Union City's Teachers and Administrators Work Together to Improve Student Achievement
by David L. Kirp
The report of a blue-ribbon commission chaired by Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City's public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state in the administration of President George W. Bush, came as a shocker. U.S. Education Reform and National Security, published in the spring of 2012 and carrying the imprimatur of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, ominously concludes that the miseducation of America's students poses an imminent threat to our country's capacity to defend ourselves. "Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety"—physical safety!—"at risk."1
What can be done to avert this catastrophe? Klein and Rice plump for giving parents more choice about what school their children attend, arguing that charter schools and vouchers will generate needed innovation. The old-line public schools cannot merely be reformed, the report contends: if these institutions are going to do a decent job of educating our kids, a discipline-and-punish regimen of strict accountability is needed. Schools whose students aren't improving at a sufficiently rapid pace should be shuttered. Teachers' livelihoods should depend on how their students fare on high-stakes reading and mathematics tests, with pay raises handed to some and pink slips to others. Teachers should be recruited from among the top colleges, as Teach for America does, rather than being drawn mainly from run-of-the-mill education schools.*
For years, critics have lambasted the public schools as fossilized bureaucracies run by paper-pushers and filled with time-serving teachers preoccupied with their job security, not the lives of their students.
Washington has been delivering a similar, if less bombastic, salvo ever since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002. The Obama administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative, the crown jewel of its education reform agenda, morphed into NCLB on steroids, as the U.S. Department of Education deployed the carrot of new money to prod the states into expanding charter schools and closing low-performing public schools.2
Look dispassionately at the evidence, and you'll find little justification for the proposition that imposing perform-or-die accountability on teachers or expanding choice for students will cure what ails public education.
NCLB, with its hyperemphasis on the three Rs and its command to close or remake "failing" public schools, was supposed to end what President George W. Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." But a decade later, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the nation's report card, have improved only slightly; and poor, black, and Latino students haven't been able to close the achievement gap. What's more, despite the hosannas for charters, the bulk of the research shows that, overall, they don't do a better job than traditional public schools.3
In short, there are no quick fixes, no miracle cures.