Frank Bruni Previews Joel Klein’s New Book on How to Fix our Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

Frank Bruni gives a preview of Joel Klein’s new book, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, which is due out next week. Bruni attributes the credibility of Klein’s views on education to the fact that he was one of the longest-serving chancellors of the New York City public school system. The thrust of the Bruni’s column is the importance of the teacher.

“More than halfway through Joel Klein’s forthcoming book on his time as the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, he zeros in on what he calls “the biggest factor in the education equation.”

It’s not classroom size, school choice or the Common Core.

It’s “teacher quality,” he writes, adding that “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.”

I agree fully that the teacher can be a most important factor but so is the overall environment of the school, the family, and the neighborhood.

“He [Klein] said that schools of education could stiffen their selection criteria in a way that raises the bar for who goes into teaching and elevates the public perception of teachers. “You’d have to do it over the course of several years,” he said. But if implemented correctly, he said, it would draw more, not fewer, people into teaching.

He said the curriculum at education schools should be revisited as well. There’s a growing chorus for this; it’s addressed in the recent best seller “Building a Better Teacher,” by Elizabeth Green. But while Green homes in on the teaching of teaching, Klein stressed to me that teachers must acquire mastery of the actual subject matter they’re dealing with. Too frequently they don’t.

Klein urged “a rational incentive system” that doesn’t currently exist in most districts. He’d like to see teachers paid more for working in schools with “high-needs” students and for tackling subjects that require additional expertise. “If you have to pay science and physical education teachers the same, you’re going to end up with more physical education teachers,” he said. “The pay structure is irrational.”

In an ideal revision of it, he added, there would be “some kind of pay for performance, rewarding success.” Salaries wouldn’t be based primarily on seniority.”

There is merit to some of what Klein says. I especially like what he says about teachers needing to master subject matter.  This is especially true at the middle and high school levels.

Klein was a lightening rod when he was chancellor often alienating teachers and parents with his rhetoric which at times was vitriolic.  I look forward to reading the book when it is made available to the public.



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