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Ex-Education Secretary William Bennett Visits Dougco, “Very Impressed”

Colorado’s non-union teacher group PACE today posted some more of the results from their recent member survey. Roughly 3 out of every 4 expressed support for “a pathway for career advancement outside of the traditional, seniority-based salary schedule,” often known as a career ladder. One of their members hit the nail on the head:

A high school math teacher in Harrison School District commented, “I think a seniority-based salary schedule is a horrible way to pay teachers and should be eliminated, not tweaked.

A very interesting (and not terribly surprising) observation coming from a school district that has pioneered true pay-for-performance and as of a year ago showed tremendous signs of front-line support.

But even more noteworthy, there is a Colorado district that is pushing change even further. Interestingly, given yesterday’s topic here, it came from the lips of former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. William J. Bennett, who spoke Friday at a Fordham Institute event on “A Nation at Risk: 30 Years Later”:

Here’s a transcript of Bennett’s remarks, in case you need to see the words in genuine pixels:

…I have to say because I was just there a week ago – Somebody is trying to do all of the good reforms at once out in Douglas County, Colorado. We shall see. This will be challenged, but it is a remarkable group of people who are trying to do choice, accountability, high standards, and they are doing remarkable work. These kinds of things are happening, have happened in the last 30 years, and they’re encouraging. Nothing quite like Douglas County, I don’t think, and that bears watching and a lot of attention. I’m very impressed with what they are doing.

From someone who has been leading in, studying, and writing about the world of education for a long time, those words carry a lot of weight. As for choice, my Education Policy Center friends have you covered on the groundbreaking Choice Scholarship Program, not to mention the rest of the Blueprint for Choice (which often gets overlooked).

But there’s certainly more on the accountability and high standards front. While the Douglas County school board has exercised great vision and demonstrated fiscally responsible leadership, teachers and administrators are working together to craft a performance-based system that surpasses anything I’ve seen in American K-12 education.

And apparently Dr. Bennett, too. Dougco is putting together a cohesive transformation in a whole host of areas that focuses on deeper student learning, as well as empowering and rewarding instructional excellence. Components include:

  • Guaranteed and viable curriculum
  • Balanced assessment system
  • Comprehensive evaluation system
  • Market-based pay
  • Pay for performance
  • Professional pathways
  • A new professional development system
  • World-class education targets

The new system is set to be up and running for the 2013-14 school year. While there naturally will remain room for improvement and upgrades, what’s taking shape this year in Douglas County may end up being nothing short of revolutionary in K-12 education. A relatively high-performing school district is seeking to raise the bar and chart a course for others to follow.

Now is the time to stand up, take notice, and wish them well in this important endeavor.