Report Card 2007: Conclusion
Any effort to grade states on school reform and performance quickly confronts the challenge that even today—after a massive amount of attention to educational information and research in recent years—the state of education data remains abysmal. No business could be run with such inadequate information. Can we imagine Southwest Airlines reshaping the airline industry without precise metrics on cost per passenger mile? Could General Electric have employed its highly productive defect-reduction approach so efficiently without rigorous employee evaluations and detailed data on error rates?
Yet such data continue to elude educational leaders. Not a single state can provide systematic data on how many teachers are being rewarded for essential skills or the quality of their work, how cost effective a remedial program in one district is compared with a similar program in another district, or how many teachers were terminated last year for poor performance. Education policymakers have invested great energy in gathering student achievement data, while paying inadequate attention to developing the kind of data essential to driving organizational improvement. The U.S. Department of Education and the states must do much more to collect and report crucial data on the performance of schools, educators, and students.
Obtaining better data is only a first step, of course. To boost student achievement and thus help individual Americans achieve economic success and mobility in the 21st century workforce, we need to fundamentally rethink how we provide education in this country.
That will require nothing less than restructuring the bureaucratic apparatus of American education. It will mean ensuring that states are honest about how well their students are performing and about the return that they are getting on their education expenditures. It will mean raising standards for all students and changing how teachers are hired and compensated. It will mean creating sensible incentives to reward principals for managing their schools effectively and then giving them the tools to do so. And it will mean creating opportunities for dynamic problem solving and the reinvention of outmoded routines, whether in the form of more flexible charter school laws, greater openness to online delivery of educational content, or other approaches that are still being developed.
Business leaders have too often been reluctant to wade into the substance of schooling. They have funded reform efforts, chaired commissions, and provided moral support, but they have been leery of seeming to promote "business" solutions for schooling. Nevertheless, much of what ails schooling today is a lack of management savvy, information, and organizational discipline. These are skills that business leaders practice every day. Business leaders can support educators' efforts to reform curricula, teaching practices, and more by providing leadership and know-how in refashioning schools into accountable, flexible, high-achieving organizations.
Such changes will happen neither quickly nor easily. Reform needs to be rigorous and well developed to best meet the needs of all students. Further, it will require a willingness to push both political and educational leaders to upend familiar arrangements and comfortable routines. State and local chambers are critical to the success of education reform efforts. We know that success is possible—we have seen glimmers of it here and there as we've looked across the nation—and we know that the opportunity for our children and our children's children to live the American dream will depend on whether, and how, we rise to the challenges ahead.