School Reform Means Never Saying ‘Maybe’

Posted by | August 28, 2011 15:23 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

The hurricane seems to have passed, but there is still little going on in the world of politics.  So since it is ‘back to school’ week, I thought I would blog on one of those subjects everyone feels passionately about, public schools.  While on vacation, I read this piece, from a few months ago, by former New York superintendent, Joel Klein.  Klein is one of the nation’s foremost reformers, pushing testing, charter schools, and breaking the power of the teachers’ unions.

If the forces behind reform seem scattered and weak, those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed. Having spent eight years trying to ignite a revolution in New York City’s schools under Bloomberg’s leadership, I am convinced that without a major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need.

On the substance, I think Klein has a lot of merit.  The teaches’ unions remind me a lot of the Tea Party.  They start with a reasonable idea, protecting the rights of teachers (or reducing debt for the Tea Party), and by not compromising on any detail, they support a system that is entirely irrational (read the entire article to get this idea). I definitely think we need more competition in education, that charter schools have the potential to be very helpful, and that some testing is a good idea.

However, in their zeal to prosecute their case against the unions, Klein and his ilk lose their way.  Michele Rhee, the other leading proponent of reform, is embroiled in a case of schools faking test scores.  This is the natural result of relying too much on test scores.  Charter schools can do great things but many of them do not, and their supporters don’t seem too interested in finding out why some work and others don’t.  In other words, the debate on education, one of the most important aspects of this country’s future, has become, like many other areas, polarized and full of heat and fury with little light.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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