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Education Wed Nov 12 2008

The Attack on Public Education Continues

Richard Cohen, op-ed columnist from the Washington Post, offers his endorsement for the Secretary of Education...NYC School Chancellor (nominal reform of "superintendent") Joel Klein, due to his pro-merit pay stance. He argues that this appointment will mean that Obama is showing his ability to triangulate by throwing teachers unions (many of whom endorsed him) under the bus:

Teachers unions -- another Democratic Party interest group -- hate merit pay, so here's another opportunity for Obama to prove his mettle. The object is to reverse the current situation, in which most teachers are recruited from the bottom quarter of college classes, and instead go for the top quarter -- as do Finland and South Korea, two countries with excellent education systems.

Cohen double-dog-dares Obama into "testing his mettle" by opposing teachers unions. I cannot locate where he found the statistic that teachers are recruited "from the bottom quarter of college classes" (seriously, if this report exists, I am interested in reading it), but his claim of merit pay is a falsehood. Many teachers unions do in fact oppose merit pay schemes in the model proposed by the business community, but are currently researching alternatives.

It's interesting to note that a more nuanced version of merit pay, National Board Certification, is not only endorsed by many unions, the Chicago Teachers Union's Quest Center actually pays the tuition to "test the mettle" of experienced educators to matriculate in the program.

National Board Certification is a rigorous, voluntary program that monitors and verifies the quality of teachers. In some districts (like CPS) teachers passing the boards get a handsome bump in pay. This idea was initiated by past president of the American Federation of Teachers, the late Al Shanker.

It's also interesting to note that Kaplan, Inc. is a for-profit subsidiary of The Washington Post [PDF]. Kaplan is a highly profitable provider of test-preparation materials (the ones that prepare students for the high-stakes tests that lead to school closings) and scripted curriculum. Kaplan also provides "Supplementary Education Services" to schools, as required by the No Child Left Behind law.

This begs the question: Why aren't corporations that profit from policy considered "interest groups" in Mr. Cohen's estimation? Kaplan, Inc. is a lobbying powerhouse. It must be a question of who signs the paychecks.

Up on the lookout for "Renaissance 2015."


Lulu / November 13, 2008 12:23 AM

I would be interested to see if the pro-merit pay faction could find a sizable group of teachers (preferably ones from an urban district) who agreed with their ideas.

Anyone who has done time in the schools understands the ludicrousness of applying a business model to education.

(see the infamous Blueberry Story that periodically makes its way around teacher emails.

Praise / November 14, 2008 3:28 AM

South Korea has a terrible educational system. In 2005, BBC came out with an article about how SK has one of the highest number of employees who have their high school degrees, and perhaps that is true. SK was also known for doing well on tests, and perhaps that is true as well. But now that I'm living here, I can't help but see the infrastructural flaws. There is so little being done to progress and perfect the public education system that a million "hakwons," or their English word for it is academies, have been started by profiteers who want to get in on the action. They hire westerners-fly them here and back, give them free housing-and pay them around 2-3000 a month to "teach English" to kids of all ages, and charge parents and arm and a leg. You need ZERO credentials, except a bachelor's degree. Many have no teaching experience nor do they even enjoy teaching. The government tries to match and are recruiting foreigners like crazy to teach in public schools, but can't match the hakwons' drawing power--they offer better hours, better students, and more money.

On top of all this, even though there are almost 40 accredited universities in Korea, there are only three schools that EVERYONE competes to get into: Seoul National, Yonsei, and Korea. They are the ivy leagues, and the way the admission system works, you can't apply for all three... I'm not sure exactly the process---but the students who really care MUST be on the hakwon track, or all is hopeless. All I'm really gathering is that it's hard to get a decent education in Korea.

I'm actually growing more fond of South Korea and my own heritage, despite being a hater in the states- I own up. S. Korea went from being one of the poorest and most oppressed nations to the 11th ranked country in our global economy. Their investment in education is part of that upshoot, but that does NOT mean we have an excellent educational system here.

Oh, and I hear that in certain areas, teachers still hit kids. Oy.

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