In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on March 4, Joel Klein calls for moving education into a central position in the presidential election, or more specifically, the Republican primaries.
Klein, who was chancellor of the New York City Department of Education from 2002 to 2010, and is now chief executive of News Corp.’s education division, points out that only 1 percent of the time and questions in Republican debates have touched on schools since an education forum he co-moderated in New York in October.
Santorum Calls President Obama “A Snob”
Rick Santorum’s calling President Obama “a snob” for wanting all Americans to attend college is probably the only reference to education that most of us can recall from the Republican debates.
Klein rightly explains that new research shows that only one-quarter of America’s 52 million K-12 students perform on par with the average performance of the world’s five best school systems — which are now in Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, Taiwan and South Korea. Even worse is U.S. performance in advanced achievement in math and science, the best predictor of the engineering and scientific prowess that will drive future growth. Sixteen countries produce at least twice the percentage of advanced math students we do, according to research from Harvard and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
As a parent, and as a teacher, I am outraged that education is not front and center in debates about the future of this country. How do our presidential candidates believe the country will move forward, if not through educating our young people?
Klein too is outraged, but he moves from discussing presidential debates into proposing his own solutions to the education ills of this country. And his first solution is to suggest that Common Core Standards are the answer to our educational problems.
American Education Should Look To The Finnish Model
I disagree with him. As I discussed here, the U.S. educational system should look to the Finnish model and emulate a method that really works. First, it’s important to develop high professional standards for teachers; in Finland only one in ten applicants is accepted into teacher training. Next, abolish the idea of punishing teachers and schools for the poor performance of their students – especially when that performance means the standardized tests administered one day a year. Finland only administers standardized tests to seniors in high school. Administrators should be in the business of mentoring and encouraging new teachers, not punishing them.
Klein speaks highly of the education reform movement, but the main mechanism of school reform today is to identify these teachers who can raise their students’ test scores every year. Presumably, the thinking goes that if the scores go up, students will enroll in college and poverty will disappear.
No More No Child Left Behind?
I have a better idea: why not get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act, with its nonsensical requirement that all students, regardless of ability or disability, should be proficient in math and language arts by 2014.
In short, while I take issue with Klein’s solutions to our educational woes, I do agree that it’s past time for a real debate on education amongst our presidential hopefuls. Americans should demand from the candidates a substantial discussion on how they plan to prepare our children to function in a global age.
What do you think?
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