-Merit pay for teachers. If Duncan needs motivation on this issue, he needs to look no farther than D.C.’s own Michelle Rhee. Rhee has been busy at work restructuring the District’s pay scales so that good teachers are rewarded and bad teachers get the boot. A shockingly high percentage of teachers tell surveyors that “trying their best at work doesn’t matter.” With the current pay scales in most school districts, it’s hard to blame them. Unlike any other profession, performance plays practically no part in salary decisions. Simple reforms in pay structures for teachers to provide an incentive for excellence would have a tremendously positive impact in the classroom.
-Resist the urge to “Title IX” the sciences. The 2008 election featured many calls for increased Title IX enforcement to stomp out discrimination in the academic sciences. Unfortunately, the data show that discrimination doesn’t explain the death of women in science programs and, even if discrimination did play a role, Title IX would not fix the problem. Duncan would be well suited to resist the call for more government intervention in the classroom and instead support the many private programs that encourage more women to consider science classes and professions.
-Consider student interest in Title IX enforcement. Since 1979, Title IX has operated under the one-size-fits all measure of proportionality: the gender breakdown of student athletes must mirror the gender breakdown of the overall student body in order for a school to be in compliance with the law. While other enforcement mechanisms theoretically exist, only proportionality provides clear cut evidence of compliance, and thus it is overwhelmingly the measure of choice on campus. The Bush administration tried to provide an alternative by creating guidelines for a comprehensive student interest survey: if the survey shows that a school is meeting the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (aka women), then a school could prove compliance. The surveys rest on the commonsense idea that student interest and local preferences should be paramount, not a slavish commitment to “gender proportionality” for its own sake. Many in the Obama administration no doubt want to roll back Bush’s interest survey. But if Duncan is interested in real reform, then he should make efforts to expand, rather than retract, flexibility in Title IX enforcement.
Of course, those reform ideas are just the beginning of the change that’s need to meaningfully improve American education. Here’s hoping that Duncan is one Obama Administration official who is truly committed to change.