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Crikey! NYC school reforms taking hold Down Under

It’s no secret that Michelle Rhee, down in Washington, D.C., is faithfully replicating New York City’s recent school reforms. But it might be more of a surprise that some of Joel Klein’s ideas have gained traction with leading education officials in the land down under.

After a trip to New York earlier this year, Julia Gillard, the deputy prime minister tasked with carrying out the Australian Labor Party’s promised “education revolution,” returned home sold on Klein-style school reform. She told the Australian Council for Education Research conference last month:

We can learn from Klein’s methodology of comparing like-schools with like-schools and then measuring the differences in school results in order to spread best practice. Something Joel Klein is personally and passionately committed to is the identification of school need, the comparison of like-schools and the identification of best practice.

Since that speech, when Gillard’s ministry proposed ranking Australian schools publicly according to the methodology used to create the controversial report cards released last year for New York’s schools, Gillard has sworn to restructure failing schools by removing school heads and firing teachers; proposed financial incentives to attract good teachers to weak schools; and promised more money to low-performing schools, although states that refuse to carry out the national reforms will have their funding withheld. Klein told the Australian, a newspaper, that he’s pleasantly surprised by how quickly Gillard adopted his ideas.

But school advocates in Australia aren’t letting Klein-style reforms be implemented without question. In fact, so far Gillard’s plan “has been met largely with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for a classroom prankster scraping her fingernails down a blackboard,” reported The Age last month. The head of the country’s teachers union says the notion that making school performance comparisons public will lead to better schools is “naive and simplistic.” Referring to a time when the opposition party attempted to rank schools, a reporter asked Gillard last week on national television, “How come when they do it it’s called naming and shaming and when you do it it’s called transparency?” Other government officials have pointed out that much of the demographic and performance information Gillard plans to publish is already publicly available. And the Australian media haven’t been shy about noting the failures of school reform in New York City, including stagnant scores on the international NAEP exam, skepticism surrounding the validity of state test scores, and “bizarre” school report card results.

The next step for Gillard’s reforms is for her to convince — or coerce, using the carrot of increased federal funding — Australian state governments into implementing them. As of last week, the Australian was reporting that negotiations were “growing tense.”

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