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.