The Grade for Joel Klein: Pass or Fail?

By Gabe Pressman
|  Tuesday, Nov 9, 2010  |  Updated 6:30 PM EDT
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The Grade for Joel Klein: Pass or Fail?

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NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

Joel Klein stepped down as Chancellor of the New York City school system, with words of warm praise from Mayor Bloomberg.

The Mayor said: “Klein leaves a legacy of achievement that makes him one of the most important and transformational educational leaders of our time.” Klein said: "There are things we could have done better and smarter," but, "I  look back with enormous pride on that we did do."

Yet it seemed from the beginning of Klein’s tenure that Michael Bloomberg was calling the shots. Indeed, as the Mayor ran for his third term, he said he wanted to be judged on his achievements in the educational arena.

Bloomberg claimed the results of test scores in reading and math proved conclusively that the education of New York’s children had improved dramatically since the Legislature centralized the school system under City Hall. But the test scores turned out to be bogus. Teachers were teaching to the tests because their own promotions depended on it. Principals allowed that to happen because, for professional advancement, they had to score well in the tests too.

Neither Bloomberg nor Klein has ever admitted wrongdoing or incompetence in the affair of the phony test scores. Only one thing seems to have mattered to these gentlemen: proving that they’re doing a good job regardless of the facts.

Meryl Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, flagged the inaccurate test scores early on. She told me that the bar had to be raised lest the children were judged inaccurately on their performance. In recent months, state educational authorities, have made an effort to remedy this situation. It’s a work still in progress.   

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters recalls the very beginning of the Bloomberg-Klein regime when several parents who were supposed to advise City Hall on the education of their children were fired because they had the temerity to criticize the powers that be.

Haimson told me: “I am thrilled that he is leaving. He had no respect for parents and little respect for teachers -- and little regard for the law. That’s why there are still lawsuits pending against his arbitrary decisions.”

Haimson claims black and Hispanic students are doing poorly as compared to the same groups in other cities, that many schools are still overcrowded.             

In fairness to Klein, he tried hard. But he had to please his boss. And neither man had the credentials of an educator.  Klein, a former federal anti-trust prosecutor, had to get a waiver from Albany because he had not been trained as a professional educator and Bloomberg’s selection to replace Klein, publisher Cathie Black, also needs a waiver. `

As a New York legend, Yogi Berra, said in another context:  “It could be déjà vu all over again.”

Under the new regime, educators and  parents, it’s likely,  will still be ignored. There will be few changes in the way the system operates.

The arrogance of City Hall will prevail.

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