Monday, November 19, 2012
I doubt many people disagree that much in American public education must change. But disagreement seems endless when we begin discussing what to change and what the solutions are. Right now an entire class of educational reformers are making headlines every day. And as far as mainstream media makes it seem, they are all clamoring for school choice, charter schools, and measurable teacher evaluations using student test scores. We must be aware of the political and ideological motivations of these so-called reforms. On the other hand, we also have to believe and demand media coverage of those more broad-minded “reformers.” There are reformers with other ideas – many with nuance, ambiguity and complexity. There are many models of school leadership, teacher evaluation, school structure, and teacher training. Furthermore, we have to grasp the complexity of the problems we are trying to solve. Students are wildly complex and come to school with all sorts of baggage; they are not widgets. And while it is true that great teachers can work wonders, great teachers also miss a few.
This article about Joel Klein, former New York City Schools chancellor, highlights many of these points. It is a great muckraking expose of Klein’s mythical biography. I cannot argue with Klein when he says, “Demography need not be destiny.” But to lay all academic and personal achievement of all students at the feet of teachers working miracles is naïve at best. His upbringing offered far more support than many of our students ever get and suggesting that his life story ought to be inspiring to students and teachers is silly. The author, Richard Rothstein, was asked for advice when Klein took office. I believe his suggestions highlight beautifully the challenges we face. And his deconstruction of Klein’s biography illustrates the real issues we face in improving our schools for all, including the least advantaged.