You aren’t going to do anything about poverty until you do something about education

July 30, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The above line (from then NYC Chancellor Joel Klein) in the headline came to mind when I saw these cool charts on the New Orleans Recovery School District from Neerav Kingsland. RSD turns 10 this year and the results thus far look very impressive.

So the percentage of kids eligible for a FRL not only went up, it is sky-high at 92%. Meanwhile test scores climbed. How in the world did New Orleans accomplish these goals without hiring armies of new unionized social workers, dentists and valets are various other things that could be neither afforded nor sustained? Oh that’s right they leveraged (then) empty buildings to attract teams of educators to run charter schools and gave parents a much wider array of choices regarding the sort of school their child would attend.

The Common Core Culture War Intensifies

May 14, 2013


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In today’s Journal, Sol Stern and Joel Klein attempt to sell conservatives on national standards by 1) misleading them about the federal government’s role, both in ramming the standards through and in continuing to shape them going forward, and 2) portraying the national standards as a patriotic way to patriotically patriotize our vulnerable young patriots, who are now at the mercy of the eeeeeeeeeeeevil progressives and their social justice agenda.

Now, what do you think the major Democratic party effort to support national standards thinks of that?

Paul the psychic octopus looks more right every month – national standards are built on an anti-school-choice, one-size-fits-all worldview and are therefore a one-way ticket to the worst kind of culture war.

Update: I wonder what Stern and Klein would say about Heather Mac Donald’s warning that the national “science” standards endorse an unscientific and anti-human environmental agenda?

Dumb Headline Conceals Smart Story

September 5, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A fascinating and revealing NYT story on the impact of charter schools in Harlem is well worth reading despite the utterly absurd headline: School Choice Is No Cure-All, Harlem Finds.

So apparently the straw-man argument generator in the headline writer’s head told him or her that a few charter schools would cure all of Harlem’s problems. I doubt that anyone else did.

Reading the actual story leads one to the conclusion that while there have been difficulties and growing pains, Harlem’s experience with charter schools has been quite positive. The most serious problem pointed to in the article, in fact, is the need for more charter schools.

The NYT story deals with perceived difficulties in school grading. So A-F school grades and parental choice: sounds familiar. How has this been working out for NYC’s low-income Black students? Some day reporters will learn to use the NAEP Data Explorer and use actual evidence to sort through contending clouds of anecdotal fog, but in the meantime I can help out:

Did the Klein reforms cure all of the education problems of Harlem? Certainly not. They strangely also failed to cure cancer, restore sight to the blind nor did they erase the painful memories of having shelled out money to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

They have however seen hard fought gains for disadvantaged students. Rather than wringing their hands, the New York Times should be calling for the logical next steps in reform.

Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools

August 20, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you missed Juan Williams’ news special Fixing Our Schools last night on Fox News (shame on you!) you can catch some of it on the web here. Great feature on Carpe Diem, School of One, digital learning and interviews with Jeb Bush and Joel Klein.

Questions for Jeb and Joel

June 28, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries my letter to the editor responding to last week’s op-ed by Jeb Bush and Joel Klein advocating national (“common”) education standards.

In my letter, I ask a few questions:

I greatly respect Jeb Bush and Joel Klein. But if Common Core is voluntary and state-driven, how do they explain the federal government repeatedly threatening states to join it or lose federal funds? Why are the testing consortia associated with this effort federally funded and controlled?

Confusingly, Messrs. Bush and Klein praise decentralization and local control for pedagogy while urging states to submit to a centralized command-and-control system for content standards. If nationalization is bad for pedagogy, why is it good for standards? Is it even possible to nationalize standards without nationalizing pedagogy?

Common Core’s standards are so mediocre that they set a “college readiness” level that is below what students need even to apply to most colleges. And they’ll get worse over time, since centralization facilitates teacher union control. What about the perpetual culture war national content standards would create? What is the upside?

Greg Forster

Foundation for Educational Choice

Confusion over National Standards

June 24, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I greatly admire both Jeb Bush and Joel Klein, so I have mixed feelings saying that I’m confused about their op-ed this morning.

The article is entitled “The Case for Common Educational Standards.” But the article does not contain any case for common educational standards.

Quite the contrary, the article emphasizes the case against common standards. As in:

And, while education is a national priority, the answer here does not appear to be a new federal program mandating national standards. States have historically had the primary responsibility for public education, and they should continue to take the lead.

So that would be an argument against common standards.

It is the states’ responsibility to foster an education system that leads to rising student achievement. State leaders, educators, teachers and parents are empowered to ensure every student has access to the best curriculum and learning environment. Governors and lawmakers across the country are acting to adopt bold education reform policies. This is the beauty of our federal system. It provides 50 testing sites for reform and innovation.

Again, a great argument against common standards.

Bush and Klein depict the Common Core standards and the two testing consortia as products of state, not federal, initiative. As regular readers of JPGB know, there’s another reality behind that superficial appearance. If Common Core and the testing consortia are really state-driven, why has the federal government spent more than a year pushing states into them, openly and explicitly threatening loss of Title I funds to states that fail to kowtow? Why are the consortia federally funded (and therefore federally controlled)? Is it even possible for these efforts to be genuinely state-driven when the federal behemoth is openly using its funding club to threaten everyone to get on board? Bush and Klein fail to mention these issues.

However, let’s leave all that to one side. Let’s pretend – even though we know it’s false – that these efforts are really state driven. Why is it valuable for states to do these things together in a single group? If states should lead the way, if what we want is a decentralized 50-state laboratory of democracy, why not actually do that instead of rounding up all the states to all do it one way?

Bush and Klein argue that standards are being set nationally (in “common”) but pedagogy isn’t. Once again, let’s leave aside the reality that you can’t have national (common) standards while preserving freedom and diversity of pedagogy. Let’s pretend you can set national standards and then let a thousand flowers bloom on pedagogy. Why do it? Why is it valuable to set a single national (common) standard? The article’s title promises an answer to that question, but the article doesn’t deliver.

If, as Bush and Klein argue, most states have woefully inadequate standards, isn’t it likely that the central bureaucracy you’re creating will gravitate to mediocrity rather than excellence? And isn’t that just what Common Core represents, given that its standards for what count as “college ready” are actually set below what you need to even apply to, much less succeed at, most colleges?

So color me confused.

Klein’s Lessons

December 6, 2010

*** 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.

NY Post Op-Ed on Klein

November 10, 2010

In addition to reading Matt’s post on the retirement of Joel Klein as New York City’s school chancellor, check out the op-ed I wrote with Stuart Buck that appeared in today’s New York Post.  Here’s a taste:

In 2003, when Klein became chancellor, only 21 percent of the city’s fourth-grade students were proficient in math, trailing the national average of 31 percent. By 2009, 35 percent of Gotham’s students were proficient at math, nearly catching the national average of 38 percent. New York City’s 14-percentage-point gain was twice as large as the 7-point gain nationwide.

The improvement in fourth-grade reading was similarly strong. Between 2003 and 2009 the percentage of the city’s fourth graders who were proficient at reading jumped from 22 percent to 29 percent. That 7-point gain far outstripped the national improvement, up just 2 points from 30 percent to 32 percent.

The performance of New York City’s eighth graders was less dramatic: Proficiency in the math NAEP rose from 20 percent to 26 percent, tracking the US rise from 27 percent to 33 percent. In reading, city eighth graders remained statistically unchanged, mirroring the national rate.

The large gains in fourth-grade performance and more modest improvements among eighth graders didn’t win over Klein’s fierce critics. The vitriol with which they denounced him was severe, even by New York standards.

Joel Klein Did Matter

November 9, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

NYC Chancellor Joel Klein has announced his resignation to be replaced by Cathie Black of Hearst Newspapers.

I don’t know much about Ms. Black other than the fact that she apparently does not shy away from tremendous challenges. Newspapers in the age of a print death spiral and urban schools. What does one do for an encore- Middle East peace?

Early in the JPGB days, I wrote a post on Klein and his critics. I took a skeptical view of the Superheroic Superintendent model of reform.  I have changed my mind.  His run lasted 8 years, and NAEP scores improved by impressive margins.  Mayoral takeovers still don’t strike me as a very promising strategy, but Klein did produce results.

I wish Klein had another 8 years in him, but he leaves NYC schools significantly better than when he found them- a rare accomplishment for an urban superintendent.

Bill Gates on Teacher Pensions

July 15, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Interesting article from John Fund from the Aspen Ideas Conference.

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