Monday, November 22, 2010

Joel Klein's Report Card

A spot-on WSJ editorial:

·         REVIEW & OUTLOOK

·         NOVEMBER 11, 2010


Joel Klein's Report Card

If you can reform schools there . . .

Education reformers tend to react to the ferocious opposition of the status quo in one of two ways: Either they fade away in resignation, or they become even more radical. Joel Klein did the latter, which is why he leaves New York City's 1,600 public schools and 1.1 million students better than he found them.

A Democrat without education experience when he became schools chancellor in 2002, Mr. Klein began as a mainstream reformer. Raise standards, end social promotion, hire better teachers, promote charter schools. But as he was mugged by the reality of the K-12 public school establishment, he began to appreciate that real improvement requires more than change at the margin.

Thus he led the fight for far more school choice by creating charter school clusters, as in Harlem, that are changing the local culture of failure. Kids from as far away as Buffalo will benefit from his fight to lift the state charter cap, which increased to 460 schools from 200. Mr. Klein helped to expose the "rubber rooms" that let bad teachers live for years on the taxpayer dime while doing no work. He gave schools grades from A to F and pushed to close the bad ones, and he fought for merit pay in return for ending teacher tenure.

Mr. Klein leaves with much of that work uncompleted, but with reformers on offense and the public more engaged. Mayor Mike Bloomberg has chosen former media executive Cathie Black, another education rookie, as the next chancellor. Lack of experience in this failed system can be an advantage, so long as Ms. Black has the toughness to take on the teachers unions and their political retainers on the city council, the state board of regents and in Albany. She should worry when they start to praise her.

The school reform movement has gained momentum in recent years as more Democrats like Mr. Klein and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., have taken up the task and spoken honestly about a system that serves the adults it employs, rather than the students it claims to serve but fails to teach. The unions believe they can prevail simply by waiting out the reformers. They'll be right if others don't continue the fight as tenaciously as Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee.

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