We're continuing in our Facets of Gifted Education series with Kyle Hutzler, a 2008 Davidson Fellow. Hutzler, a junior at Huntingtown High School in Huntingtown, MD, won a $10,000 scholarship in the "outside-the-box" category for a paper on education reform, and what Americans expect of their schools. He joins us today.
GE: What were the big findings of your paper?
HUTZLER: My paper argued that choice, accountability, and school autonomy are complementary pillars of effective school reform. Using this as my guide, I wrote a comprehensive policy paper that proposed a national framework designed to unify our educational standards, afford successful schools more autonomy in defining their curriculum, focus, and operations, provide greater tools and mechanisms to improve our underperforming schools, and empower students and parents to choose the school that is best for them. Tuition would be paid for by the federal government based on metrics designed to encourage schools to teach beyond the test. In essence, my paper centers on redefining the definition of what "public" schools are, which should be, in my opinion, independent, non-profit, free, competitive, and accountable institutions.
GE: What would you advise President Obama to focus on from an education perspective?
HUTZLER: While my paper emphasizes a national, federal-led "grand bargain" for education reform, many of its proposals can implemented independently and concurrently by the federal and local governments. From a national perspective, we should continue to move towards coherent, unified standards that reflect a united democratic and economic interest in a quality education that transcends the haphazard standards of individual states.
GE: Locally, what's most important for governors and local school boards to focus on?
HUTZLER: State and local governments can work at the same time to enhance school autonomy and promote individual choice. The latter is important not only for its recognition of education as one of our most important rights, but also because it introduces market mechanisms that (if coordinated with the proper incentives) spur underperforming schools to improve. On a more individual level, I proposed in my paper that as part of the tuition and accountability structure, outstanding schools should be given strong incentives to recruit students from underperforming schools – an opportunity unavailable without some degree of choice and autonomy. Freeing up the labor market for teachers is just as important, allowing schools to price talent for what it is really worth and attract the diverse, qualified "new army" that President Obama seeks.
GE: What's the worst educational idea you've seen floating around?
HUTZLER: In my paper, I refer to the No Child Left Behind Act as the educational equivalent of the Articles of Confederation. There should be no mistake that NCLB is flawed, but a reversion to the aimless system that proceeded it, as some argue, would be far more dangerous. Moving beyond NCLB to achieve the duality of national standards and funding coupled with independent schools is the most natural, logical step if it is communicated clearly and effectively. What makes education reform unique compared to any of our other policy debates is that all of us, regardless of our political perspective, share the same ends: the opportunity of a world-class education for all.
GE: In your personal experience, what do schools do well and do poorly for gifted kids?
HUTZLER: The fundamental principles of individualized instruction, flexibility, rigor, and expanding opportunities and experiences are the same for all students, whether they are the most gifted or the most at-risk. Schools should welcome acceleration and encourage intensive research projects for the gifted. Our schools should be flexible enough to accommodate students who will finish high school in three years just as much as those who need five. The closer we move to a "grade-less" school, where students advance subject-by-subject, not year-by-year, the more effective our education system will become.