Joel: “I Knew Al Shanker and You’re No Al Shanker”

 A response to Joel Klein’s “Pay for Performance” Op Ed piece in the New York Sun, October 23rd, 2007.

Dear Joel

After the release of the Al Shanker biography “Tough Liberal” everyone seems to be quoting Al. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen in the Dan Quail debate , “I knew Al Shanker and you’re no Al Shanker.”

It has been difficult to keep up with the twists and turns of your administration … from strong centralized top down control to “let a thousand flowers bloom.” From trying to dismantle tenure and a Robin Hood approach to school allocations to bonus pay.

Individual pay for performance, aka merit pay is quite different from school-wide bonus pay. I am gratified that you acknowledge that principal to staff and teacher to teacher collaboration is vital to student progress.

You are quick to pat yourself on the back … but have your programs, whatever they may be, succeeded? NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson questions the data.

High schools with 70, 80 even 90% graduation rates have 20, 30, 40% college readiness rates, using the CUNY college readiness metric. SAT scores are dismal.

Are kids making progress or are we seeing scores being pumped up by manipulations?

More importantly, are we following a path that evidence shows will achieve progress?

A recent McKinsey & Co. study  is fascinating:

“Begin by hiring the best … the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of it’s teachers.”

What is interesting is that teacher training institutions only pick the best applicants … rather than expanding the pool they limit the pool, and, because entry is fiercely competitive, teaching becomes a high status job.

Teacher Fellows are the right direction.

Secondly, teachers receive significant support, i.e., hundreds of hours of training, appointing senior teachers to oversee professional development in schools. “…when a brilliant American teacher retires, almost all of the lesson plans and practices that she has developed also retire. When a Japanese teacher retires, she leaves a legacy.”

The current NYC Mentoring Program, unfortunately, is a compliance-only program …

Finally, “… there is a pattern in what countries do once students start to fail … top performers intervene early and often.” In NYC we stand back and allow schools, and their students, to “sink or swim” and use the threat of a “poor grade” to motivate.

Joel, I’m a “glass half full” type of guy … maybe you have “seen the light …,” and the next two years will be characterized by a partnership with teachers and their unions …

I was speaking with a truly wonderful teacher, she lives in Waterbury Connecticut, leaves her house at 5 am and arrives in East New York at 6:30 am … she shrugs over the bonus idea … the “best and brightest” teach because it is a passion … dollars, housing, a pension, health plans enable them to exercise their passion.

I’m a teacher, I always believe I can make a difference, even in teaching a recalcitrant Chancellor.


2 responses to “Joel: “I Knew Al Shanker and You’re No Al Shanker”

  1. Not only is Joel Klein no Shanker, he is in no way an educator. Klein has no experience in schools or classrooms and has brought no real educators into his inner circle. His first Deputy for teaching and Learning was a school superintendent who had failed as a leader in two smaller districts. He tried to replace her with another non-educator, Michelle Cahill, but the SED would not grant a second waiver (Joel got the first). So he went to someone with only minimal experience as a teacher and principal (a matter of years) who has left the system and finally had to replace him with Marcia Lyles who was the Supt of Dist 16, one of NYCs failing school districts, prior to all the reorganizations. Through all of this the thrust has been an ideological commitment to principles that have no empirically demonstrated effect on student performance, an over-reliance on test scores as the only measure of performance, and a constant groping for a governance structure that will allow Klein to take credit and avoid blame for anything that happens in the school system.
    Real leaders, like Al Shanker, don’t look to devolve authority downward to avoid blame. Real leaders have vision based on experience and help others to implement that vision.


  2. charlie glassman

    how would you encourage master teachers to move into schools of need or to the new small schools who need veteran teachers to mentor the new and inexperienced teachers?


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