During the eight years I served as chancellor of New York City's public schools, the naysayers and the apologists for the status quo kept telling me "we'll never fix education in America until we fix poverty.""We should do everything we can." Does that include taxing people like your old boss, the incredibly wealthy Mike Bloomberg, or your new boss, the insanely wealthy Rupert Murdoch, back at the rates of the 1950's, when America had a huge economic expansion (and a Republican president)?
I always thought they had it backward, that "we'll never fix poverty until we fix education." Let me be clear. Poverty matters: Its debilitating psychological and physical effects often make it much harder to successfully educate kids who grow up in challenged environments. And we should do everything we can to ameliorate the effects of poverty by giving kids and families the support they need. But that said, I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.
And what do you say, Mr. Klein, to all of these young people?
According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, about 53.6 percent of men and women under the age of 25 who hold bachelor’s degrees were jobless or underemployed last year, the most in at least 11 years. According to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the age group to 18- to 29-year-olds, an estimated 37 percent are unemployed or out of the work force, the highest share in more than three decades. [emphasis mine]Did their educations help them? Or did they not go to the "right" schools?
Even if Joel Klein could find some secret "Flowers for Algernon" formula and inject it into the NYC water supply and we wound up with a bunch of 8-year-olds running around Brooklyn doing differential equations, it really wouldn't help poverty much unless they had jobs. And the fact that we have so many educated young people right now unable to find suitable work ought to give Klein a clue that maybe the situation is a lot more complex than he wants to believe it is. He continues:
Maybe they are substantial - you'll forgive me if I really don't trust Joel Klein very much when it comes to test scores. But it's certainly not the case that NYC charters are serving the same student populations as publics:Last week's test scores in New York City and state demonstrate, once again, that it doesn't have to be this way. Although the traditional public schools in the city have about the same ratio of poor children—and a significantly smaller ratio of black and Latino children—the charter schools outperformed the traditional schools by 12 points in math and five points in reading. Those are substantial differences.
NYC charter schools serve, on average, far fewer students who are classified as English Learners or who are very poor. Both groups of students require more resources to teach than do other students, meaning that charters with lower enrollments of these more resource-intensive students can devote their funding to other purposes. [emphasis mine]And there's another issue with NYC's charters - one found prominently in reports about Klein's charter paragon:
But what really puts the lie to the notion that poverty prevents dramatically better student outcomes than we are now generally seeing in public education is the performance of several individual charter schools or groups of such schools. For example, Success Academies, a charter group whose students are almost 100% minority and about 75% poor, had 97% of the kids at its four schools proficient in math and 88% in English. Miraculously, that's more than 30% higher in both math and reading than the state as a whole.Gosh, I wonder what miraculous techniques Eva Moskowitz has cooked up to get such awesome results? Because these are exactly the same kids as the ones in those horrible, unionized public schools!
The Success schools are performing at the same level as NYC's best schools—gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests—even though gifted schools have far fewer low-income and minority students. In short, with a population that is considered much harder to educate, Success is getting champion-league results. [emphasis mine]
The sad fact is Moskowitz runs her schools exactly like schools that have admissions standards: the only difference is that there's a lot of strong evidence that she uses attrition to get high-scoring classes. Sure, she and Klein spin and twist and contort and wag their fingers and swear that they really, really, REALLY don't do that...Matthew is bright but can be disruptive and easily distracted. It was not a natural fit for the Success charters, which are known for discipline and long school days. From Day 1 of kindergarten, Ms. Sprowal said, he was punished for acting out.“They kept him after school to practice walking in the hallway,” she said.Several times, she was called to pick him up early, she said, and in his third week he was suspended three days for bothering other children.In Matthew’s three years of preschool, Ms. Sprowal said, he had never missed time for behavior problems. “After only 12 days in your school,” she wrote the principal, “you have assessed and concluded that our son is defective and will not meet your school criteria.”Five days later, Ms. Sprowal got an e-mail from Ms. Moskowitz that she took as a veiled message to leave. “Am not familiar with the issue,” Ms. Moskowitz wrote, “but it is extremely important that children feel successful and a nine-hour day with more than 23 children (and that’s our small class size!) where they are constantly being asked to focus and concentrate can overwhelm children and be a bad environment.”The next week, the school psychologist evaluated Matthew and concluded he would be better suited elsewhere: “He may need a smaller classroom than his current school has available.”
But if that's true, what's their secret? Why are they so totally, charterly awesome? Klein thinks he knows:
Charter schools are not private schools. They are publicly funded schools that families can choose instead of their traditional neighborhood public school. But unlike traditional public schools, charters are run by independent boards (rather than a government bureaucracy) and are not constrained by oppressive union contracts. When they're oversubscribed, as they are in New York, charters must admit kids by lottery.
The teachers at Success work hard, are better compensated than other public school teachers, and move on if they can't cut the mustard. Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things. They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse. [emphasis mine]First of all, that "government bureaucracy" of yours was under complete control of your buddy, Generalissimo Bloomberg, who gave you the green light to disempower parents, teachers, citizens, and just about anyone else who stood up to your reformy plans. I've read plenty of Leonie Haimson's work, Joel: you guys held the reins and you held them tight. So let's not pretend that you were encumbered by bureaucracy when you were the guys staffing the politburo.
Second, those G&T schools you accuse of skimming the cream have unionized teachers, too; why are they getting high scores? You'd think all those horrible unionized practices you go on about would be screwing up those kids as well.
When I hear all this moaning about unions, what I really hear is this: "We want to be able to fire teachers at will!" Well, if that's the case, do you really think you're going to get better teachers by taking away something of economic value? New Jersey took away tenure from superintendents, and guess what happened? The costs to hire them went up. Basic economics states that if you remove tenure and collective bargaining - both of which have an economic value - you will have to pay teachers more, or decrease the quality of the teaching force. Reformyists, however, live to deny that market forces might apply to teaching.
Third, your awesome charters' proclivity for firing charter teachers who "can't cut the mustard" has caused a bad case of charter churn, leading to this hilarious admission:
NYC parents are so used to reformy bull that they are surprised when charter cheerleaders are honest for once!
Finally - and I save this for last, because it really pisses me off - I am so damn sick and tired of this crap:
Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things.That is such an obnoxious, condescending, ignorant statement that I think it disqualifies Klein from participating in any dialogue having to do with public schools anymore. No teacher or teachers union should have any interest in dealing with a man who thinks "most" teachers don't believe they can improve or don't want to try new things.
It used to be these schumcks would couch their words a little. But they're not even trying anymore; their derision is on full display. All while they bleed the system dry:
I'll tell you what, Joel: when you stop playing consiglieri to a guy whose closest underlings are charged with hacking the phones of murdered schoolgirls, you can look down your nose at me and question my work ethic.
Until then, back off.