Friday, November 28, 2008

Joel Klein gets mixed reviews down-under

The Australian media continue their refreshingly skeptical coverage of Joel Klein’s promotion of his educational policies during his visit down-under.

Expose bad schools, says US educator (Sydney Morning Herald)

The Education Minister, Julia Gillard, is pushing for states and territories to adopt a similar system of transparency in Australia. On Monday she softened the blow for disadvantaged schools by announcing $500 million in funding to help them to entice good teachers.

But the woman Mr Klein described today as "a bold and fearless leader" should be warned. The US model has come under attack for its narrow measure of what made a school good.

A 2006 study by the US Centre on Education Policy showed that so much emphasis was being put on reading and maths that it caused a decline in teaching of history, science and the arts.

A similar model in Australia could leave little incentive for schools to improve teaching in subjects other than the "basics" measured. Sport, music, art and foreign languages could suffer as schools sweat to meet indicators.

Big business dominates educational planning (Sydney Morning Herald)

Joel Klein is in Australia to "spruik" his business-friendly school reforms courtesy of the giant Swiss bank UBS, the recipient of a multibillion-dollar bail-out from Swiss taxpayers, and dubbed the "world's biggest subprime loser" by The Age.

The federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, "welcomes the active involvement of UBS" in education reform. Since her recent US visit, she has been championing the "remarkable outcomes" she claims Klein has achieved in New York, where he is the chancellor of the city's education department.

Klein, who was previously chief executive of the international media company Bertelsmann (and who had an article on this page on Monday), believes schools should be run more like businesses, and is an enthusiastic promoter of "charter" schools, some of which are operated for profit. He told Fortune magazine, "We're converting the role of the principal into a CEO role."

On occasion, according to The Nation magazine, Klein has referred to children as cars in a shop, a collection of malfunctions to be adjusted. Teachers, he said, needed "to look under the hood" to figure out the origins of the pings. In the US, as much as a quarter of the school year can be devoted to test preparation. The assessments are supposed to show where the students have gaps in their knowledge so lessons can be adjusted. For the first few years of any testing regime, as students get used to sitting standardised tests, as teachers learn how to teach to the tests and as schools narrow their curriculums, test scores tend to improve. So it is not surprising that New York students are getting better scores in the national standardised tests.

This enables Klein to claim great educational improvements even though a national study released earlier this year using 2004 data found that New York has one of the worst graduation rates in the US, 43rd out of 50 large cities. Gillard is preparing to adopt key elements of Klein's business approach for use in Australian schools on the basis of Klein's ability to improve student test results, without examination of what those test results really represent. Will she unquestioningly adopt the business mantra of "standards, assessment and accountability" in the face of opposition from education experts?

Education is not a business and corporations that have made such bad judgments with regard to their core business, like banks, shouldn't be poking their gnomic noses into our schools.

US educationist talks tough on schools The Age (Melbourne)

In his speech, Mr Klein said his controversial methods, including standardised testing, had transformed the culture of his city's schools from one of excuses to one of performance.

But Australians are divided over Mr Klein's approach. Vicki Froomes, one Melbourne educator who worked with the New York schools Mr Klein threatened to close, said teachers would "teach to the test".

Ratings scheme for schools fails the test for improving them The Age (Melbourne)

EARLIER this week on ABC2, Virginia Trioli asked federal Education Minister Julia Gillard if she agreed with Rupert Murdoch, who, in his Boyer Lectures, called Australia's public education a disgrace. Murdoch had said: "The failure of these schools is more than a waste of human promise and a drain on our future workforce, it's a moral scandal."

"I'd have to say I think Rupert Murdoch is making a lot of sense," Gillard said. The only qualification that Murdoch has to judge our schools is that he owns about 70 per cent of capital city daily newspaper circulation. When billionaire media magnates speak, the rest of us listen.

The same cannot be said for the other American citizen, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, who Gillard has brought to Australia, "impressed" by his education reforms, especially school league tables, which had produced "remarkable outcomes".

Rubbish. Internet comments on the test results show the improvement in school performance measurement comes from manipulating the tests by prepping students. Klein also makes claims about the results that cannot be supported by any fair analysis. Statisticians who have examined the results say they can be explained by random error.

Klein, a corporate lawyer and political apparatchik, is here to spruik the virtues of Gillard's wacky plan to publish a rating system for schools. Critics point out that the system, based on experience in Britain and the US, "names and shames" poorly performing schools whose output is predictable based on socio-economic background and lack of funding.

The schemes' great political virtue is that it allows governments without any real commitment to raising the standard of poorer schools to appear to be doing something.

The NY Times blog also reports on Klein’s trip.

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