Monday, November 24, 2008

Education in NYC

The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting selection of comments and observations on the upcoming Agenda -- the key issues that the Obama administration will face, as discussed by executives and professionals in varying fields. The Daily News had a powerful editorial about school quality and race/ethnicity in the NYC public schools, which raised complex issues and questions about education quality, teaching and learning.

WALL STREET JOURNAL excerpt:

JOEL KLEIN: There’s a reason why we’re still stuck in the same ditch. That doesn’t happen by accident. There are strong and powerful forces that maintain the system, because it works well for lots of people, just not the kids.
And if the president were to ask me, I would tell him there are two things that he ought to focus on, both mentioned by Lou. The first is national standards and national assessments. The tragedy is not simply how many kids aren’t graduating. The tragedy is how many kids are graduating wholly unprepared for anything that follows. The easiest way to improve the graduation rate in America is to lower the standards. And lots of people have done that, and as long as we keep doing that, we’ll delude ourselves into thinking we have a decent graduation rate, but in fact our kids will be wholly unprepared.

In New York City, and this is highly controversial, we put a letter grade on every school, based on progress. And we do that to make the system transparent and actually allow people to bring the house down on us. Because you put a letter F or a letter D on a school, and even middle-class schools that think, because they have a lot of bright kids there, they’re doing a great job, but they’re not remotely doing a great job.
Our kids in Ohio are not going to compete differently in a global economy than our kids in New York. It’s sort of silly to have all of these different standards and assessments. And also, it makes the attack on assessments easier because by having 50 different ones, you’re not really investing in getting the economies of scale.

The magic ingredient in the game I play is high-quality teaching. We don’t remotely have enough of it because we don’t reward it properly, we backload the pay scale. The real money goes into the people who are in the system a long time, gets rolled up in a defined-benefit pension plan, makes it very hard to attract new talent. We don’t reward excellence, we don’t give hardship pay, we pay the same thing for a science teacher and a math teacher that we do for a physical-education teacher. If any university did that, they’d go under.

I would repurpose almost all of the federal dollars that are now in it. That’s a lot of money, $30 billion to $40 billion. I would repurpose that to teacher excellence


MR. KLEIN: The countries that succeed, they tend to draw their teachers from the top quarter, top third of their graduating college classes. These are people who have been academically successful, who believe in assessment, because they’ve lived under it and it’s served them well. In the United States, we draw teachers from the bottom quarter of our college graduates, and our kids in high-poverty neighborhoods get the bottom quarter of the bottom quarter.

And all the incentives are misaligned. You wait for the 20 years, because then it’s actually when it starts to get good, because you’re getting across-the-board pay hikes. So whenever I pay a three-year, 10%, across-the-board pay hike, the people who are locked into the system are getting $8,000 and $10,000 and $12,000 raises, all rolled up in a defined benefit, which means that I’m not getting any return on that money. Whereas the people I’m trying to attract, the young kids who I want to stay in the earliest years, they’re getting the same 10% on $40,000 or $38,000.

So, in effect, we’re rewarding the wrong things. That’s why I think if the federal government were to come in, tied to a real accountability system and said, “This is what we want to reward in teacher performance, we’ll use federal dollars, and if you go to our most challenging schools, it’ll be 1.5X; and if you do it in math and science, it’ll be 2X.” And if it were to use the federal billions in a way that started to create excellence, you’d attract different people, they would be incentivized in different ways, and you would begin to create a culture of excellence.


Wall Street Journal Report on Education:
http://blogs.wsj.com/ceo-council/2008/11/23/failing-our-children/

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