The reformers who want to save the public schools are starting to make a difference, against ferocious opposition
Written By JOEL KLEIN
Like so many debates in America today, the fight over public education is as polarized as it is consequential. There appears to be a general sense of agreement that the results we are getting are woefully inadequate, especially given the demands that a high-tech, global economy will place on our future work force. Nevertheless, there’s a sharp disagreement over exactly what to do.
Spending more money is of course a perennial demand. Since 1970 America has more than doubled the real dollars spent on K-12 education. We have increased the number of teachers by more than a third, created legions of nonteaching staff, and raised salaries and benefits across the board. Yet fewer than 40% of the students who graduate from high school are ready for college. At the same time, students in other countries are moving ahead of us, scoring higher—often much higher—on international tests of reading, math and science skills.
The debate over education broadly divides into two groups. On one side are what might be called “traditionalists,” consisting largely of unions purporting to represent the interests of teachers. The members of this group argue that poverty is the great impediment to educational success and that we must lift people out of poverty if we are really to better educate our kids—and in the meantime we can’t expect schools to perform miracles. The traditionalists propose that we pay teachers more, hire more of them and spend more dollars on public education overall.
On the other side are what might be called “reformers” (some traditionalists refer to them as “deformers”). This group is made up largely of policy analysts skeptical of the status quo and young idealists, many of whom came to education through Teach for America, the nonprofit program that places talented college graduates in high-poverty, urban schools.
The reformers acknowledge that poverty is an impediment to educational success but argue that teaching itself can still have a big effect. They point to specific classroom achievements, as well as to various studies, to show that different schools and different teachers get very different results with essentially the same kids. Read more…