One of the legislature’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that our children receive an excellent education. I am convinced that the way children are taught in our nation needs serious reform.

One of the legislature’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that our children receive an excellent education. I am convinced that the way children are taught in our nation needs serious reform. Although the U.S. will spend about $550 billion on public elementary and secondary education for the 2009-10 school year, American students fall somewhere in the middle of the pack in education performance compared with students from other countries. The status quo must change, and I believe Missouri should be at the forefront of educational reform efforts.

To that end, I am proposing a three-pronged approach to improving Missouri’s public educational system. Specifically, Senate Bill 815 would promote:

n Merit-based teacher salaries. Current law gives teachers the option to receive performance-based salary stipends instead of tenure, but this incentive is only available to teachers in the St. Louis City School District. Under the bill, all public school teachers would be eligible and could choose to participate. It is silly to pay the hardest working teacher the same amount as the lowest performer.

n Year-round schedules. The current schedule is based on an outdated model from another era when students were needed to help with the harvest. Under SB 815, a school district would have the option to adopt a year-round educational approach. The district must meet for the minimum number of school days currently required but would be allowed to divide the traditional three-month summer break into a series of shorter breaks, none of which would last longer than four weeks. Such an approach would foster learning as students benefit from greater educational continuity and consistency.

n Multiple kindergarten start dates. Missouri’s current system allows a child starting kindergarten to be up to 20 percent younger than his or her classmates, determined solely by the child’s birth date (children are eligible to begin kindergarten if they reach age 5 before Aug. 1). This unfairly penalizes younger, less mature children who are grouped with those who are older. Under SB 815, a school district could choose to offer parents two start dates for their kindergartner – one in the fall and one in the winter. 

These solutions may be bold, but they just make sense. Financially rewarding our finest teachers will attract the best and brightest to the profession. Giving our school districts the flexibility to implement fresh approaches, such as year-round school and multiple kindergarten start dates, provides school districts and parents with options beyond the one-size-fits-all policy currently in place.