Since resigning as chancellor of New York City public schools to become CEO of News Corporation's educational division, Joel Klein has become a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of newspapers across the country. His output no doubt pleases Rupert Murdoch, but his views are proving to be an embarrassment.
Let's consider only his most recent writing. As I explained in my column on June 24, Klein commits the base rate fallacy in continuing to claim credit for improvement of test scores when he was chancellor ("Common Errors in Coverage of Education"). He then further calls into question his understanding of educational issues by co-writing (with Jeb Bush) an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal about the link between America's economic strength and students' knowledge and skills ("The Case for Common Educational Standards," June 24).
I've written in favor of national standards, but I've never done so for the reasons that Klein states in the WSJ piece: "The success of today's students will determine our nation's destiny. America's economic strength and standing in the world economy are directly linked to our ability to equip students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the 21st-century economy."
This assertion is a gross exaggeration. As Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein wrote in "School as Scapegoats" (The American Prospect, Oct. 12, 2007): "The honesty of our capital markets, the accountability of our corporations, our fiscal-policy and currency management, our national investment in R&D and infrastructure, and the fair-play of the trading system (or its absence), also influence whether the U.S. economy reaps the gains of Americans' diligence and ingenuity. The singular obsession with schools deflects political attention away from policy failures in those other realms."
Supporting Mishel and Rothstein, a study published in the International Journal of Education Policy & Leadership in April 2008 found that "the data from previous studies suggest that the relationship between student achievement rankings on international assessments of reading, mathematics and science, and a nation's future economic growth is untenable and not causal." The study concluded that there is no linear relationship between the general level of education attainment and a nation's gross domestic product.
I don't deny that schools play a role in the economic health of the U.S., but I say it is overstated. For example, on the same day that the Klein piece was published, the WSJ also ran an essay by Michael Spence, a 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, who wrote: "Many have expressed shock at the recent U.S. employment data. But 9.1% unemployment shouldn't be a surprise. To address the jobs challenge, we must stop pretending that this is only a difficult cyclical recovery. The root of the problem is structural" ("Why the Old Jobs Aren't Coming Back"). How are public schools responsible?
I don't expect Klein to cease his scapegoating of public schools, but I hope that readers of his essays will view his comments with skepticism. There is too much riding on the outcome to do otherwise.