Now Is the Time for Transformational Change in PA Education

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“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.” As I view the educational landscape in Pennsylvania, this paradox, first articulated by Voltaire, is ever-present in my mind. Lawmakers, teachers, administrators, parents, and communities are concerned about whether our education system is effective or sustainable, yet many act as if the problems that confront it will fix themselves.

Those thinking this way live under the illusion that the status quo is acceptable, if not preferable, even though we all know that the present system is failing many children and families throughout the Commonwealth.

The recent ruling by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the state’s current school funding formula unconstitutional, has provided the General Assembly and the public with an amazing opportunity to re-imagine education.

Some believe that the only remedy needed is an astronomical infusion of tax dollars, but I reject that thinking. Pennsylvania currently ranks 8th in the nation in per-pupil spending – yet even with this amount of investment, many students and families are not afforded access to adequate, let alone high-quality, education.

Now is not the time to pour more money into a broken system. Now is the time for transformational ideas that re-imagine education and guarantee every child an opportunity to succeed.    

Re-imagining education means giving teachers and administrators more flexibility in turning classrooms and facilities into environments that excite students and encourage educational growth. Re-imagining education requires that we examine our current testing models and consider how much we should rely on them to determine student success. Re-imagining education requires us to provide options for families who desire choice in where to send their children to best serve their educational needs.

Finally, re-imagining education requires that we put every idea on the table: the potential integration of school districts, year-round schooling, the elimination of some certification requirements for teachers so that we can expand the teaching pool, merit pay for teachers, massive expansion of career and technology opportunities, and providing academic courses across district lines through cyber programs.

These are just a few of the ideas that should be considered as we strive to transform Pennsylvania’s system of education into the best in the nation.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has a rare opportunity here. Regardless of party affiliation, we need an education policy discussion focused on innovation, transformational change, and putting the interests of children and families first. We won’t find valuable solutions as long as traditional partisan barriers block such discussions.

We need to put partisanship aside, check our egos and agendas at the door, and take tangible steps to bring change to our system. If we continue doing things in the same way, we will see more and more children left behind.

It will take all of us, working together, to build a new model that centers around the number one priority in education: our kids.

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