Ten Things They Hate About Joel Klein!

So actress Julia Stiles starts a blog and promptly begins gushing about Joel Klein.  Either she has good taste in school reformers or she’s preparing for some role where she needs to understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a lot of angry emails from implacable activists.  Method acting?  In any event, Eduwonk approves! 

In The Times, Elissa Gootman delivers her Klein profile.  Turns out Joel Klein is impatient and can even be abrasive!  Don’t tell Julia! 

Couple of quick points.   First, there are more than a million students in the New York City public schools so change comes slowly but for my money there has been a lot of progress in the past eight years. Too often the debate is various data points rather than an overall look at what’s changed.   That said, things are not nearly where they need to be but the criticisms need to be put in some context and they too frequently are not. 

Second, that a lot of legislators and public officials feel neglected by Klein is a problem but also an inherent tension and symptom of mayoral control.   Gootman discusses that.   There is no school governance model that is perfect but there clearly is a trade off between relentlessness and leverage and giving lots of people ongoing decisionmaking roles in the governance of a large system.  Could Klein have handled it better?  Sure.  But no one should misunderstand the inherent choices with different models of governance.  

Third, is it me or do education stories like this focus a lot more on personality than coverage in many other sectors?  The education world often doesn’t acquit itself well with how personal all this ends up being.   And c’mon, if the critics had someone at the helm who was stiff-arming reforms they don’t favor and advancing ones they do we wouldn’t be hearing so much grumbling about process. 

Finally, what I think gets lost here is a subtle but powerful way Klein has advanced the cause of education reform.   He knows lots of people from different sectors and fields via the interesting life he’s led.   The article, for instance, talks about his foodie friendship with Alan Alda.  The education world tends to be somewhat insular and it’s been interesting to watch how many different people in other walks of life have become acquainted with the education debate through Klein.  He’s like ed reform’s own Kevin Bacon and I don’t think his most strident critics understand how much that is marginalizing them in some venues.

Update:  Elizabeth Green amplifies the story.

11 thoughts on “Ten Things They Hate About Joel Klein!

  1. JasonM

    “The education world often doesn’t acquit itself well with how personal all this ends up being”…

    Could it be that the extreme feminization of the education world has to do with this?

    See also the extreme hostility to data-driven analysis.

    I wonder about the gender breakdown of reformers vs. status-quo types.

    Someone like Michelle Rhee would do great in a mixed-gender but heavily male environment like the Google executive team
    http://www.google.com/corporate/execs.html

    The typical “don’t hurt anyone’s feeeelings!” ed-school type, not so much.

  2. john thompson

    Simple question. What evidence do you have that Klein has made improvements? The stronger evidence indicates otherwise.

    And if NYC did not invest so heavily in bogus programs like “credit recovery” which often are transperant efforts to fabricate data, we would be better able to trust Kelin’s (weaker) evidence of progress.

  3. Marrianne

    It’s easier to understand reform movements and leaders that fit neatly into ideological parameters. Charter schools look like privatization, and are dominantly non union, so charter schools are bad. Or conversely, charter schools are non-union and so therefore good. Same goes with curriculum (phonics not whole language!), testing (all testing bad!) and so on. And of course leaders: Klein is bad because he did X, Rhee is good becasue she did Y.

    But everyone who trys to speak about ed reform and ed leaders in strictly ideological ways sounds, well, uneducated. We’ve got to get out of those boxes and learn from all pilots and leaders. We’re not going to solve this with ideological blinders on.

    And JasonM: good luck with your particular box.

  4. Schoolhouse

    As a former NYC teacher for 10 years, and having grown up on LI where I attended a public school where the Regents Diploma was the standard-the fact that fewer than a third of black and Hispanic high school students earned the respected Regents diplomas in 2007 is highly indicative of what has not occurred during Joel Klein’s tenure. Klein is not using the right standards-he moved the deck chairs around and instituted a market driven model that is STILL providing a sub-standard eduction-and-marginalizing more NYC people than bringing in to the fold. It is interesting how someone like KLEIN-a former prosecutor-although NYC educated-will be hailed as a National figure, when the people so close on the ground know the truth-it may look good on paper, but, it is the same old thing-urban kids being shortchanged of a high standard education and failing to be be admitted to the standard bearing colleges that offer them a way to participate fully in the world of work.

  5. Tom Amper

    Joel Klein frames his job “as a civil rights mission.” After seven years of unprecedented control over the schools, he has made no progress in closing the achievement gap. But instead of lamenting his failure, he pronounces himself “comfortable” with the job he has done.

    He’s right about one thing. I don’t get it.

  6. a researcher

    The reason the article about Klein focuses on personality is because he doesn’t know enough about quality teaching to talk about it. He is a lawyer and a ballbuster, and NYC needs that. But if he understood the core work of teaching and could articulate what excellence in teaching would look like, then the story could talk about that.

    Imagine the chief of surgery not knowing how to do an appendectomy.

  7. a reality check says

    Or imagine the hospital director not having been a surgeon. Oh wait, that’s how hospitals work.

  8. John Dewey

    Mr. Rotheram:

    Tell me how mandating Everyday Math in NYC is good reform. I’d be interested in your answer.

  9. a researcher

    Right. Hospital directors tend to have been trained in medicine, rather than, say architecture. Which is not how some school districts are run.

  10. john thompson

    I just heard the rerun of “The Rubber Room,” on Ira Glass’ “This American Life” on NPR and also heard NY Times Education Reporter Sam Freedman conclude that the system is wrong for guilty teachers as well as teachers who were innocent victims of abusive principals. I realize that a system of 1.1 million students creates exceptional problems and the issue of terminating ineffective teachers is a challenge for unions also, but clearly Klein has poisoned the well on this and related issues. Tough issues don’t get any easier when self-righteous management refuses to bargain in good faith.

    The next story was on “The Plan,” and it started with neighbors arguing that their school in Washington D.C. was being closed to help gentrification. I don’t know the facts on that school, but I know that even if Rhee, or Klein, tried to tell the truth, we’d have to dismiss their words along with those of the boy who cried wolf too much.

    Neither do I know if “the Plan” actually exists, and whether plans exist in today’s urban areas to assist gentrification. But I do know this. In Oklahoma, segregated building patterns were choreographed but the newspaper publisher, the VP of the largest bank and the chair of the Chamber of Commerce. They met every Saturday, and implemented their designs by handing out “insider information” to the key players. They implemented their plan through 18 interlocking trusts, and even then their efforts were illegal under numerous state and federal laws. (To visualize our system, think of a smaller version of the Dallas Citizens Council led by the John Huston character in Chinatown or just read Robert Caro’s account of Robert Moses’ tactics.)

    Why is this relevant? Because when data-driven “reformers” decided that they knew the answer for educational ills across the nation, even though these newcomers had relatively little knowledge of urban education, in Oklahoma City we had barely had a generation in our post Jim Crow schools, and we never had anything like the money required to turn our schools around.

    We were just approaching the time where we could have tried the logical first step – community schools where all kids can get a holistic education in a respectful environment. And now, the forces who enriched themselves by breaking unions, starving health care, and moving jobs out of the urban center get to take the high road by quoting Klein/Rhee, arguing that the problem is not the legacy of de jure segregation which they defended to the end, but the “Low Expectations” of teachers. So many business interest would have been happy for any rationale to close down the public schools and further depress wages, but Klein and Rhee gave them a gold-plated propaganda weapon.

    Do I resent newcomers like Klein and Rhee who don’t know what they don’t know about schools? Of course. Am I doubly resentful that they concluded that the unions, with their long history of crusading for civil rights, are the problem and ignored the history of what happens when people on either side play “the race card?” Of course. And I’m triply offended that they made alliances and borrowed the methods of financial engineering that gave us this recession and they are willing to jeopardize President Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy.

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