Gary Rubinstein posted a review of Joel Klein’s book by someone who worked in Klein’s Department of Education central offices for many years.
I have not read Joel Klein’s book. I have had calls from two reporters asking if what he said about me was true. I asked, what did he say? They said: He claimed that I had turned against “education reform” (e.g., charters, merit pay, school closings, and high-stakes testing) because he refused to give a job to my partner or promote her or fund her program. I answered that I never asked Joel Klein to give a job to my partner; I never asked him to promote her or to fund her program.
When Klein arrived in 2002, she was executive director in charge of principal training at the New York City Board of Education. Just about the time Klein started as Chancellor, her program won a competitive federal grant of $3 million as one of the best principal training programs in the nation. My partner had been a teacher for many years, the chairman of social studies at Edward R. Murrow High School, one of the best in the city, and the founder and principal of a small public high school in Manhattan, affiliated with Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and Deborah Meier’s network of small schools.. Chancellor Harold Levy asked her to create a program to help hundreds of new principals. Her program was built around the concepts of collaboration, mutual respect, and mentorship; she recruited some of the city’s best, most experienced principals to exchange regular visits with new principals, and she started a summer institute where the mentor principals taught the new principals whatever they wanted and needed to know. The members of her corps of principal-leaders were called the Distinguished Faculty, and principals were honored to be invited to join the Distinguished Faculty.
When Klein arrived, he had a deputy tell Mary he was disbanding her program, appropriating the $3 million federal grant her program had just won, and turning it over to his new Leadership Academy. He selected a businessman from Colorado with no experience in education to direct the Leadership Academy. My partner stayed on at the Leadership Academy for a year; she retired in 2003. It seemed that Klein wanted very few experienced educators in decision-making roles. He preferred young MBAs, businessmen, and management consultants to guide him. He did not respect teachers, principals, or others who had made a career in the school system.
Was his treatment of Mary responsible for my change of mind about “education reform”? He flatters himself. I remained on the boards of two conservative think tanks until 2009 (the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution). But at the same time, what I observed in New York City affected my views: the heavy emphasis on testing as the measure of all things; the favoritism showed to charter operators; the explosion of no-bid contracts; the contempt expressed towards parents who wanted to save their schools or wanted class size reduction; the gaming of the system by opening small high schools that were allowed to exclude students with disabilities and English language learners, then boasting about their success; the closing of large high schools that Klein turned into dumping grounds for the students excluded from the small schools; the school report cards based mainly on test scores; the endless reorganizations of the entire system; the exodus of highly-respected principals.
Yes, Joel Klein did influence my views, but not because of what he did or did not do to my partner. That is his pettiness and vaingloriousness speaking. He made me realize over a period of years that the business model was wrong for education; that experienced educators had more wisdom than his cadre of management consultants, Sir Michael Barber, McKinsey, and 20-something graduates of business schools; that data-driven decision-making can drive the heart and spirit out of education; and that testing is not a tool for equity but a guarantor of inequity when used to rate schools and students and teachers.
I had very little contact with Klein while he was chancellor for eight years. I think we met twice. Our meetings were cordial. I never wrote anything personal or petty about him. He did not reciprocate. I don’t recall the precise year, but about 2005, an emissary from the DOE came to my home to warn me that if I did not stop writing critical articles, I would be “outed.” In 2007, I noticed on several occasions a young man from the DOE press office sitting in the audience and taping my lectures. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was gathering material for a dossier called “Diane Ravitch, Then and Now,” which showed that my views had changed on issues like merit pay. According to a story by Elizabeth Green in the Néw York Sun, the DOE was unable to find a newspaper interested in writing about this revelation. Eventually, a piece appeared in the Néw York Post under the byline of the head of the Néw York City Business Partnership (our version of the Chamber of Commerce), accusing me of being an untrustworthy hypocrite. I promptly responded that I had indeed changed my views after seeing how poorly they worked in reality. By the fall of 2007, I no longer believed that NCLB would achieve its goals; that fall, I wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times called “Get Congress Out of the Classroom.”A month later, I attended a scholarly conference about NCLB in D.C. at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It was my assignment to summarize a dozen reports from across the nation, all of which said that neither choice nor testing was making a difference. It was already evident to me that NCLB was a failure, and their reports confirmed my awakening. From conversations within those conservative think tanks, I knew that charters were no panacea, and many were failing schools. My change of mind was gradual, not sudden; it was evidence-based, not a fit of pique. Klein’s dictatorial and insensitive style had something to do with it, but not for the reasons he cites.