Many people embedded in education reform acknowledge its bipartisan nature—mostly because the American system is so bad not even the willingly blind can help but bump into it. Add Joel Klein, NYC’s former schools chief now inventing education technology at Rupert Murdock’s News Corp., to the list of middle-roaders too sick of the stench to not shout for help.
According to a Department of Education internal analysis, the average NYC teacher works fewer than seven hours a day for 185 days and costs the city $110,000—$71,000 in salary, $23,000 in pensions, and $16,000 in health and other benefits.
I’ve had normal, middle-class Americans tell me teachers “work just as hard as any farmer.” Perhaps some teachers do—family members and friends who teach prove the profession still does have a few hard workers, somehow—but clearly not in New York. And, I suspect, elsewhere.
Another shameful anecdote:
During my maiden testimony before the State Assembly, I said that we would end patronage hires… At my mention of patronage, the legislators, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, purported to be “shocked.” Nevertheless, after the hearing, when I went to thank committee members, one took me aside and said: “Listen, they’re trying to get rid of a principal in my district who runs a Democratic club for us. If you protect him, you’ll never have a problem with me.” This kind of encounter was not rare.
Klein goes on to demolish the “we need more money to fix education” idea, laud merit pay and firing incompetent teachers, and explain the glories of tailored instruction technological advances allow. He also advocates market-based budget and professional accountability: “Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands. Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly.”
Unfortunately, he’s not all-in on market reforms, despite his insistence that “money must be for the child, not the school.” Klein praises the burgeoning national education standards and curriculum movement so we can compare kids and jurisdictions accurately. Guess he didn’t get the memo.
His conclusion, however, gives reformers a rallying cry:
Time is running out. Without political leadership willing to take risks and build support for “radical reform,” and without a citizenry willing to insist on those reforms, our schools will continue to decline. And just as it was with Detroit, the global marketplace will be very unforgiving to a populace that doesn’t have the skills it demands.
Image by Tomas Fano.