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America the Fixable: The Culture of ‘Can’t’ in American Schools

There is too much focus on what "can't be done" to improve America's schools and not enough on what "can" be done. So argue Frederick Hess and Whitney Downs of the American Enterprise Institute in the latest installment of "America the Fixable".

Hess and Downs contend that resourceful principals and school boards can often take control of their schools despite obstacles posed by outdated laws, senseless regulations, and burdensome contracts. Unfortunately, they say, "in selecting, training, socializing, and rewarding leaders, we do not equip or encourage them to lead.'"

A school system can only work as well as the people who run it. "Happily, across the country there are examples of determined state chiefs, principals, superintendents, and school boards who are ready to stop getting pushed around. In Sacramento, many low-performing 'turnaround' schools have been staffed with bright young teachers," write Hess and Dunn. "The problem: California is one state where state law meant these teachers would be the first to go during layoffs. Rather than play the victim, researcher Heather Zavadsky reports that the district figured out a work-around. The superintendent battled with the union, negotiating a deal which stipulated 'that if a teacher had been specifically selected for a turnaround school, and the district could document that the training was different and specific, then the teachers would not be subjected to seniority-based layoff.'"

Read Hess and Downs' full article here.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.