HED:Danny McKenzie: Bradley’s education proposals sound good, e

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MCKENZ

HED:Danny McKenzie: Bradley’s education proposals sound good, except for one

As someone opposed to public school choice, it was with a bit of disappointment that I read the text of Bill Bradley’s speech containing his proposal for public education.

In his speech given this most recent Wednesday, Bradley, the Democratic presidential candidate, states very clearly his goals for public schools and lists the ways in which he sees government helping achieve those goals.

Among Bradley’s ideas for improving the quality of public education in America is giving parents the options of transferring their children from a public school district performing poorly to a higher-achieving public school district.

Since I’ve been a Bradley supporter for more years than I care to think about, I was a bit down in the mouth after reading this section of his speech. But I swallowed my pride and delved into the rest of Bradley’s speech.

Which was a good thing. The remaining parts of his proposals helped the issue of public school choice go down a bit easier.

It was interesting to note that many of Bradley’s ideas for public schools are ideas currently being discussed in the Mississippi Legislature proposals such as: early childhood education, public-private partnerships on both the state and district levels, closing the achievement gap between minorities and non-minorities, teacher scholarships and teacher training, after-school learning, investments in community colleges, school accountability and many others.

In his speech, delivered at University City, Mo., not too far from his hometown of Crystal City, Mo., Bradley recalled that his teachers prepared him “for a lifetime of learning.”

“That is what schools today must do for all our children,” he said, “because in this new age, it is not so much knowledge but knowing how to learn that is important.”

Bradley spoke of the “warm body” issue that of too many children having uncertified and unqualified teachers in their classrooms, and he noted that while the Dow Jones had soared to record heights during the Clinton administration, “our children’s test scores in reading, writing, math and science have stayed essentially flat.”

His proposal requires that schools receiving federal funds must ensure that their teachers are fully qualified, and he has taken the next step by proposing a plan “that will put 600,000 new teachers in high-need classrooms over the next decade by offering scholarships and loan forgiveness to those who wish to take up this noblest of professions.” Bradley also said he will set aside money for schools to give teachers signing bonuses and merit bonuses for outstanding performance.

Sound familiar? It should. Our state Department of Education has proposed similar programs and our state Legislature is giving it serious consideration.

As for the public school choice issue, Bradley says “children who attend failing schools must not be trapped there.” Indeed. That’s something we can all agree on.

The next question, though, has always been: “What happens to the school districts when students leave?”

Bradley answers by proposing to double the government’s investment (to $16 billion) in Title I, programs which help educate the poorest of children. He also proposes to invest $1 billion a year in communities for early education and to increase Head Start by 400,000 children over the next four years.

Investing in “failing school districts” to bring them up to performance levels is certainly preferable to total abandonment, which is what many previous public school choice proposals have done.

Though I’m still not totally sold on the idea, Bradley’s options are at least palatable. Besides, there’s nothing worse than a single-issue voter.

Danny McKenzie is associate editor of the Daily Journal.