On Point in Education: Incentivizing our education system

The House Education bill, H.361, is out. This rangy bill covers a considerable number of educational issues, and carries with it many of the ideas that had been raised through House Speaker Shap Smith’s education workgroup. Specifically, it bears down on both education spending and governance, proposing a spending cap and an incentive/disincentive approach that aims to move us forward collectively and strike a balance between mandate and self-selection.
This approach to incentivizing change is not new. We have seen it in both federal and state legislation to promote new thinking. It can be an effective approach, as it allows for local communities to craft their own unique response to the vision of the state. The incentive approach is not new in Vermont, and was used to put forward a process of governance changes through the RED (Regional Education District) studies that have occurred in many of our towns. At times, an incentive can be a veiled directive, and at others it can be a means to move the work forward when it has stalled in the emotions of change.
The governance question is a tough one for Vermont, and a new incentive approach could well prove to be a good fit as supervisory unions look both within and outside their boundaries to consider structures that would enable us to build stronger educational systems that leverage our considerable community resources. With the incentive approach, we would engage in conversations about what makes sense for our communities. This process would include looking at ways that we can partner and connect with others to develop greater efficiencies and improve student outcomes.
Our strength lies in our engagement in education, and we must find ways to both address the challenges of our governance reality while maintaining the deep, community involvement in our schools. We want our schools to be many things: affordable, rigorous, supportive, community-based, inclusive and equitable. To continue to move at the front of the education ideal in the country, we must remain open-minded to new thinking in order to weave these beliefs about our public schools into a sustainable and progressive vision for the future.
Finally, we need to remember our mission. It has been unsettling at times to be a part of so many conversations on educational change in Vermont that don’t involve a direct focus on the effect of our decision making on students. We can’t move forward without changing the frame of our discourse and bringing students to the front of our conversations about what’s best for them. As we move through the machinations of change and debate the merits of H.361 or other legislation, we need to put aside our political and social bents to work together to provide the best for our students.
Peter Burrows, D.Ed., is superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union and has more than two decades of experience in education.

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