Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Klein's Failed American Schools

How I wish I were Joel Klein.  Then perhaps I would get 30 inches in The Atlantic.  Alas, just a classroom teacher.

Like others of his ilk, Klein comes from a business world and sees the situation only through that lens.  Money into education should equal success.  If there hasn't been success then it must be because those recalcitrant teachers have been undermining reform on every front.  If only they would give up their tenure, then we could make progress. 
But success through expenditures depends on where you spend your money.  In the past decade most of the money poured into education has gone into testing.  My purchasing power has been stagnant in that entire period. (How about yours?) Professional development funds have frequently been cut.  So we get the beatings but none of the training.
I disagree with Klein wholeheartedly as he argues for Value Added Measurement of teachers.  There are few in the world of psychometrics who believes that VAM is a reliable tool for measuring student learning.  There are even more pundits who feel that VAM will undermine the good that schools can achieve when teachers collaborate.  VAM ensures that teachers will not share, least their VAM score drop below or behind one of their peers.
The ones who will pay for that reform will be the children.  Klein says in his own article, without apparent irony, that they had to add testing in every grade 3-8 in both English and Math so they could keep track of the teachers.  I wonder how much this costs.  I wonder why the kids are falling farther and farther behind.  Surely it must be the teachers and not his test-heavy system.
He references A Nation at Risk.  Here is what A Nation at Risk recommended in 1983 (I'm old enough to remember).
  • More time in school (still no different from 1983)
  • 11-month contract with higher pay for teachers (ignored)
  • Better training for teachers (if anything, this has been cut over the years.  It's easier than ever to become a teacher.The NBPTS is the only reform I'm aware of that came out of this report.)  Accept the best and brightest into the profession.  (Ed schools are cash cows for universities. They pull in money for PD programs but the quality of undergrad programs is hit or miss. The strongest students are often counseled out of teaching.)
  • Incentives for outstanding young people to enter the profession (grants, loans--today's young teacher starts with a mountain of debt--and then gets the pleasure of paying out of pocket for further training.)
  • Develop career ladders to keep teachers in the profession
Klein, like many others, have ignored every one of those recommendations and are now blaming the teachers.  The new plan--to measure teacher performance and then pay on ability--is a smoke screen.  The real objective for Klein and other business people is to dismantle the last and largest union in the nation: the NEA (even bigger when the AFT is added in).
Regan commissioned the report but then did not like the recommendations.  Regan believed in small government and certainly did not want an army of civil servants in the form of career teachers. It no small coincidence that none of the above bulleted reforms were brought into play in the years since Regan-style government came into vogue.  It is no small coincidence that Klein does not mention any one of these in his "professional" assessment.


  1. Your golden line: "So we get the beatings but none of the training." Love it.

  2. Great piece, Mary. I especially like your reminder of what "Nation at Risk" REALLY said. Hard to believe it was once considered wildly inflammatory.