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Roy Romer's 12-Step Program to True Reform.

Our economic growth depends upon skills, knowledge, and new ideas, and education is the critical element that will make that growth possible. Therefore, improving the quality of education is the most important public policy challenge we face as a nation. Business must be actively involved; you and your company have opportunities to make a difference in local communities, individual schools, and state and national policy.

If you were to sit down with 10 other CEOs and 10 educators in your area, all of whom have a common commitment to improve education, where would you start? What are the leverage points to change? I suggest 12 points of leverage.

1 Education Content Standards

If you can't specify your goal, you can't achieve it, so defining standards of what a person needs to know and be able to do, subject by subject and grade by grade is an essential first step. To be effective, standards must be high quality, written clearly, and benchmarked to other states and other nations.

2 Rigorous Assessments

We need tests that accurately measure the skills and knowledge we seek - the skills and knowledge outlined in the standards. These tests must also measure thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to communicate. They should be performance tests, not multiple choice. Tests should have consequences and reflect the goals of the curriculum. Tests should be benchmarked across states and with those of other nations to be sure that we are competitive.

3 Accountability

There must be rewards for good performance and consequences for bad performance. While there must be accountability for the student, the teacher, the school, and the system, this must be done carefully and wisely. It is not fair to hold a student accountable unless he or she has had a real opportunity - and time - to learn. It must be done, however, and social promotion must end.

4 Curriculum

The curriculum must be aligned to the standards and must enable - and expect - the student to handle rigorous subject matter. Textbooks need to cover less breadth and more depth; we need more quality, not quantity. Often textbooks are geared to the lowest common denominator and try to include far too much material when it would be better to concentrate on fewer essential subjects with greater depth.

5 Teacher Preparation and Continuing Professional Development

We need to radically improve our teacher training institutions, as well as expand on-the-job training for teachers. Just as other professions mandate continuing education, we should demand the same of our nation's teaching profession. There are success stories out there, and we need to capitalize on the schools that are doing the job well by investing in and spreading those practices.

6 Adequate Time to Learn

The school day and the school year must be organized so that each student has adequate time to learn. All students can learn, but they learn at different rates. Some will need additional time in the afternoon after school; some will need additional time in summer school; and some will need tutoring. The school day and the school year should be organized to maximize the learning opportunity of each child. Again, learning fewer subjects in greater depth is preferable to gaining a cursory knowledge of many subjects.

7 Parental Involvement

Most everyone can agree that schools can't do everything. Parents must actively participate in the education of their children from the first year of life through kindergarten to high-school graduation. Parents need to go beyond regular conferences with classroom teachers. A contract between the parents and a school that spells out the supportive role parents can play in the education of the child would help.

8 Choice by Parents

Parents should not be forced into keeping their children in inadequate schools. There should be choice within the public school system. This should include access to charter schools or to other public schools that work. When public funds are used, however, I believe choice should be limited to the public school system, because vouchers for private schools will eventually erode community support for public education.

9 Reasonable Class Size

It is important that class sizes be reduced where necessary, particularly in the primary grades. In many classes, teachers are overwhelmed by attending to too many students. A child needs personal attention and the personal engagement of a teacher. Too many students in a classroom detract from the overall learning experience.

10 Adequate Classrooms

It's obvious that if children are to learn, they must have space in which to do so. Reduction of class size necessarily leads to the need for more space. Also, throughout America many school structures have simply worn out and need to be replaced or renovated. Safe, adequate space is a prerequisite for learning.

11 Technology

Computers that were once relegated to a distant room for an occasional class have become part of the daily routine. Technology will continue to have a huge impact on the future of education. The challenge is to have teachers adequately trained to use it creatively. Also, we must bear in mind that while it will add a new tool for teachers to use in America's classrooms, technology cannot replace personal interaction with a teacher.

12 Adequate Budget

A quality educational experience clearly requires an adequate budget, particularly in order to attract quality teachers. Schools can't hire talented teachers if they are unable to pay them what those teachers could otherwise earn with their skills in other occupations. We need to reexamine the tax base that we're devoting to public education. It has traditionally been real property tax, sales tax, and income tax. With changes in commerce, such as sales over the Internet, our tax base for education may need substantial change. Whatever the answer, it needs to be broad-based, fair, and adequate.


As we look at these leverage points of change, we need to continually ask three questions:

* What is working?

* How can a successful practice be spread to other jurisdictions?

* Who is responsible for getting it done?

In America, our culture demands that educational decisions be made primarily from the bottom up, and not from the top down. This in turn, demands that we work collaboratively at the local and state level so we may take advantage of each other's experiences and arrive at some common strategies. A first step is to benchmark standards and tests from school district to school district and state to state. This is the best way to avoid simply being "above average."

To end where I started, there is no issue that is as important to this nation's future as that of improving the quality of education. The American business community can be the single greatest agent for educational reform. They are on the cutting edge of changes in the workplace that dictate the levels of skills. Also, they are involved in every community in America that is dependent upon an increasingly educated citizenry for its quality of life. And the business community is less risk-averse than educational institutions. Therefore, I expect the business community to take an increasingly strong leadership role in education reform.

Roy Romer, governor of Colorado from 1986 to 1998, is chairman of the Democratic National Committee
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Author:Romer, Roy R.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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