What the Former Chancellor of New York City Schools’ Sleight of Hand Tells Us About Education Reform
This is a story about a story, of how a fiction about impoverished children and public schools corrupts our education policy.
The fiction is the autobiography of Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Appointed in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein transformed the city’s public-school system by promoting privately managed charter schools to replace regular public schools, by increasing the consequences for principals and teachers of standardized tests, and by attacking union-sponsored due process and seniority provisions for teachers. From his perch as head of the nation’s largest school district, Klein wielded outsize influence, campaigning to persuade districts and states across the nation to adopt the testing and accountability policies he had established in New York. Deputies he trained when he was chancellor now lead school systems not only in New York but also in Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Newark, and elsewhere.
Klein resigned in 2010 to develop a new division at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to sell tablet-based curriculum to public schools. His prominence in national education policy, though, has not diminished. He is chair of the Broad Center, which is funded by Los Angeles billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad to train and place school superintendents who’ve been recruited not only from the education sector but also from leadership positions in government, the military, and corporations. The center’s graduates have included the Obama administration’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, state school superintendents in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Delaware, and district superintendents in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Seattle, and dozens of other cities. Earlier this year, Klein co-chaired, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Council on Foreign Relations commission that concluded that the country’s public schools are in such crisis that they threaten national security. Klein has also become a contributor toThe Atlantic; his latest piece, in August, denounced “ideological foes of business’ contribution to the public good” who resist efforts of private firms to sell innovative products to public schools.