Klein’s Lessons

*** Joel Klein tells us in the pages of the WSJ what he learned as Chancellor of NYC schools.  Here’s a highlight:

First, it is wrong to assert that students’ poverty and family circumstances severely limit their educational potential. It’s now proven that a child who does poorly with one teacher could have done very well with another. Take Harlem Success Academy, a charter school with all minority, mostly high-poverty students admitted by lottery. It performs as well as our gifted and talented schools that admit kids based solely on demanding tests. We also have many new small high schools that replaced large failing ones, and are now getting outsized results for poor children.

Second, traditional proposals for improving education—more money, better curriculum, smaller classes, etc.—aren’t going to get the job done. Public education is a service-delivery challenge, and it must be operated as such.

Klein raises an excellent point.  Diane Ravitch, Sol Stern, and others who claim that they have grown frustrated with choice and other incentive-based reforms because they haven’t yet produced the miracles they expected ought to be 1,000 times more frustrated with the failure of more money, higher teacher certification requirements, curricular and pedagogical reform, etc…  We’ve tried those kinds of reforms more than 1,000 times more on a much grander scale and yet we still wait for the miracles.

To judge the effectiveness of reform strategies we can’t use miraculous improvement as the standard.  And we certainly need more fine-grained analyses than looking at whether cities or states that have tried something have improved.  And finally, we can work on various types of reforms simultaneously, so pitting incentives versus instruction is a false conflict that serves only to inflate the ego-starved reformer rather than the cause of reform.

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