Saturday, November 1, 2014

Joel Klein is Right about Education Reform, Except Where He's Ridiculously Wrong

Joel Klein, who was a lawyer before becoming Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, has some ideas about how to "fix public education." In addition to heading up one of the largest school districts in the country for roughly a decade - a time in which he did little to improve the educational conditions and achievement for the neediest of students - Joel has since become one of the expert voices in the world of "education reform." To that end, he has (big surprise) written a book on "fixing schools" called Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools. And, obviously, his high profile has allowed him the opportunity to promote his book in a huge weekend profile in the Wall Street Journal.

The problem, of course, with Klein's WSJ piece and his book is that he has very little experience with or knowledge of "fixing schools." In fact, I'd venture to say he has never actually "fixed" a school or dramatically impacted the life of a single child. To do that, he would have to be an actual educator with some experience working "in a school." These concepts are foreign to people like Joel Klein, as they are to "edu-reformers" like Bill Gates and Dave Welch. As I've noted before, these men would be far more impressive and credible if they simply focused on fixing "a school" and then continued to devote their vast financial resources to replicating that "achievement." The biggest problem with Klein is in the following statement:

Too many teachers in our big urban school systems are overworked, isolated and bureaucratically oppressed, struggling to educate students who can be exceedingly difficult to reach. As anyone who has stood before a classroom will attest, teaching is a tough job. 
The problem with many education reformers is that Joel Klein has no idea what it's like to have "stood before a classroom" and attempted to "educate students who can be exceedingly difficult to reach." Neither has any of the other edu-reformers. And, in almost perfectly cliched fashion, he cites the "Finland example," as if he's just discovered some gem for education reform that no one has mentioned in the past decade. Clearly, Klein is obtuse to the fact that Finland has about 4% poverty and an elaborate social safety net with a homogenous population. And, he makes no mention of the NYC schools which have social problems that would blow the minds of most Europeans, including schools with 80-90% of kids in poverty and food insecurity and violence in their neighborhoods that Europe hasn't seen since WWII.

Granted, Klein makes some sound assertions about creating teachers who are experts in their field and are pretty high achievers. But he ignores a lack of correlation and causation between Master's degrees for teachers and the achievement in their students. And, he seems clueless that nationwide teachers must undergo regular professional development and graduate level courses to simply retain their teaching licenses. And, he's also right that the teachers who develop "relationships" with students are actually most adept and effective at improving achievement. But that has nothing to do with their high school GPAs or their advanced degrees. It's simply who they are as people. So, once again, we have an in-experienced school leader who has no credentials or record of achievement offering cliched and unproven answers for how to "fix schools."

I'd be more impressed if he just took his money and his backers and stepped up to the front lines and literally showed us how it's done.

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