A response from Joel Klein on status quo apologists
Speaking of Joel Klein, Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss loves to publish dimwitted and factually inaccurate articles attacking him and the progress of NYC schoolchildren during his tenure, so it was no surprise to see the latest iteration recently by a Columbia ed school professor. But what isn't typical is that Strauss was willing to run Joel Klein's rebuttal, which demolishes the professor's assertions (kudos to Strauss for doing this – she refused to publish a rebuttal I wrote to an earlier hatchet job she published, so I instead posted it on The Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com/whitney-tilson/progress-in-new-york-city_b_823865.html):
Aaron Pallas, an ed school professor at Teachers College, appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that our public schools are failing to effectively educate huge numbers of our kids, or that there's much we can do about it. He struggles to debunk existing examples of demonstrable success perhaps fearing that we might otherwise ask why do we keep doing so poorly when we have proof that we can do so much better.
To that end, last week Pallas penned a piece in this column challenging my assertion in a Washington Post op ed that our "schools can get much better results with th[e] same kids than they're now generally getting." Employing a locution that I never used, and that cannot fairly be inferred from what I said, he tries to portray my view as placing "the emphasis on what schools can extract from kids." (His italics.)
No, Professor Pallas, I don't think knowledge resides in kids and, like iron ore, all we need to do is carefully extract it. What I do think is that our schools, and especially our teachers, need to do a much better job of educating our kids – that is, teaching them the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in the 21st century. As I put it in my piece, "teachers matter, big time."
To illustrate my point, I used a recent, powerful example, involving the well-known KIPP charter schools. KIPP followed its 8th grade graduates, who were overwhelmingly from poor (85%) and minority (95%) families, and found that, ten years later, 1/3 of them had graduated from college, a rate that was about four times their expected graduation rate and the same as that of white students.
…As I have said elsewhere, NYC is not remotely where it needs to be. There are still far too many students who aren't graduating and, according to newly articulated state standards, far too many who aren't college ready. But the progress that has been made under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership is clearly substantial. That progress didn't come from what Pallas calls "unproven reforms."
On the contrary, those reforms, based largely on sound principles of accountability and parental choice, led to the progress that was achieved. And the reason there wasn't more progress is because the defenders of the status quo – supported by the nihilist rhetoric of Pallas and others – blocked or limited more of precisely these kinds of effective reforms.