Text of the moment- for education reformers

Joel Kleins article on education Reform has caught the eye of reformers this side of the Pond

Accountability, good teachers and good use of technology key to progress


Joel Klein was one of this weekends star performers at the Sunday Times/ Wellington Education Festival .An article in June’s issue of The Atlantic by Klein, who used to head  New York City‘s school system (the largest in the States)  for eight years probably best sums up Kleins approach to systemic education reform.  Klein  sought to reform New Yorks schools and target poor teachers and poor teaching and to measure performance  He was  quoted in Goves Policy Exchange Speech and  resonates among school reformers here. Kleins experience – of vested interests, resistance to change, the power of the teacher unions and the absurd inflexibility of the education establishment – has left him frustrated and worried about the future .Klein says that while America’s students are stuck in a ditch, the rest of the world is moving ahead. The World Economic Forum ranks the US 48th in maths and science education. He claims that “We’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.”  Klein calls for a major realignment of politics, as those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed, and reformers less so. The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.  He recounts  his trials and tribulations in seeking to evaluate Teachers performance and the  determined resistance producer interests in the form   of powerful wealthy unions. . The two national unions—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—together have some 4.7 million members. They pay hundreds of millions of dollars in national, state, and local dues, much of which is funnelled to political causes. Teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics, he says. Politicians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. And the unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is. They want, first, happy members, so that those who run the unions get re-elected; and, second, more members, so their power, money, and influence grow. As Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the American Federation of Teachers once pointedly put it, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”   Klein wanted Value-added measurement of performance which though not a perfect metric, is surely worth considering as part of an overall teacher evaluation.  President Obama in 2008 said: “The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of [students’] skin or where they come from. It’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.”  Klein agrees but adds ‘Yet, rather than create a system that attracts and rewards excellent teachers—and that imposes consequences for ineffective or lazy ones—we treat all teachers as if they were identical widgets and their performance didn’t matter. firing a public-school teacher for non-performance is virtually impossible. In New York City, which has some 55,000 tenured teachers, we were able to fire only half a dozen or so for incompetence in a given year, even though we devoted significant resources to this effort.’  Klein doesn’t buy the notion that poverty equals underperformance at school. He cites  the Harlem ‘Success’ Academy as a school that disproves this mantra. ‘ Indeed School level differences ultimately reflect the effectiveness of a child’s particular teachers. Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, 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. Imagine the cumulative impact of the best teachers over 13 years of elementary and secondary education. Indeed, even if California raised its performance to Texas’s level, Detroit to Boston’s, the neighborhood schools in Harlem to Harlem Success’s—that is to say, if our least effective teachers performed at the level of our most effective—the impact would be seismic.’

Klein says change can only come if policymakers are prepared to do three difficult, but essential, things: rebuild our entire K–12 system on a platform of accountability; attract more top-flight recruits into teaching; and use technology very differently to improve instruction.’

He says ‘First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands. Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field. Albert Shanker, the Union Leader who in his lifetime was so linked to ‘producer interests’ said “The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power.”  Klein agrees and, in conclusion, says ‘School districts need a system to fairly evaluate the effect of schools and teachers on kids, which is the best proxy we have for assessing “consumer preference” in a largely monopolistic system. ‘… ‘Time is running out. Without political leadership willing to take risks and build support for “radical reform,” and without a citizenry willing to insist on those reforms, our schools will continue to decline. ‘


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