Monday, August 28, 2006

Leaving No Sacred Cow Behind

Here's a stunningly powerful editorial from the NY Times declaring that charters, despite what Chancellor Klein may say, are not a panacea. I don't think there is any such thing as a panacea as far as education goes. But the Times is very specific:

Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

Frankly, I'm not altogether convinced even lawmakers advocating charters believe this, so I'm glad they modified it with "seem." Public schools are a prime target, full of nasty union employees who'd like nothing better than to raise Steve Forbes' tax bill. Vouchers haven't captured the public imagination, so such politicians are direly in need of some gimmick that will relieve them of actually paying for good teachers, decent facilities, and reasonable class sizes.

There are certainly good charter schools, and charters might be useful in a diverse city like NY. Optimally, they wouldn't be used to divert attention from rampant neglect of our school system or unconscionable overcrowding. Nor would they be used as exercises in union-busting.

Where I live, we pay teachers well, get hundreds of applications for each and every position (in each and every discipline),send our children to buildings that plainly show we care, and do not subject them to the highest class sizes in the state of New York.

Here, there's little discussion of charters. There's little discussion of vouchers. There's no discussion of merit pay (Why in the world would anyone truly concerned about education want to hire teachers without merit at any price?), and no school officials making the preposterous contention that teachers are the only factor in the education of children.

Treating teachers like items to be scraped off of Chancellor Klein's Florsheims is not precisely what will retain them in the long-term. Denying that years of experience may factor into teacher quality will not much help kids either.

President Bush may be comfortable with such tactics, as they inspire voucher programs which directly undermine public education (a constant drag on Steve Forbes' tax bill). Nonetheless, Mayor Bloomberg, if he genuinely wishes to leave the system better than he found it, simply can't afford to ignore the genuine dysfunction of our school system anymore.

He needs to step up and make sure the CFE lawsuit, promising good teachers, decent facilities, and smaller classes become more than an overly optimistic pipe-dream (even if he has to pay for it). He's got to stop slavishly emulating GW's chronically underfunded and insincere No Child Left Behind. The Times is grateful for the increase in available statistics. But that's plainly not enough:

Four years later, the national teacher corps is still in a shambles. Until Congress changes that, everything else will amount to little more than tinkering at the margins.

Nowhere is this more true than in New York City. Charters, maybe.

But let's attend to the schools that serve the overwhelming majority of New York City's children first.
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