Courageous leaders are stressing the need for schools and education policies to “put children first.”

This week’s Time magazine cover story documents the battle between Michelle Rhee, head of the Washington D.C. public school system, and the local teachers’ union over reforms to improve the nation’s worst public schools. Ms. Rhee is proposing salaries of $130,000 for teachers who surrender their tenure; the union did not even allow its members to vote on her proposal. Sadly, many of our public schools are becoming a jobs program for adults and are not focused on putting students’ needs first.

On Tuesday, Ross Perot told Texas politicians and superintendents at an education conference that America needs to “wake up and push special interests over the cliff.” This is a man who has been involved in education reforms for decades and he is fed up. Mr. Perot discussed the declining quality of teachers in our public schools and praised Teach For America for bringing bright and motivated teachers into our nation’s poorest schools. He then went on to lecture public schools for refusing to change and for ignoring creative ideas to improve education. Mr. Perot wants our education policies to put children first.

While the public school system still holds a firm grip over education in America, its monopoly may be diminishing. Public charter schools and homeschooling have both seen explosive growth over the last decade as students and parents become more dissatisfied with their neighborhood public school. In fact, more than 9.3 million students, roughly 16% of all K-12 students, are choosing not to be educated in a traditional public school.

I hope public schools will listen to these pleas for change and respond to decreasing enrollment by competing for students and making every effort to put children first.

– Brooke Terry