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'Waiting for Superman' to reform education? He's already here.

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The film suggests that only a “superman” can bring about public-school change. Well, that superman has already arrived – not as a red-caped superhero, but as a set of irresistible forces that is driving education reform as never before: 1) a growing understanding of what works, 2) increasing public pressure, and 3), the necessity for making hard choices in the face of fiscal crisis.

A growing understanding of what works

We now have really good, time-tested knowledge of what works in education. We know that good teachers accelerate student learning and poor ones significantly impede it. Parent engagement makes an enormous difference. And with every step down the economic scale, good teachers and parent engagement matters more.

We’ve also learned that this knowledge has seldom affected the assignment of teachers, whose own preferences and protective work rules lead them to the schools whose students need them least – but whose political clout is greatest. Failing schools don’t usually attract the best teachers. And the system doesn’t place them there.

We’ve learned that, for teachers, greater experience and more college credits are a weak indicator of teacher quality measured by the all-important question of a teacher’s consistent ability in improving her student’s learning.

For school leaders – principals and superintendents – experience does matter. More experienced leaders tend to be better at their jobs. Most important, we have learned – and are still learning – just how important leadership is to the whole reform effort.

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