Joel Klein on Education Lessons Learned

Joel Klein had some interested comments in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

First, it is wrong to assert that students’ poverty and family circumstances severely limit their educational potential. It’s now proven that a child who does poorly with one teacher could have done very well with another. 

Second, traditional proposals for improving education—more money, better curriculum, smaller classes, etc.—aren’t going to get the job done. Public education is a service-delivery challenge, and it must be operated as such. 

Our embrace of charter schools was especially controversial. But why should any student have to settle for a neighborhood school if it’s awful? The debate shouldn’t be about whether a school is a traditional or charter public school. It should be about whether it’s high-performing, period. Low-income families deserve the ability to make the best choices for their kids, as more financially secure families always have.

Changing the system wasn’t easy. The people with the loudest and best-funded voices are committed to maintaining a status quo that protects their needs even if it doesn’t work for children. They want to keep their jobs by preserving a guaranteed customer base (a fixed number of students), regardless of performance.

Finally, we need to innovate, as every successful sector of our economy does. The classroom model we have used since the 19th century, in which one teacher stands in front of a room of 20-30 kids, is obsolete. We should be making the most of new technology and programs that help teachers deliver personalized instruction and allow students to learn at their own pace.