Interesting Joel Klein speech (pdf), gets at the nub of the issue:
…education reform involves changing a culture that has inhabited our school systems for decades. It is a culture that claims to be in the business of educating children but puts schools, and the people who work in them, at the bottom of the organizational chart. It is a culture that stifles innovation. It is a culture that seeks to preserve the existing arrangements for the adults who work in the system, and, all too often, it does so at the expense of the kids who most need our schools to work for them.
Not to sound like a giddy big think type, but we really are at a transformative time in public education. The pressure to shift to a system that focuses on performance is firmly embedded in public policy and generational shift is taking place in the leadership, teaching, and policymaking communities. Both are enormous challenges but also enormous opportunities. What makes Klein a lightening rod is not that everything he’s tried in New York hasn’t always panned out, it’s that he’s on the edge of this change and so almost regardless of the results he’s going to be catching hell for a while.
Incidentally, while I think all three of the changes Klein says are necessary are important, the shift from uniformity to differentiation could be the most important over time for the continued success of public education as a broadly supported institution.