Sunday, November 4, 2012

Klein, Rhee, Rothstein & Gerson: How do we fix our schools?

It is clear after reading these articles that there is no one solution to how to fix our schools. While reading Klein and Rhee’s manifesto, many errors seemed apparent to me, which were then addressed in Rothstein’s response to their manifesto. I thought it very ignorant to place the blame of this nation’s failing school system exclusively on teachers. External factors, as outlined in Rothstein’s article, seem to me to be much more important when dealing with how to improve children’s education. He shows that one third of all black children are now in poverty, which is the same fraction that can be attributed to differences in school quality when explaining variation in student achievement (Rothstein). This means that the remaining two-thirds can be attributed to external factors, which includes parents. While higher stress, poorer health, more hunger, and geographic disruption are certainly negative consequences of more children in poverty, I found it surprising that he didn’t include the idea of parents’ educational past as well. If a child’s parents both had positive experiences in school, they are certainly more likely to want their children to have a positive one as well. Conversely, if they did not have a positive experiences, they are likely to not care as much about their child receiving a good education, or succeeding in school at all. Therefore, parents’ attitude toward education is incredibly important for their children.
Klein and Rhee’s proposition for fixing our schools appeared to be a manifesto that wanted to appeal to Obama and his administration. They failed to criticize RTTT; merely saying it “has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades” (Klein and Rhee). Instead, they just say that our schools cannot keep up with these reforms, while they should be pointing a finger at these reforms in the first place for hurting our school system. An excess of reform cannot and will not fix our schools, and neither will only attacking teachers. As Gerson argues, the influence of the wealthy posing as “educational reformers” is stronger now under Obama than it was under Bush, when the original abomination of public education reform was signed into existence: NCLB (Gerson 98).
Klein and Rhee’s manifesto is certainly a neoliberal one, which is somewhat scary because they were in such high positions with regard to public schooling. They used privatization, in the form of charter schools, as one option to improve public school. Clearly this means taking funding away from public school, something they should be much more concerned about. Additionally, they want educators to receive monetary benefits if their students are succeeding. Because the only way to judge this success is based on test scores, which we know aren’t beneficial to the students, or the teachers for that matter. It seems to me that none of the options outlined in this article are viable for actually fixing schools. However, Gerson seems to be on the right path, with ideas of mass action and political action, funding for public education, opposing the corporate education reform agenda, among many. Gerson’s article is like a small ray of hope in the despair that is our current educational reform system. This whole class for me has been quite depressing, because it all seems to question whether there really is a way to fix public schools. So far, it does not seem promising. 


  1. I disagree with Courtney’s opinion that Gerson’s article was a ray of hope, and I wish that I didn’t. Klein/Rhee, Rothstein, and particularly Gerson’s articles all seemed to touch upon a central theme: the importance of money. I would be completely naïve to suggest that money is not important, especially as someone who remains a financial dependant. However, it makes one doubt the goodness of humanity when we see just how influential money is today. Gerson explains the neoliberal movement, which views our country as one big market, where the “bottom line” applies to any and all sectors, even public education (98). We’re stuck in a “dog eat dog world” where competition rules supreme. This profit-mindedness has corrupted education, which we have examined all semester. Gerson illustrates how school district leaders crumple at the opportunity for funding (“the offer of multimillion dollar grant is enough to cause most superintendents to drop everything and reorder their priorities”, 110). Unions that have adopted the corporate mindset are no help. Klein and Rhee further the emphasis on money with their merit-pay idea, which Gerson condemns, claiming that it cultivates a short-term mindset (105). Are teachers acquiring this money “sell-outs”? And then there’s Teach for America, which rotates cheap labor through public schools, furthering the bottom-line yet not adequately educating students.

    It almost seems that in order to make the public-minded changes that Rothstein promotes and Gerson optimistically delineates, it would necessitate an overall shift in mentality regarded money. Those starved for funding or salary— superintendents and teachers, for example— must retain their integrity and resist bribery. Furthermore, the rich must embrace the idea that they need to share the wealth, literally. This seems a huge step for the cadre of people who currently insist that our President a socialist.

  2. The readings for this week did a good job showing that factors outside of schools are equally as, if not more important than in-school factors, such as teachers. Many of the articles that we have read have done a great job reporting statistics and data showing that holding schools and teachers accountable is the way we will fix our education system, yet these articles ignore statistics showing that non-school factors have a greater affect on student performance. Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein’s manifesto spoke highly of privatization, as well as holding teachers accountable. They quoted Obama, saying that teachers are the most important in school factor in improving student performance. Yet Obama also stated that the most important factor overall is the child’s parents (Rothstein). We have made teacher quality and holding teachers accountable the most important factor in improving the education system in the United States, yet this idea is distracting us from realizing the bigger problem that is preventing the education system and economy from improving. Fixing our schools has not been very successful, and has not really helped improve the economic standing of our country. Klein and Rhee state in their manifesto that the economic problems in our country cannot be fixed until we fix our schools. However, it seems that if we fix the economic problems in our country first, it might lead to improving our schools. If we continue to hold teacher quality as the most important factor in education, it could lead to further economic problems, poorer health and nutrition for students, and greater stress in our country overall. There has been a lot of discussion and debate on the topic of improving education, but there also seems to be a certain argument dominating the conversation. If the focus continues to be on only one aspect of the education system, the teachers, not much can be done to change the whole system.
    I also would have to agree with Grace on her opinion of the Gerson article. I think that she is correct in saying that in order to make the changes described, a complete shift in mentality is necessary, and I don't think that this shift is very realistic.

  3. As touched upon by previous posts Rothstein’s response to the Klein-Rhee Manifesto elaborates on some of the major problems that the original manifesto blatantly failed to address with regard to the education system. Rothstein makes an effort to unpack some of ideas of the manifesto and show the other side. With respect to teacher quality he makes a point to distinguish between the most important school factor and the most important in school factor. The fact that socio-economic and cultural biases are so quickly dismissed by the mainstream schema, shows how jaded the public is to the true deficits of the education system. Though I did appreciate the original clarification of Obama’s word choice, I think the author spent more words than necessary defending and extrapolating meaning from the original statement. Rothstein did however, go through efforts to de-mystify the notion that teacher-quality is the primary factor that affects learning, and he also posed other viable aspects such as the quality of curriculum, school leadership, and teacher collaboration that influence education. While the importance of teacher quality within the classroom is irrefutable, it cannot be held as the sole determinant for performance, and is cannot be used as the platform for launching an entire national campaign. While teacher quality may be a problem within public education, we cannot use it as a guise for the other outstanding problem. Furthermore, we cannot use test scores as the primary indicator of teacher quality. This type of rational further feeds into a performance culture obsessed with “teaching to the test” and distracts our attention from the areas in education that are suffering the most.

  4. I think the hardest part about accepting what Michelle Rhee and other school officials have to say about schooling is that they ignore the most fundamental part of children's lives and place the blame on the teachers and parents. After reading Jack Gerson, I found that fixing public schools may not be as hard as policy makes it seem. I think that public schooling sometimes ignores basic needs (Watkins, 103). While reading this, I instantly thought of HCZ and its health center. This addition helps students in more ways than one. The problem is that not ALL needs are being met. It seems that we fix one thing and cause harm to another. You can see that by the way that militarism is portrayed in classrooms. I remember Maddy said in a previous class that if poverty was solved, many of societal issues would be solved as a result. As Courtney said, it is a result of neoliberalism influencing our thoughts. I find that neoliberalism has allowed for money to be taken from the poor and given to big corporations. And like you, Courtney, I feel like fixing schools are impossible sometimes especially because we would have to completely change the minds of everyone in our society. Neoliberalism has perpetuated stereotypes about public schooling that has forced people to believe that all schools are failing and that educators should be held responsible (Watkins, 110). I think that we need to get back to community. Maybe if these "wealthy education reformers" actually instilled community and the care for our neighbors, it would be implemented in schools. As Virginia said, we definitely need to get away from using testing as a mean of measurement, it has only allowed "Darwinism" (competition) to dehumanize education and allow students to be seen as numbers.