Now, there’s a second problem, though, and it’s one that money alone cannot solve, and that is that we have a school system that was designed for the agricultural era — there’s a reason why we’ve got three months off during the summer. That’s supposed to be when everybody is working on — out on the farm and bringing in harvest. And it’s not just the amount of time our kids are spending, it’s how our classrooms are designed, how curriculums are structured, how things like teacher promotion and training happen.
So a lot of times in Washington we get an argument about money versus reform. And the key thing to understand about our education system is we need more resources and we need reform. If we just put more money into a system that’s designed for the 19th century and we’re in the 21st, we’re not going to get the educational outcomes we need. On the other hand, if we talk a lot about reform but we’re not willing to put more resources in, that’s not going to work.
So let me give you just a couple examples of what we need to do. Early childhood education we know works. Let’s invest in that. That’s what my budget calls for — substantial investment; every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we get potentially $10 back in improved reading scores, reduced dropout rates, reduced delinquency rates and so forth.
Number two, let’s focus on the most important ingredient in the school, and that’s the teacher. Let’s pay our teachers more money. Let’s give them more support. Let’s give them more training. Let’s make sure that schools of education that are training our teachers are up to date with the best methods to teach our kids. And let’s work with teachers so that we are providing them measures of whether they’re effective or not, and let’s hold them accountable for being effective.
Now that doesn’t mean just a single high-stakes standardized test. It also means that we’re working with teachers to determine, what’s the best way to discipline — maintain discipline in a classroom? What’s the best way to get kids excited about science? Giving them the time and the resources to improve, but also having high standards of expectation in terms of their performance.
If we do early childhood education, if we focus on teacher training, if we invest in math and science education, which is vital — and we’re falling behind other countries on that front — then I actually feel pretty confident that we can out-compete any country in the world. But it’s going to take more money and it’s going to take more reform and it’s going to take, by the way, openness to innovation on things like charter schools or performance pay. There are a whole range of things that may work, in some cases may not work, but we’ve got to try some new things because right now too many of our kids are stuck, and we can’t afford to lose them.