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Public education is politics as usual

May 13, 2011

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein details the politics of running a major city school system in an article featured in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly.

Whether you agree with Klein’s approach to school reform or not, his stories about patronage inNew York Cityand entrenched political interests in Albany are extremely compelling.

Klein provides an interesting counterpoint to Diane Ravitch, who argued in a recent visit toRhode Islandthat demonizing teachers unions serves only to demoralize teachers, and that it is unfair to expect teachers to single handedly combat the effects of poverty.

Klein points out that some schools, many of them charter schools, are doing phenomenal work in this area, and that is worth studying and trying to replicate. On pensions and teacher pay, he argues that overly generous longevity raises and pension benefits are draining public funds. At the same time, he says salaries for new teachers are too low, making it difficult to recruit top college graduates.

It seems contradictory to argue on the one hand that teacher salaries are driving good people away from the profession, while on the other hand calling teachers over-compensated. Presumably, these young graduates have no plans to pursue a whole career in teaching, or they might be willing to endure a few years at the lower end of the pay scale in exchange for the short work hours, large salaries and generous pension benefits Klein describes for senior teachers.

I suspect that pay is really only a small part of this equation. As Klein himself says, “another way to attract and retain very effective teachers would be to create more schools that work.”

In my experience, many of the best public-school teachers apply to high-functioning charter schools, even though they usually give up job security, and lifetime health care and pensions, while generally getting a similar or slightly higher salary (although often augmented by modest merit pay). They go because they want to be part of a successful school, where teachers are treated like professionals and not subjected to endless administrative and union micromanagement.

The question is how to make schools work better for students and for teachers, without leaving everyone so discouraged they give up on education altogether.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Patrick Crowley permalink
    May 13, 2011 11:24 pm

    Joel Klein represents everything wrong with education today.

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