Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joel Klein Propaganda

Children first policy raises bar at New York schools

Joel Klein
November 24, 2008

Many urban school districts in the United States are inefficient and
ineffective bureaucracies where authority is widely dispersed, political
patronage is entrenched and no one is held responsible for student outcomes.
Rigid and inconsistent rules and regulations stifle innovation and educators
are not sensibly compensated. Under these conditions, it is no surprise when
student achievement remains stagnant.

New York City's school system functioned in this way for decades. Schools
were not safe, parents had no choices, teachers were paid far too little and
were rewarded for the wrong things. Curriculums - and standards - varied by
neighbourhood. Schools were unfairly funded and school leaders hobbled
because they lacked the authority to make good decisions for students.

Public school culture in New York City valued compliance over innovative
decision-making and accepted low expectations and finger-pointing as excuses
for results in student outcomes. Results were largely stagnant at a very low
level. Far too many children were failing in reading and maths, yet were
pushed from grade to grade, perpetuating an acceptance of failure. The
graduation rate was low and had hardly budged in decades.

Six years ago, when the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, appointed me as chancellor
of America's largest school district, we pledged to transform this broken
system. Bloomberg had secured legislation giving him control over his city's
school district. Since then, we have worked to create a new system that puts
children first and all other (adult) interests second.

We have turned a decentralised system that lacked clear citywide standards
into a system in which principals have clear performance goals and have the
decision-making power and resources they need to do the best job possible in
educating their students.

Our "children first" reform strategy is based on three principles:
leadership, empowerment and accountability. If we have strong, prepared
leaders who will attract and support great teachers, if we set high
standards, and if we give leaders the tools and the support they need, as
well as the power to make decisions and the resources to execute those
decisions, we will change outcomes for students.

We have implemented strategies to accomplish our goals. We have worked to
build leadership capacity by creating a top-tier "leadership academy" to
train principals and created more rigorous mentoring and support. We have
also raised principal salaries by almost 25 per cent and made principals
eligible for up to $50,000 in bonuses each year for taking on the hardest
jobs and being successful in helping students make progress.

We have set clear, high standards based on helping students learn - and we
have created tools to measure how well schools are achieving. We created a
progress report, giving each school a yearly grade of A to F. The grade is
based on student performance, student progress and on schools' environments,
as measured by a new survey we created, which asks all parents, teachers,
and students in years 6 to 12 to assess how well the school is serving
students. We also created a system of quality reviews, so each school
receives an on-site evaluation by experienced educators.

Accountability is not just about measuring results, rewarding success and
doling out consequences for failure; it is also about giving schools tools
and resources to help them measure how well they are helping students learn
and devise strategies to improve. That is why we have created a system of
periodic assessments allowing teachers to measure what students understand
and where they need more help. That is why we have invested in teaching our
teachers how to use data effectively to advance student learning. It is also
why we have created a world-class data-management system, which allows
teachers and principals to track student performance, analyse results and
connect via the internet with educators in other schools across the city to
share ideas and strategies.

Six years ago, roughly half the city's fourth-graders and a third of the
eighth-graders were meeting or exceeding state standards in maths and
reading. Today, seven in 10 New York City public school students in years
three to eight are meeting or exceeding state standards in maths, and almost
six in 10 are meeting or exceeding these standards in English language arts.
Since 2002 our graduation rate has increased by more than 10 percentage
points. It is now the highest it has been in decades.

What does all this add up to? A new culture of learning with a strong focus
on student achievement, plus a new focus on working together to put the
interests of our children first.

Joel Klein is chancellor of New York's Education Department. He is visiting
Sydney this week.

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