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OBITUARIES | Lewis C. Solmon, 1942 - 2007

President of Milken educational institute

December 20, 2007|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Lewis C. Solmon, an economist and former dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies who was a national voice for teaching reform, died Monday at his Westwood home following a stroke, according to Tamara Schiff of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, of which Solmon was president. He was 65.

Solmon served as dean of UCLA's education school from 1985 to 1991, when he became founding president of the Milken Institute, an economic think tank based in Santa Monica.

In 1997 he joined the Milken Family Foundation to oversee efforts to improve teacher quality. The foundation is best known for its annual Milken Educator Awards, which recognize outstanding teachers with $25,000 checks.

Solmon had been president of the Milken foundation's National Institute for Excellence in Teaching since 2005. The institute is a nonprofit organization devoted to revitalizing the teaching profession and raising student achievement through a four-pronged approach that includes performance pay for K-12 teachers.

Solmon helped to develop a program now in 180 schools across the country that enables teachers to advance professionally and enhance their salaries if they improve their teaching skills, accept greater job responsibilities and demonstrate their effectiveness through growth in their students' learning.

The Milken program, which was created by foundation Chairman Lowell Milken, is one of several dozen around the country that are attempting to use performance pay to help drive improvements in education quality.

Teacher unions have opposed efforts to link teacher quality and student progress and have fought performance pay systems in particular, partly because they believe all teachers are underpaid and deserve more money.

Solmon, a University of Chicago-trained economist, was a forceful proponent of performance pay.

Addressing its critics in a recent opinion piece published in the New York Daily News, he wrote: "We have to ask these naysayers this question: if adults (teachers) should never be affected by how well children (students) do in school, does that mean that teachers are not responsible for student learning?"

Evaluations of the Milken project, called the Teacher Advancement Program, have found that it has helped students achieve at higher levels.

Under Solmon's leadership, the program was adopted by schools in major urban centers, including Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Chicago, and has grown to involve 5,000 teachers and 60,000 students.

Before he began to focus on K-12 learning, Solmon was an expert on higher education. He wrote numerous papers on issues such as the effect of foreign students on American colleges and universities and the link between education and job success.

He also helped edit the Economics of Education Review and advised Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on education matters.

Born in Toronto in 1942, Solmon earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto in 1964 before entering the University of Chicago, where he earned a master's in 1967 and a doctorate in 1968.

He taught economics at Purdue University and the City University of New York before moving west in 1974 to join UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute as executive officer.

Solmon is survived by his wife of 42 years, Vicki; and his mother, brother, two children and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held today at noon at the Milken Family Foundation, 1250 4th St., Santa Monica 90401.

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