Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Love or loathe him, Joel Klein is the person most responsible for shaping U.S. schools today

Author and PBS ed correspondent John Merrow (correctly) names Joel Klein the most influential educator in America:

even his critics ought to give Klein credit for longevity, tenacity and some genuine improvements. The bureaucracy has been streamlined, graduation rates are up and thousands of adolescents are now attending high schools where they are more than just a number. On his watch, the New York schools opened about 125 small high schools, in the process shutting down dozens of "dropout factories," scary huge places where most students were poorly served. Because he encouraged charter schools, thousands of kids, mostly poor and minority children, are now better served.

But what distinguishes Klein from other reformers — a point far too rarely forgotten when observers are assessing his legacy — is his influence beyond the system he ran.

His geographical influence is vast:

School superintendents in Chicago (Jean-Claude Brizard), Baltimore (Andres Alonso), Newark (Cami Anderson

), Montgomery County, Md. (Joshua Starr). South Orange, N.J. (Brian Osborne), Christina, Del. (Marcia Lyles) and New Haven (Garth Harries).

Then there's the State Superintendent in New Jersey, Chris Cerf; and the Superintendent of Louisiana's "Recovery School District" in New Orleans, John White, who is rumored to be in line to become that state's superintendent.

It doesn't end there. Two other leaders were nurtured by Klein, although neither reported to him directly. One is the current New York City chancellor, former Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, whom Klein often refers to jokingly as "my other wife." The other is Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C. She is unstinting in her praise.

…In sum, Arne Duncan may have the bully pulpit, but Klein has boots on the ground. By my calculations, his proteges have power over public schools that enroll more than 3 million students.

Our public schools currently enroll about 50 million students, which means that around 6% of all U.S. public school students are under his influence. That makes former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, hands down, the most influential educator in America.


Love or loathe him, Joel Klein is the person most responsible for shaping U.S. schools today

Originally Published:Sunday, June 5th 2011, 4:00 AM

 Subscribe in a reader