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Policymakers are the first to point out the gross deficiencies in education. Certainly, standards have been mediocre, classes have been grossly overcrowded, test scores have been dismal, and accountability has been absent in the most critical areas of the educational process. Contrary to what bureaucrats might insist, a simple tweaking of education policy will not suffice. The system of old will not produce any lasting achievements if it assumes that a quick solution is imminent, nor if it underestimates the groundwork that must be laid.

Money, alone, is not the answer. We have poured billions of dollars into a system that seeks unlimited funding, but undefined goals. Little consideration has been given to achieving tangible results. If government subsidies neglect targeted objectives, then we must have the courage to reallocate that money to more effective initiatives. Innovative ideas are not being implemented, but they should be. Our schools certainly require increased levels of funding, but we can equally consider how to more responsibly and effectively allocate existing levels of funding.

Sweeping education reform must be obtained. Our communities require a new direction in order to energize the educational process. And it starts with an underlying pledge - Putting Kids First.

We need to develop our future leaders of the free world. How can we do so with overcrowded classrooms that neglect the importance of individual attention?

We need to motivate our youth to explore their creative thinking skills. How can we do so without having a motivated teacher in every classroom?

We need to ensure that our children receive ample resources. How can we do so with dysfunctional school districts and grossly mismanaged budgets?

We need to cultivate a learning process that recognizes progress among our kids. How can we do so with a teacher compensation program that ignores classroom success rates?

The time has come for bureaucrats to step aside from the centralized chaos that they created. Leadership in education must now include a collective voice from our communities. Accountability has become a popular buzzword. But rhetoric is not enough. In order to demonstrate more accountability, we must create a stronger sense of educational ownership. Administrators, teachers, parents and students need to feel that the decisions of today lie in their hands.

We can empower our local communities by creating smaller neighborhood school districts. When important budgetary decisions are addressed by more efficient school districts, then our individual schools can receive the financial attention that they so richly deserve. It is unreasonable to presume that schools from Santa Monica to Oxnard confront the same daily challenges, nor is it sensible to allocate one bloated budget for 20 individual schools just because they happen to be contiguous to one another. The greatest service government can bestow in education is to allow local school districts to determine the needs of their students and how to best satisfy those needs.

Decentralizing the educational system is only part of the equation. We must create an educational environment that rewards quality teachers and provides economic incentives for talented prospects to join this profession. We have some brilliant educators in the Golden State, and they must be praised and rewarded accordingly. We can perpetuate the positive attributes of these teachers by placing greater economic priority on future educators as well. Our University of California and California State University systems require more ways to entice college students to pursue careers in education. Just as business majors have surged with financial benefits, so too can we build a more welcoming vocation in education.

Teachers are the backbone of our system's future. Let us always be willing to invest in their growth, just as they are willing to invest in the growth of our children.

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You can reach Michael Wissot by contacting SymAction Communications