Mike Klein Online

Will the American Dream become the American Memory?

Mike Klein

When he spoke recently in Atlanta former New York City Public Schools chancellor Joel Klein suggested, “The question we are discussing right now is whether the American Dream becomes the American Memory on our watch.  That’s how serious I think this discussion is because the world is changing dramatically and our education system is not changing at all.”

Georgia changed just a little bit this week when voters approved a path to state authorization for proposed charter schools that were turned down by local school boards.  Washington state voters voted on charters, Indiana voters rejected their reformist state superintendent in favor of a union-backed candidate, unions were successfully able to roll back reforms in South Dakota and Idaho; and in California state sales taxes are going up by $6 billion to fund education gaps.

Those were some of the higher profile education highlights from this year’s state elections.  A few other issues appeared on statewide ballots but essentially, no one proposed to re-engineer any state public education system with radical ideas that would return U.S. students to the lofty position they once held as among the worlds’ best and brightest.  Today the World Economic Forum ranks U.S. students 48th in math and science education.

“Today just over seven-out-of-ten of our kids are graduating (from) high school so three-in-ten are not graduating,” Joel Klein said when he spoke to the Georgia Chamber conference. “The seven-out-of ten who graduate, half of them at least are not ready for college.  What’s their future going to look like in the 21st Century where a higher mode of thinking is going to be critical and where education is going to be so much more important?”

Joel Klein, Former Chancellor, New York City Public Schools

Klein comes to his education credentials through a less than traditional route.  Trained as a lawyer, his career began in non-profit and private sector practice before his appointment as a White House attorney under President Bill Clinton.  He moved to the U.S. Justice Department for several years before he was appointed New York schools chancellor in 2002.  Today he runs News Corporation’s education division where there is an emphasis on digital learning.

“Probably the most important lesson of all is this, for the first time in our history our younger generation is less well educated than its parents,” Klein told the Chamber conference.  “Only a minority (percentage) of American adults believe the standard of living for their children will be higher than what they have themselves enjoyed.  That is shocking.  Our 25-to-34 year old kids are not as well educated as our 54-to-65 year olds.  We’re moving backward.”

The remedies he proposed – “three big ideas” that he said a lot of people do not like – start with a massive expansion of school choice, a complete rethink about teacher professionalization and seriously adopting technology at more intense levels that what we already see today.  One of his main projects is the creation of highly optimized education tablet computers.

On school choice and competition: “Think about the changes you see in media, the changes in medicine.  We’re stuck in a very different model of delivery and that’s in part because it’s a government monopoly that basically says to people, you don’t get a choice in schools.”  In Georgia 180 school systems report to 180 boards of education.  In New York City the entire school board was eliminated and 32 city school districts report to the Mayor’s Office.

In Georgia this week voters approved state authorization of public charter schools.  In New Orleans five years ago Hurricane Katrina wiped out the entire school system.  Three-fourths of new schools are public charters; the academic proficiency of minority students has significantly improved against previous city school results and also against students statewide.

“New Orleans was a failed school system for generations,” Klein said.  “Now look what’s happening.” The proficiency of African-American city students was 11 percent below African-American students statewide before Katrina.  Now they have caught and passed state results.

On the teaching profession: “America’s teachers today feel disrespected and they are not America’s heroes,” Klein said.  He proposes to require that new teachers serve minimum one-year apprenticeships under master teachers before they are allowed to teach. “If we don’t make teachers the great American profession we will not succeed.  Unless we’re willing to dramatically change and move away from a system built on seniority we won’t succeed.”

On technology:  “Why do people drop out?  One reason they drop out is they feel lost in the sauce,” Klein said.  “They feel like they are not learning.” His push is for “socially addictive” learning in groups, more distance learning, the introduction of more highly optimized learning tablet computers and more corporate involvement in all sectors of teaching and learning.

“Real choice will be controversial,” Klein said.  “Transforming teaching from its current model to a true profession will take an enormous change.  We can’t micromanage our teachers into success.  Technology creates the greatest opportunity and the greatest hope for real transformation.  We have to do things differently.

“The countries that succeed in the 21st Century will be those countries that out-educate other countries.  When you see what is going on in the world you realize that other countries are not standing still while we try to get our act together.  I grew up a product of the American Dream.  I don’t want this Dream to get wiped out on our watch.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charter Opponents Overplayed a Bad Hand and Lost Big

Mike Klein

Truthfully, the public charter schools constitutional amendment that Georgia voters approved Tuesday was a modest proposal that sends a message voters in the state will insist on public schools innovation, even small innovation which is where the state is with charter schools.

The big stuff like linking teacher salaries to student academic performance and eliminating teacher tenure was voted on in other states.  We are not ready for those votes in Georgia.

Perception is a significant percentage of reality.  Imagine the national perception that would have been created if Georgia became the first state to vote against a constitutional amendment that sought to expand public charter school options for parents.

The amendment prevailed with 58 percent and a margin of some 625,000 votes.  It handily won all the major population counties surrounding Atlanta and it carried Gwinnett County by 75,000 votes.  The Gwinnett school board was the leading opponent and significantly financed a costly lawsuit that overturned the previous state charter school commission.

How did this victory happen?  There is no single answer; there are many.  Proponents made their argument that parental choice for children should be paramount.  Opponents also built a case around children but in their scenario children left behind in traditional schools would see their futures compromised by for-profit education companies that were taking the money.

Both sides emphasized local control.  Proponents contended parental choice was the ultimate local control.  Opponents counter-punched that the state Supreme Court granted exclusive control to local school boards, even though that language is nowhere in the state constitution.

Opponents took aim at a state commission that would consider petitions after they were denied by local boards.  Its members were portrayed as unaccountable.  Proponents overcame the perception that the commission would become a multi-headed monster.  Proponents argued and they were right that the commission would be a legitimate appellate process.

Opponents failed to sell their financial model argument with the voters.  Last spring opponents in the General Assembly insisted no local property tax dollars should be allowed to fund new state-approved charter schools.  They insisted that local property tax dollars should not follow students to a state charter school; those dollars should remain with the traditional school district.

Legislation that created the public charters schools constitutional amendment had no chance to pass without that compromise, so it happened.  Proponents then worked out a formula in which new state-approved charters would receive slightly more per pupil state support than traditional public schools.  Slightly was the key word; it was a bit more, not a lot, just a bit and if those new charter schools were a district, they would be the third lowest funded school district in Georgia.

Opponents thought they saw the opening for a new strategy.  Now they argued it was unfair that state-approved public charter schools would receive more per pupil funding than traditional public schools.  Proponents built their position around an explanation about the relationship between local property tax dollars and per pupil state funding.  Apparently that worked.

Opponents introduced so many numbers into the conversation that it became nearly impossible for any regular person to sort them out.  They argued that new state-approved public charter schools were a threat that could cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, take your pick.  That argument also did not stick with voters.

Opponents continuously argued state budget cuts over several years forced local districts to furlough teachers and trim school days from the calendar.  State budget cuts at any dollar level do not automatically require schools to adjust their calendars.  There are some formulas in play – too complex to describe here – but suffice it to say, local boards control school calendars.

Opponents pointed to the number of school systems that converted to charter status as proof that local boards will create charters.  But they stopped short of explaining that when public school systems convert to charter status they immediately become eligible for additional state financial aid that can be millions of dollars per district.  This argument also fell short.

Opponents won the media war.  Most media bought the opposition argument that the charter schools amendment would expand state government, create a dual or second state school system and cause a very costly duplication of state services at a time when schools were being asked to suffer from reduced funding.  Most voters did not agree with most media.

Ultimately, opponents decided their best path was to portray themselves as victims.  They pushed a strategy that local public schools were being compromised but proponents prevailed with a strategy that parental choice was the ultimate local control.  At the end opponents said state-approved charters would re-segregate Georgia schools.  That was a low point in the dialogue.  Minority families have clearly benefited from charter schools.

Truthfully, there is no national debate about the future of public charter schools.  Twenty years ago there was not even one anywhere in the United States.  Today there are more than 5,600.  That conversation is over.  The President of the United States, both major political parties and many education innovators are firmly in the corner of expanded public charter school options.

Truthfully, Georgia is still in the early days of fashioning its public charter schools strategy.  Incidentally, while you are reading this another 52 students will decide to drop out of Georgia public schools, as 19,250 do each year.  There is no intent here to suggest charters could save them all, but something needs to save them and time has been running out for a very long time.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment