Sunday, June 12, 2011

Klein on Education

I recognize that this might be throwing some gasoline on the smoldering Waiting for Superman debate, but I invite you to read "The Failure of American Schools" from the June Atlantic Magazine. It's written by Joel Klein, who stepped down last year as chancellor of the New York City School District after an eight year tenure. He's also the lawyer who took on Microsoft.

I still haven't seen Waiting for Superman but I suspect that Klein and the people behind the documentary would agree on a lot. For one, Klein believes that quality of teaching makes a huge difference. He points out how states and cities with essentially the same demographics have strikingly different outcomes. He says the same is true of schools who draw kids from the same neighborhood. He also cites the studies of Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who has shown that, while some teachers get a year and a half’s worth of learning into a year, others get in only half a year’s worth of learning with essentially the same students. And so, Klein unequivocally rejects the old canard: “We’ll never fix education until we fix poverty.”

He spreads the blame around somewhat. He doesn't just blame unions; he also blames politicians, who see school districts too often as a place to fulfill their patronage obligations. Of course, this doesn't stop him from quoting Albert Shanker, the late, legendary head of the United Federation of Teachers: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” Mostly, he finds that union contracts put administrators in too much of a straightjacket. Klein would like to pay math teachers more than phys ed teachers because he knows that math whizzes have more job opportunities. He'd like to take seniority pay increases from teachers who are just putting in time until their retirement and use it to attract new good teachers. He'd like to clean out the dead wood and hire better teachers. According to the article, Klein couldn't even even fire a teacher who was a convicted sex offender.

Anyway, these are just some of the highlights.

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