together to persuade the public to invest more in education and to consider education the most important endeavor of our society, the one that will determine the future of our society. Let us recognize together that poverty matters, teachers matter, schools matter, and that we must strive together to reach the goals upon which we agree.