Less than four years after stepping down as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein’s tenure is already being re-appraised. A recent study showed that the small schools built from the remains of large, comprehensive high schools on Klein’s watch have smartly raised both graduation rates and college attendance. In his new book, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, Klein discusses his successes, shortcomings, and hopes for the future. At the helm of the nation’s largest school district, Klein pushed for radical reform over incremental change, in hopes of uprooting a stubbornly bureaucratic and complacent system. The Bloomberg administration’s set of education reforms, labeled “Children First,” centered on three major areas of improvement. The first wave focused on building and supporting great school leaders, namely principals, through the rigorous Leadership Academy. Designed to develop leaders eager to disrupt the status quo, the fourteen-month long academy immersed trainees in extensive role-playing activities and turned out hundreds of new leaders who went on to serve in the city’s most disorganized schools. Building on this foundation, Klein set out to establish a system of choice, breaking up large, failing high schools into dozens of small academies focused mainly on improving graduation rates among minority, low-income students. Klein further championed choice by attracting and encouraging charter schools, which now serve over 70,000 families who are happy with their kids’ education and continue to fiercely defend the right to school choice. Finally, a Division of Accountability and Achievement Resources was constructed to organize student data and provide access to both teachers and parents. This system made sense of years’ worth of data that had previously gone unused and provided teachers with programs to identify books, study materials, lesson plans, and other resources that might improve their work. Accountability and transparency brought much-needed coherence to what Klein called a “system of chaos.” Lessons of Hope is bold in calling out the deeply politicized teachers’ unions and their effort to preserve the status quo and protect the adults at the expense of children. Klein’s reflection is honest and transparent while offering “readily attainable” lessons of change we must continue to pursue to rescue the nation’s failing schools.
SOURCE: Joel Klein, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, Harper, 2014.