Below is a review of Joel Klein’s new book written by a very knowledgeable person who wishes to remain anonymous.
By John or Jane Smith
Lessons in Lying: Joel Klein and Corporate Reformer Propaganda
Joel Klein’s book, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, surfaces many questions. Foremost among them “does Mr. Klein ever tell the truth?” After reading the first chapter, in which Mr. Klein speaks about his childhood, readers may be somewhat forgiving of his propensity to stretch the truth. As a child his father threatened to “leave and never come back” and “took his frustrations out” on young Joel. “The beatings, while rare, were severe and left an indelible mark.” As a teen he seems to have been unable to get a date because he was “socially uncomfortable” and felt “too intimidated.” But excuses must not be made on Mr. Klein’s behalf. Readers should expect to be told the truth and should hold Mr. Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, accountable for meeting this expectation.
The lies start in the preface. Mr. Klein describes a 2008 stabbing, thankfully the victim survived, that occurred at Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn. He shares with the reader what he was thinking “as I drive from lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge” to visit the school. He was thinking that the school “will have to be closed and replaced.” Let’s start with the small lie. Mr. Klein did not drive himself. He had a chauffeur for his entire career as Chancellor. In fact, early on in his tenure, the New York Daily News reported, “Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is chauffeured around town in a city car by a bodyguard/driver, has extended the fringe benefit to six of his top deputies – costing taxpayers nearly $600,000 a year.[i]”
The big lie is that Paul Robeson did not need to be closed. It was sabotaged by Mr. Klein’s policies. “Robeson took in hundreds of students who would previously have gone to larger high schools but were instead displaced when those schools were closed down. Many such students had a history of truancy and were much older than Robeson students in the same grades…gang activity became more visible at that time, because more students were now coming to Robeson from outside the neighborhood… Enrollment shot up from 1,355 in 2002-03 to 1,530 in 2004-05. Daily attendance declined from 83 percent in 2002-03 to 71 percent in 2007-8. Then, as the school’s reputation suffered, fewer eighth graders selected Robeson on their high school applications—and enrollment began to shrink, falling to 1,176 by 2008-09.[ii]
Mr. Klein goes on to brag about how Robeson was “transformed” by being shuttered and replaced by a school called P-Tech. Robeson was not transformed. The challenging students who had gone to Robeson were not allowed entry to P-Tech. The most challenging students were instead deliberately sent to the next school being set up for failure.[iii] Additionally, despite all the press, the data on P-Tech show that it is not doing a very good job even with the, relatively, more privileged and advantaged students it serves. It performs worse than 96% of its peer schools on the science Regents, worse than 86% of its peer schools on the United States History Regents, worse than 100% of its peer schools on the Global History Regents and worse than 100% of its peer schools on the English Regents.[iv] Where it does do slightly better than its peer schools is in credit accumulation. Students earn credits at P-Tech at a rate higher than in most of its peer schools. So students are failing the Regents exams, but somehow earning credits for their coursework. Of course, this educational strategy will definitely boost its graduation rate. If this is the lesson than Mr. Klein believes his new small schools have to teach, educators may not want to learn it.[v]
After the lies in the preface, Mr. Klein goes on to lie about his childhood. He mentions growing up in “a sprawling public-housing complex,” presumably to draw parallels to the lives of the children he discriminated against by shoveling all of the most challenging students into only some schools without providing sufficient supports. This lie has already been analyzed by Richard Rothstein in The American Prospect. “Klein’s most egregious autobiographical distortion is that he grew up in public housing. That’s because, as Klein must know, the words “public housing” evoke an image of minority unemployment, welfare dependence, unwed motherhood, truancy, gangs, drug dealing, addiction, and violence. Klein, though, grew up in racial privilege, dramatically different from the segregated world of most youngsters in public housing today… Klein did live in public housing… when he was nine years old. But he fails to say—perhaps because he truly doesn’t realize—that some public housing in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Woodside Houses project where his family resided, was built for white, middle-class families. The poor and the problems poverty causes were unwelcome. This distinction is critical to understanding Klein’s history and why it undermines his current policy prescriptions.[vi]” Mr. Klein seemingly has no compunction about repeating this distortion. He must know that he will not be held accountable for it.
Another small lie. Mr. Klein mentions that he “took time off [from Harvard Law School] and decided to try my hand at teaching.” Most readers would not suspect that he is referring to less than two months of teaching in September and October of 1968.[vii]
Throughout his book Mr. Klein meets very few career educators that he respects. Yet every single businessman (yes, they are all men) that he meets he has the utmost respect for. This includes his boss at Bertelsmann, a publishing company he left, though some believe that he was essentially fired after the ouster of his boss[viii], in order to take the Chancellorship. Somehow excluded from the story Klein tells is the fact that his boss, Thomas Middelhoff, was sentenced to “three years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion.[ix]”
Mr. Klein firmly believes that businessmen can show educators how to innovate and lead. That is why he spends many, many pages talking about the Leadership Academy, a fast track principal training program he developed. “The right choices… started with Robert Knowling who became the CEO [of the Leadership Academy].” Mr. Knowling, the CEO of Covad Communications, had resigned under pressure when the company’s stock dropped 84% that year. The stock price rose when his resignation was announced.
Among the other businessmen Klein recruited was John F. “Jack” Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who “we chose…to head the board.” Yes, the very CEO who is known for cooking the books and whose company settled accounting fraud charges with the SEC. Welch “was joined by Richard Parsons,” the former president of Time Warner. Yes, the very president who is known for his involvement with what is perhaps the worst merger of all time, Time Warner’s merger with AOL at the peak of the internet bubble.
It is reasonable to think that there exist practices and strategies in the world of business that would be relevant and helpful to educators. But a more discerning eye than Klein’s is needed to identify them. This uncritical submissiveness to businessmen can perhaps explain the poor outcomes of the program. According to the New York Times “an analysis…shows that schools run by graduates of the celebrated New York City Leadership Academy…have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes…The Times’s analysis shows that Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse. Among elementary and middle-school principals on the job less than three years, Academy graduates were about a third as likely to get A’s as those who did not attend the program. While Academy graduates do tend to be placed in some of the city’s lowest-achieving schools, the report-card system has built-in controls to account for that, emphasizing progress over performance and comparing schools with similar demographics.[x]”
A doctoral thesis found that “investigation revealed no significant differences in student outcomes or principal performance between graduate and non attendee principals of the New York City Leadership Academy. The results offer no evidence that participation in the Leadership Academy is an effective means of preparing principals for successful leadership.[xi]” Another paper found that “the performance drop associated with the transition is larger at the schools hiring an APP [Leadership Academy] graduate, and these relative performance trends are not reversed until three years later, and then only for English.[xii]”
Klein, perhaps unsurprisingly, ignores the truth. Instead he chooses to focus on a single report whose first footnote reads “Initial funding for this evaluation was provided by the NYCLA [New York City Leadership Academy] through grants from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.” The Leadership Academy and its donors funded the study Klein cites! And even so he misrepresents the findings, which conclude that the Leadership Academy does not amount to much. “On balance, we find that APP principals performed about as well as other new principals. If anything, they narrowed the gap with comparison schools in English language arts but lagged behind in mathematics.[xiii]” Klein does not address the fact that fewer than 60% of Leadership Academy graduates could be included in the report since over 40% did not meet the study’s criteria of remaining in the same school for 3 years![xiv] Klein also forgets to mention “the fact that the research organization Mathematica had originally been commissioned by DOE to do an in-depth, multi-year study of the Leadership Academy. Yet after several years of analysis, this study was cancelled by DOE, just months before the results were supposed to be released.[xv]” Anyone suspicious?
All this was years ago, when the Leadership Academy first started and was funded by outside donors. Now it is funded by public dollars to the tune of $10,000,000 a year. Klein took himself and his deputy off the Leadership Academy board a month before the New York City Department of Education awarded them a contract using public funds.[xvi] Since public dollars started paying for this program “the number of graduates from the Aspiring Principals Program has declined, the number actually hired as principals in the city’s public schools has also dropped steadily.[xvii]” So public money is paying for a program whose graduates are in less and less demand.
The lack of demand for the graduates of Leadership Academy and its poor outcomes may have something to do with how the program is run. Leadership Academy supervisors bully the participants and devote inordinate amounts of time and effort to encouraging the aspiring principals to turn on each other. When called on their behaviors in a court of law, the Leadership Academy supervisors show a bald-faced willingness to lie. As a judge wrote “when people change their stories, juries can infer that they are lying.[xviii]” It is no wonder that graduates from the program demonstrate little ability to lead school communities. Look at who their teachers are.
Klein uses many pages of his book to praise charter schools and bash the United Federation of Teachers. Here too, he ignores the truth to suit the desires of his patrons, in this case the billionaires he names; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Julian Robertson and the Walton family. He repeatedly cites an already debunked report that was funded by the Waltons.[xix] Yet, his praise of charter schools is inconsistent with his chapter praising the school reports cards, also known as Progress Reports, developed during his tenure. The most recent Progress Report data were released this month. And here is what they show.[xx] The charter sector, which now accounts for 9.2% of all elementary and middle schools in New York City, has 3.7% lower student growth in English and 3.5% higher student growth in Math than peer schools. Focusing, specifically on the students who are most academically challenged (students in the city’s bottom 1/3) the charter sector underperforms their peer schools by 6.2% in English and by .4% in Math. And these numbers do not even begin to take into account the extremely high attrition rate that some charter management organizations such as KIPP and Success Academy are notorious for.[xxi]
The critical mistake made by Mr. Klein in his years as chancellor is captured by a line he was fond of repeating, a version of which appears in this book. “Our goal is not a great school system; our goal is a system of great schools.” With such a goal it is no wonder that the gaming of metrics, outright cheating, profound systemic inequity, and self-interest were widespread under his leadership. So as not to repeat all the relevant data and research here, readers should refer to the comprehensive analysis in this http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/20/tweed-insider-where-the-bloomberg-administration-went-wrong-on-education/ essay.
With such a goal each school is incentivized to avoid the most challenging students in order to look like a “great school.” For example, the Progress Report data show that the charter sector serves proportionally half as many incoming overage students and half as many English Language Learners as the public school sector, though such tricks are not limited to charter schools. With such a goal there is no commitment to truly ensuring the success of every single child. The school system, as a whole, must be designed to do just that. It is only toward the end of the book, with 37 pages to go, that Mr. Klein briefly discusses initiatives such as Young Adult Borough Centers, Learning to Work, and the opening of more transfer schools for overage and undercredited students. This betrays his misplaced priorities. Setting communities, schools and teachers against each other will never create a system focused on every single student. Collaboration, professionalism, and the development of social capital within and between schools will.
Throughout the book Mr. Klein claims that the frequent re-organizations of the school system under his tenure were part of a long-term strategic plan. To most observers the constant organizational changes betrayed the total lack of vision and direction exhibited during his leadership. In 2003 Klein re-organized all of New York City’s schools into ten regions. In 2007 he re-re-organized the schools into four school support organizations. In 2009 he re-re-re-organized the schools into approximately sixty networks. Perhaps this was really all just a long con and in 2002 Klein really had a plan for what he was doing. In order to get the reader to believe that, Klein will need to show the document, dated to 2002, outlining this strategy. Since such a document is unlikely to be produced, we can only assume that the chaos was due to the lack of a coherent vision.
The book closes on a rather ironic note. Klein attempts to portray himself, and his benefactor Rupert Murdoch, as leaders in innovating education through technology. Mr. Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, was implicated in a phone hacking scandal in Great Britain. As a result a parliamentary report found that he was “not a fit person” to lead his company. After Mr. Klein was fired by Mr. Bloomberg[xxii], Mr. Murdoch hired Klein on a 4.5 million dollar annual contract to run Amplify, News Corporation’s education technology division. Ironically, every single technology initiative initiated by Mr. Klein when he was chancellor has proven to be a total boondoggle. From the $67,000,000 Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) which “is not meeting its overall goal[xxiii]” to the $95,000,000 Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) which is now being scrapped as a total failure[xxiv] Klein has shown absolutely zero aptitude for overseeing education technology. One can only wonder why Murdoch offered him the job…
[iii] http://annenberginstitute.org/sites/default/files/OTC_Report.pdf shows that this was a standard strategy within the New York City Department of Education under Klein.
[v] For a comprehensive review of the study Mr. Klein loves to cite claiming that his new small schools boosted the graduation rate see http://dianeravitch.net/2014/10/23/are-small-high-schools-the-magic-bullet/.
[xxii] According to a story in Newsweek “Nobody had expected Klein to resign, and there were rumors that Bloomberg had been upset with the pace of reform, in particular with test scores that had not risen at the pace the famously impatient mayor sought.”