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Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education
Joel I. Klein became New York City schools chancellor in July 2002 after serving in the highest levels of government and business. As Chancellor, he oversees more than 1,500 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees, and a $21-billion operating budget.
Mr. Klein’s comprehensive education reform program, Children First, is transforming the nation's largest public school system into a system of great schools.
Before Mr. Klein became Chancellor, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsmann, Inc., and chief U.S. liaison officer to Bertelsmann AG from January 2001 to July 2002. Bertelsmann, one of the world’s largest media companies, has annual revenues exceeding $20 billion and employs more than 76,000 people in 54 countries.
From 1997 to 2001, Mr. Klein was assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division. Serving one of the longest tenures ever as head of the 700-lawyer division, Klein led landmark cases against Microsoft, WorldCom/Sprint, Visa/Mastercard, and General Electric, prevailing in a large majority of cases. Mr. Klein was widely credited with transforming the antitrust division into one of the Clinton Administration’s greatest successes. He also served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and as the antitrust division’s principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. His appointment to the U.S. Justice Department came after Klein served two years (1993-95) as deputy counsel to President William J. Clinton.
Question: What have you learned works and doesn’t work with charter schools?
Joel Klein: I’m a big supporter of charters, fundamentally, for two reasons. One for innovation, and, two for competition. And I think the system needs both. We need choices in high needs communities. The people, they have choices in their kids’ education, they can move to a different neighborhood, they can go to a different school.
But charters are the choices for people in our high poverty neighborhoods. And that kind of competition does put pressure on the system so that you hope a rising tide will basically lift the boats.
But the other thing it does is it provides for innovation. So different models that you can learn from. And then the trick is to look at those models, see which ones are working and why, and try to replicate them.
One of my friends who is a very successful business executive told me that the education system, like much of the business system, suffers from NIH.
I said “What’s NIH?”
And he said “Not Invented Here.” And every culture thinks that’s indigenous to itself.
But in fact the way you succeed and learn is by looking at things that succeed elsewhere, and then you incorporate them into your culture, which strengthens your culture.
Now what are some of the things we learned from charters? We’ve learned, for example, that they need flexibility in hiring and firing. And they’d be the first to admit, sometimes they make mistakes, just like any of us. And they need the flexibility to be able to address those mistakes.
Second they work very, very rigorously on mentoring their people. So if you’re a young rookie teacher and they have a good senior teacher that they think is compatible with you, you watch that person. This is the way, when I was a practicing lawyer, the way I learned to argue cases. I would spend as much time as I could looking at the top advocates in the nation, learning from them, asking them to watch me and critique me and brutally critique me, honestly, and then watch me the second time to see did I learn from their critique.
Well that’s the same kind of thing a lot of charters do. What they do is high expectations are indispensable. If they sense that you’re part of a culture in which you don’t support high expectations, they won’t tolerate it. They have extended day. A lot of the kids that we’ve been talking about who face a lot of challenges, they need more time in school. They have extended year, they don’t spend a lot on bureaucracy, they welcome assessment, they want to know what their kids know, and what their kids don’t know, because only by knowing what each kid knows and doesn’t know can you address how to teach that kid with differentiated instruction.
And they work with their teachers to differentiate. So that if some kid is very good at long division but doesn’t get fractions, you need to work with the kid on fractions, keep doing long division with them ain’t going to do it.
But on the other hand another kid could be really good at fractions but not at long division. So you’ve got to be able to differentiate, and charters that work, use the data.
Our accountability system; we learned a great deal, for example, from the accountability system that Achievement First had. And even their red dot, yellow dot, green dot, to indicate on which of the skills, for example in English language arts, which of the skills the kids have mastered, which they’re okay in, which they’re not getting, and how you differentiate. And using assessment and embracing a culture in which you understand that kids need to perform and that tests are not the only measure but a measure of performance. When people tell me, “Well you’re teaching to the test”--if the test tests the right skills, you want to make sure the kids learn them.
And my kids in New York who are not passing basic tests, it’s not because somehow they get it but they can’t pass the test. It’s because they can’t read, they can’t do elementary math, they don’t understand scientific principles, they don’t know history. And if that happens, that’s a kid who’s not going to be successfully educated.
Question: How do we nationalize best practices from charter schools?
Joel Klein: In New York what we're doing is something we call "knowledge management"; creating a platform in which the system can disseminate best practices.
If you're working with a lot of kids who are recent immigrants, and they're fourteen years old, and they present a lot of challenges, language challenges, sometimes interrupted education challenges, what schools are doing different things, and how do you learn about that? We've created this platform called ARIS, which is fundamentally an Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, so that people can access information, we can share what we know are central. But schools can share with each other. It becomes an amazing peer-to-peer platform. And if you think about the Internet, think about how empowering that has been on knowledge management and knowledge sharing. Well, the schools ought to be a part of that. Now how you take that national, I think there's gotta be a combination of either a real public commitment to that at the national government, or some public/private partnership.
I was recently asked by the New York Times in an interview, if I had a billion dollars in philanthropy and education, how would I spend it?
I would spend a considerable chunk of that investing in sophisticated research and knowledge management so that you could create a national platform so that we didn't have to argue about urban legends and urban myths but really argue about a knowledge-based system of transforming information so that people could access it, learn from it and improve it. And that's generally the kind of thing you can do through this sort of platforms that we have in New York City. But you need a centralized system and rigorous academic research standards so that people can really measure and hold variables constant. There's so many urban myths in education, and you need people who are willing to challenge those myths.
Recorded on: March 30, 2008
The system needs innovation and competition, says the NYC schools chancellor, who announced yesterday that he is stepping down.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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