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Education Reformer Star of the Week: Representative Ryan Aument

• Adam Peshek

rocky“Reform fatigue” has become a familiar term in the education reform world. Its onset, we are told, comes from the tireless effort to improve education. Washington’s wisest education experts tell us the reform movement is suffering from a chronic case of fatigue. In their expert opinion, they suggest reformers get plenty of bed rest and stop overexerting themselves as they try to create a student-centered education system.

Pennsylvania Representative Ryan Aument sees things differently – for him, time is of the essence. “I believe the lack of social and economic mobility in our country is the central issue of our time,” he says. “Building an education system that provides each child with the keys to upward mobility is necessary if we are to preserve the American Dream.”

Currently serving his third year in office, the representative from Lancaster, Pa. has set his sights on a number of important, student-centered reform initiatives: improving teacher evaluations, raising standards, providing students with more choices, expanding course offerings and creating accountability through transparency.

In his first year in office, Aument sponsored legislation to improve Pennsylvania’s teacher evaluation system, which regularly identified more than 99 percent of all educators in the state as “satisfactory.” He spent months working with teachers, administrators and state officials to create an evaluation system designed to give educators accurate and constructive feedback on their performance to ensure they could continue to grow as educators. The bill was enacted less than a year later and expanding the number of possible teacher ratings from two to four, included student performance data as half of the evaluation, and provided that educators earning low rating would receive the personal feedback and direction needed to improve. His efforts led to near-unanimous consensus around the bill, which is a rare occurrence in the education reform world.

Recently, he heard from a teacher who was initially very critical of his proposal:

“I first want to say that I think the new teacher evaluation design is proving to be very beneficial over the older system.  Gives guided feedback and is more thorough of an evaluation.”

Emails like that will certainly make you hop out of bed in the morning ready to keep reforming.

In addition to his leading role in improving teacher evaluations in the state, Aument has been an outspoken champion for education reform writ large.

He has been a tireless advocate for the PA Core Academic Standards – a three-year effort to raise expectations for students in the Keystone State by reviewing, revising and defining the essential concepts that students are expected to learn from year to year.

He has also been an outspoken supporter of school choice, noting that “Pennsylvania is home to a diverse student population and a one-size-fits-all approach to basic education does not meet the needs of every student.” He supports the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, strong charter schools and more online options for students.

Aument’s latest attention has turned to digital learning – sponsoring legislation that would expand course choice and foster customized learning in the Commonwealth. His bill would task the Pennsylvania Department of Education with creating a database of individual online courses, which would be available to middle- and high-school students. This next generation of digital learning moves beyond merely enrolling at an online school and allows students to create a customized “playlist” of courses that meets their needs and interests.

While his digital learning proposal is still very much in the middle of the legislative process, Aument says he hopes to sponsor legislation in the future that would create more transparency for parents – financially and academically – to ensure they have the information they need to hold schools accountable.

It doesn’t look like Representative Aument plans to take a break from education reform anytime soon – which is very good news for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

About the author

Adam Peshek @AdamPeshek

Adam Peshek is Managing Director of Opportunity Policy at ExcelinEd, where he provides strategic support to state leaders interested in developing, adopting, and implementing policies that increase educational options for children. He has provided expert testimony in more than a dozen state legislatures and is a frequent commentator on ESAs, school choice, and education policy across the country. He is also the is the co-editor of the first published volume on ESAs, Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice. Adam currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and is a Senior Fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.