A change in the culture

Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City schools, argues eloquently for charter schools in a speech to the New York Charter Schools Association.

Charters bring in new blood. These are leaders and entrepreneurs who are not otherwise part of the system. They are people with ideas, with creativity, and who are willing to give their all for their students.

Then Klein really gets gutsy.

I think we should support charters for another reason. Public education in large urban areas in the United States has failed. This is a somewhat heretical thing for a schools chancellor to say. But if we are not going to be candid, I don’t think we can take the kind of steps we need to make the necessary changes. New York City is actually one of the best urban school systems in the United States, but by any measure, I guarantee you that at least half, probably more than half, of our students are not remotely getting the education they deserve…

Klein says education reformers have focused on changing programs, but not on changing the culture of public education in the big cities.

Via Eduwonk.

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  1. Mike McKeown says:

    Klein has systematically failed NYC students. His first move was to hire Diana Lam as his instructional honcho. She brought in whole language reading and fuzzy math and he defended her against the knowledgeable public. What a waste. Now he wants charters. Not a bad idea, but he has been part of the problem, not part of the solution up to now.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, it seems that the education extablishment like to change for the sake of change, bringing in crap like whole language, everyday math, and generally dumbing-down the curricula.

    Except, of course, when their power base (i.e., money) is “assualted” by the idea of charter schools. Since the establishment (administration and unions) seem to hate the concept of charter schools, there must be some merit to them.

    Who said it is a sign of lunacy to continually repeat an action, expecting a different result?

  3. Mr. Klein is unfortunately still too narrow: it’s not just about changing the culture in urban systems. Suburban systems aren’t that far ahead … and certainly under the bar which is being raised world-wide.

    Looking at the suburban SF Bay Area: 1/3 of the 9th graders aren’t graduating and less than 1/3 are prepared to enter the CSU system at graduation. Very visible by sorting through the state database at http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/

    Now the truly bold step for Mr. Klein would be to take that argument to a broader forum that the New York Charter Schools Association … and with others so that the situation doesn’t get dismissed as just a NYC problem.

  4. To me this is just another person who is not in the schools day in and day out touting another solution when they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    I’m a public school teacher and I could build a great charter school easily under these conditions.

    1) Exempt me from all the idiotic rules politicians have placed on the public schools (i.e. I wouldn’t be required to transport the kids to school or if I have to, not include that cost in my per child expense).

    2) Required parental involvement. Of course, if we had this at all public schools they would already be a lot better. But at my school if the parents don’t get involved I can boot the kid out.

    3) Behavior problem or low academic achiever? Boot’em out! Can’t make the bottom line look bad when its so easy to fix it.

    Education is the one profession I know where everybody thinkgs they are an expert b/c they spent time in schools when they were younger. I drive over bridges all the time but I don’t feel the need to tell engineers how to build or design one.

    The people who SHOULD be running public education or the people who have been there, done that and got the T-shirt. Politicians should be completely removed from the process.

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    The problem is that the people who ARE running public schools are the ones who have been running public schools for the past 30 years. There are NO new ideas (unless you think that more money is a new idea).

    The system is captured by institutional inertia and is incredibly resistant to change. Challenging educators to come up with new approaches is resisted at all costs because it makes them reexamine their core beliefs as to how to improve schools.

    Perhaps if I just made a blanket rule that I would not hire anyone who has a public school education it would force the system to change. More likely, I would invite some sort of lawsuit claiming discrimination.

  6. “I drive over bridges all the time but I don’t feel the need to tell engineers how to build or design one.” If bridges in the U.S. were falling down on a regular basis, to the point where driving over one was a scary experience, you can bet that there would be *plenty* of political involvement in the bridge-building process.

    When you say that politicians should be removed from the public school process, aren’t you really saying that we, the people (who are represented by those politicians) should just hand over money to the “experts” of the educational system, and should have no say in how it is spent?

  7. David,

    Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying. But turn the money and the responsibility over to the educators and not the bureaucrats and career politicians who run our schools today.

    The biggest problem that no one wants to admit is our schools are a reflection of our society. And if you look around, there is a lot of sorry things going on in our society. Television has trained our children to have extremely short attention spans, our culture preaches the exact opposite of individual responsibility and the courts and lawyers have removed any chance of effective discipline from our schools. Good teachers can overcome it IF they are not constantly inteferred with.

    When I was in elementary school I wouldn’t have dared ran home and told my parents I got in trouble at school, I would have been in even more trouble. Nowadays people come charging up to the school demanding a teacher’s head on a platter. At least once a week we have a parent come tearing into the school over some injustice a teacher had committed on their child, only to find out they didn’t get the whole story or even an accurate one.

    All that establishing charter schools will do is siphon off the very best students, and weaken the public schools. Of course then lots of people like Texas Republicans will point and say “See, I told you so” even though they caused the problems to begin with.

  8. >All that establishing charter schools will do
    >is siphon off the very best students, and weaken
    >the public schools.

    A chimera: often offered, never supported. charter schools are the system you eloquently support in your preceding paragraph. They actually offer the means to demonstrate why good teachers *should* get more automomy.

    In the SF Bay Area, charters aren’t siphoning off the best students: it’s a similar mix of incoming students. Now if well-performing charter schools are turning that mix into the best students, then they should be celebrated and expanded 🙂

  9. Tim from Texas says:

    Everyone proclaims loudly for stricter and better discipline and everyone complains that the children are not learning enough and that the bar has been set too low. That is bunk. When it comes to better discipline, such as the no- tolerance policy, all is well, until some middle-class or more affluent parent’s “darling” is the one that has to be sent home for breaking the no tolerance policy. Then all hell breaks loose. Then the policy is too strick. As to the bar being set too low. That used to be ok, for the more affluent were able to have their special districts through gerrymandering and political manuevering, if they were too close to the “element” in the lessor neighborhoods. If that didn’t work, they just moved away and into “a better community”. It didn’t occur to them to stay and work hard at making the old community a working viable one. Of course this same M.O. is still today “the solution of choice”, but it’s not working as well because the “elements” keep multiplying and keep moving and now it’s not as easy to escape them. Now what does this have to do with the subject of the bar being set too low? The “lower bar” has now found it’s way, in one way or another, so to speak, into far too many a good school system- to quote Eminem: “Now it’s so sad to see. Now it’s a tragedy.” I suppose we can keep running to that “better community” out there, but soon we the “wonderful ones” will be living in the most northern extremes. That would probably work just fine because the other “element” might not follow us there. They might finally be satisfied with the more tolerable climes and finally leave us alone. Or better yet, we can build better and stronger gated communties, and if that’s not good enough, we could build fortress neigborhoods.

    Moreover, in addition,nevertheless, regardless, not withstanding, all the same, and although “we the wonderful ones” proclaim the bar needs to be set much higher, all things being equal, we are just wary that many of our children might not be able to jump it, and heaven forbid, many of the “elements'” children might, as has happened in sports, and to some extent, in other areas as well. Why hell, we’ve seen enough of that already.

    In other words, keeping a good education as an expensive commodity, is in more danger now than ever before, and we are terrified.

  10. During a year of unemployment I was a substitute teacher in our local school system. I signed up to teach science and math, but ended up doing everything, including gym, Spanish and the girl’s dance team.

    Several things struck me, notably general illiteracy (not excepting the faculty) and the inability of the high school students to write legibly, but what struck me hardest was one significant difference between high school A and high school B: behavior.

    In high school A the kids wore what they wanted, said what they wanted, and just about did what they wanted. Some of the young ladies in my classes looked more like streetwalkers than ladies, and boy-girl wrestling matches in the halls were a normal sight. I high school B the kids wore what the principal considered appropriate (I was told to remove my hat when I entered the building), and behaved in a manner considerably closer to what one would expect in a civilized society.

    I mentioned this to several people, both parents and teachers. No one was surprised. The consensus was that the principal of school B had standards and the principal of school A didn’t, and everyone knew it.

    A recent reorganization of the district has elevated both principals to assistant superintendants. The one with standards will oversee the educational operation of all school in the district. The one without will oversee the district budget, something that was very well done at school A.

    There are a lot of improvements that can be made, even within the existing structure, but there must first be the flexibility to do them and people with the vision to get it done.


  11. Mike;

    If we give the money to educators instead of politicians and bureaucrats, what happens when those educator turn in to politicians and bureaucrats?

    What’s interesting is that your proposal would be exactly fufilled by vouchers. That would remove the bureaucrats and politicians from the allocation of funds. Or, is your plan to completely remove parents from the educational process as well?

  12. D. Virkus says:

    Given that ‘blanket rule’ Mad, I think the law suit would be more along the lines of unbounded arrogance… or, just a routine slap in the face of the millions of well performing great kids across the country. You pick!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Virkus:

    The current state of public school education in large cities is close to, if not already, worthless. Standards mean nothing. If too many students fail required exit exams for graduation, the standard response is to lower the passing grade.

    One option available to many districts is that of Charter Schools. The Powers That Be (TPTB) do not want these to exist because it cuts into their power base. Another option is vouchers. TPTB have the same response for the same reason.

    As with any product, if the expected quality is not there and all the supplier wants to do is to “widen the spec” (i.e., making it politically expedient to lower the passing grade so parents will not bitch at them) and increase the price, then nothing can compel me to buy it.

    If people are willing to devalue the worth of an education just so some people can be proud of an “achievement” that thay have no right to be proud of, so be it. Just don’t expect me to reward that sort of behavior.

    Since TPTB refuse to either embrace or develop any new ideas, they deserve to be Ex-TPTB.


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    Cosby Cracks Heads

    Whoah. Bill Cosby read black people the riot act at an NAACP meeting, and hardly any of the national news media covered it. Further updates…