Panelists at the New York Ideas forum on public education agreed on one thing: Our schools need help. But they couldn't agree on much else.
Much like the earlier discussion about bipartisan gridlock in Washington, putting former New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on the same stage with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is a recipe for going home unsatisfied. Unless you want to see two old rivals sparring, in which case, grab some popcorn.
If you wanted to find agreement on how to fix the problems of public school education, however, you might have been left spinning your wheels. All the guests on the education panel at New York Ideas agreed that the system needs help. Cami Anderson oversees a school district (Newark, NJ) where the average proficiency of third graders is just 25 percent. Gaston Caperton, a former governor who now runs the College Board, produces the tests that depending on who you ask, finds the winners, but possibly rigs the system. Holden Thorp, as chancellor of a major university (North Carolina-Chapel Hill), is part of a higher-education system where small elite colleges, filled with the highest of achievers, spend more per pupil than states school bursting with students who could use greater attention. We all have our baggage.
But can they come together to decide what's best for our kids? If only it were that simple. The problem with the education system, of course, is that there simply are no perfect answers. The obstacles to learning are numerous and well-documented, and most efforts at reform come with a litany of mixed blessings. Caperton began with a moving story of a young illiterate man redeemed by education. That prompted Klein to wonder why, if that school succeeded for that student, why can't it be done everywhere. How do we save the good ideas and toss out the bad ones? How do we even figure out what the good ones are?