“Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk . . . warned of a ‘rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people’ the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible . . .” Such is the assertion that Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City school system made in his June article in The Atlantic. This prosecutor, who successfully opposed Microsoft, admits that, in his eight years at the helm of city education, he was unable to effect more significant changes. He provides a disturbing inside look at the nation’s largest school system. And he is certainly not alone. (I have previously discussed the battle that Michelle Rhee faced in Washington, DC.)
Within the last three decades, we have doubled spending on public education, yet we have little or nothing to show for the increased expenditures. The results of the latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) indicated that fewer than one third of eighth grade students are “proficient” in math, science or reading. College professors (even at our top universities) decry the lack of preparation of entering students. According to Mr. Klein, “ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates ‘were not adequately prepared academically for first year college courses.’” Dismal reports concerning our students’ ranking globally continue to surface. WHY?
Joel Klein points fingers at teachers’ unions and politicians. Currently, New York City is facing the loss of more than 4,000 teachers. Yet FIFO policy (first-in, first out policy) is predicated on time only. Merit has no part in the decision. So the city will lose some talented, energetic teachers and retain some incompetents. No tenured teacher is fired! Where in private enterprise does such a system exist?
Politicians are also culpable. They have an unholy alliance with teachers’ unions. According to Mr. Klein, “ The school system can be enormously helpful, providing patronage hires, school –placement opportunities for connected constituents, the means to get favored community and business programs adopted and funded, and politically advantageous ties to school and parents in their communities.” And union members return the political favors by partaking in voluntary activities like attending political rallies and providing millions of dollars to political causes.
The entire public education system benefits adults rather than students. Mr. Klein asserts, “We treat all teachers as if they were identical widgets and their performance didn’t matter.” No accountability engenders mediocrity and incompetence.
This situation is endemic at every level. The education system can continue to operate at such a deplorable level only if parents are complicit. Are parents uninformed, short-sighted, or apathetic? Do they attend their local Board of Education meetings and become involved in any issues that affect their children? Do they demand accountability from the classroom teacher to the superintendent? How do they select Board members? Why are the athletic fields more crowded than the Board meetings? Do they demand the best from their educators? Or do they simply support the status quo? Parents want the best for their children. They must take stock of their local schools and become involved. The tide continues to rise!