William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, spent an hour at the Statehouse Wednesday reinforcing Idaho’s school reform trajectory.
Schools need high standards, recognition for good teachers (that includes more money) and an even greater emphasis on reading and math, he told an audience of nearly 200 lawmakers, educators, state education officials and Gov. Butch Otter.
He was invited to speak by Idaho Business for Education.
“You have a lot to be proud of,” Bennett said. “You have done a ton right.”
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Some of Bennett’s priorities:
Read. Read. Read. “Reading is the most important skill. Not just learning what words mean. In-depth reading. Reading classics. Reading books you don’t understand. Increasing your vocabulary,” Bennett said.
In his State of the State, Otter reinforced a nearly 20-year-old goal established by the state to make certain students are skilled readers by the third grade.
Standards: The state is embarked on education reform that sets higher standards through Idaho Core Standards, based on Common Core State Standards in use in most of the states and which has drawn sharp criticism in Idaho.
But much of the criticism is based on faulty information and perceptions of Common Core, and public perceptions weren’t helped by the federal government’s embrace of the standards, Bennett said. “The idea of this common set of standards is still indispensable to knowing how we are doing as a nation, a state and a locale,” Bennett said.
Teachers and pay: “The effectiveness of teachers, outside of the parent, is the single most important thing in a child’s education,” Bennett said. “It’s a skill and it needs to be rewarded. “Good teachers need to be paid more. That’s a fight that’s been going on for a long time. The unions are wrong about this. I think they hurt the profession by not conceding that excellent teachers deserve more.”
Idaho is developing a plan that will reward teachers based on performance in a program that will enhance teacher licenses and paychecks for those teachers who show improvement.
How he was received: “These are things we have been talking about for years,” said Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chairman “We’ve been talking about making sure we have effective teachers in the classrooms.”
“He reinforced a lot of the ideas that I believe work in education and that we promote,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a retired educator. “One of them is that the parent is very important. I think an effective teacher is essential.”