Reprinted below are three letters by New York parents on the education policies implemented in the New York City public education system under Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein. They present an entirely different perspective on these policies than that heralded by the Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard.
The letters were originally published on the New York Public School Parents Blog on 10 November in response to revelations that Klein is being considered for the position of US Secretary of Education under Barack Obama.
The Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators, and no thought of how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to our children and their futures.
He has consistently ignored the crisis of overcrowding in our schools, that in many neighbourhoods has gotten worse because of rampant residential development, as well as a result of his insistence to insert hundreds of new charter schools and small schools into existing, overcrowded school buildings.
In a recent survey, half of all principals say that the overcrowding creates unsafe conditions for students or staff, 29% said that lunch starts at 10:30 AM or earlier, 25% said that they have lost their art or music rooms in recent years, and 18% said they had classrooms with no windows. Thousands of children are being given special services in hallways or in closets.
He has put almost no effort in building new schools, and under this administration, twice as many new seats have been created in new stadiums than schools. The city’s investment in school construction as a percent of its total capital spending is at an historic low, and will drop even more precipitously in the future, if the DOE’s proposed school capital plan goes through.
Joel Klein has refused to reduce class size, despite repeated audits and reports from the State Comptroller’s office and the State Education Department showing how under his administration, hundreds of millions of state dollars meant to provide smaller classes to NYC students have been misused. As a result, 86% of NYC principals in a recent survey have said they are unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.
Similarly, he has argued that even under Mayoral control, the Department of Education is not subject to city law, and thus he continues to defy laws passed by the City Council over the Mayor’s veto, requiring him to take measures against bias crimes and bullying in schools, to allow students to bring cell phones to school, and to obey the recycling laws required of every household and business in NYC.
The Chancellor has moved to eliminate the authority of school leadership teams –made up of half parents, half staff – to have decision-making authority over school budgets, contrary to the state law that created these teams. He has continued to shut out parents from having any input whatsoever, at the school, district, or citywide level.
He has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on no-bid contracts, and rather than decreasing the bureaucracy, the number of highly paid bureaucrats at Tweed continues to grow—- most of whom have no background in education. To counter a recent article by a Daily News reporter pointing out the personal wealth of many of the top education officials, who are former business executives and corporate consultants, the DOE press office responded in defense that two out of twenty of Klein’s top advisers were long-term educators.
The only educational philosophy of those running the system is based on trying to improve standardized test results, no matter how much cheating and test prep that involves. Whatever the rise in state test scores that has resulted is not matched by improvements in the more reliable national assessments called the NAEPs. In fact, NYC was 11th out of 12 urban school districts in terms of its gains in the NAEPs over the course of this administration, and there has been no closing of the achievement gap in any subject tested.
Indeed, Joel Klein’s insistence on basing all decisions on high-stakes tests has led to racial disparities growing in many areas – with far fewer children of color admitted to gifted programs and to our selective high schools, and a declining number of Black and Hispanic teachers in our teaching force.
In short, he has been a disaster for our schools, and Barack Obama should be forewarned not to name him to any position of authority in his administration – as much as we would like to get rid of him!
The only accomplishment under the Klein administration is the reaffirmation of the fact that we should never have a non-educator be in charge of our education system. Mr. Klein is not an educator but an exemplary student of the Bush School of Public Administration—autocratic, top down (and arrogant) management style, utter disregard of and disdain for stakeholders and constituencies, privatization of public services, competition and monetary rewards as incentives, and the most skillful (and deceitful) use of marketing and PR tactics to advance his agenda are all hallmarks of Mr. Klein’s administration.
Many misguided policies have been introduced by Mr. Klein, who despite the public outcries went ahead and implemented them. Under Mr. Klein, parents have been disenfranchised, teachers have been demoralized, the School Leadership Teams have been stripped of meaningful roles, and the Community Education Councils’ authorities have been eroded. He has created a climate of fear where teachers and school administrators are afraid to voice their concerns or criticisms of the Klein administration.
Mr. Klein has also been very generous with awarding contracts to private for-profit entities, many of them no-bid contracts. For instance, IBM was awarded $80 million to develop a “super database” where parents can access their children’s report cards including teacher comments for all school years going back to kindergarten. As of today there is nothing, at least that parents can access. Mr. Klein has also brought in a consulting firm from Cambridge, UK, to conduct reviews of schools—tasks that used to be conducted by superintendents and school district staff. Many test publishing companies have seen windfalls under Mr. Klein as a result of increased reliance on standardized tests as the most important indicator of students’ learning (an example of a misguided policy, by the way).
Principals are now business managers, with the title of Chief Executive Officer. They used to be considered instructional leaders, who understood and focused their energy on improving teaching and learning in their schools. Furthermore, they are now pitted against each other in a system that provides monetary rewards to principals who improve students’ test scores. Gone are the days when collaboration allowed schools to share successes and pitfalls to benefit all students. There is also a talk of offering money to students who score high on standardized tests. I naively thought we should be striving to teach our children the love of learning—learning for the sake of knowing, not learning for the sake of a few more iTune downloads.
Finally Mr. Klein and the Mayor have relied heavily on marketing and PR firms to cast their “accomplishments” in a positive light. Mr. Klein has boasted that he has increased the high school graduation rates since he took over. However, the numbers are disputed by the State Education Department. Mr. Bloomberg claims to have created 66,000 new school seats, yet there are more schools at overcapacity (meaning more students than the building is designed for) today than before the Mayor took over the control of the school system and our class sizes have not gone down (in many cases class sizes have gone up). Yet, if you are not a highly involved parent, you may think Mr. Klein’s and Mr. Bloomberg’s claims are legitimate and meaningful. The Mayor has launched a subway advertisement campaign claiming his achievements (and I must add, at a time when the school budget is being cut).
I admit there is no guarantee that a Secretary of Education with the appropriate education background would not take a similar path. However, I believe some of the policies and changes instituted by Mr. Klein would never have come about if we had someone who understood the public school system and some fundamentals of what it is like to manage 30 energetic children of diverse abilities and backgrounds in a confined space – an understanding of what it means to educate the future citizens of this country.
If you care about the children of this nation and the future of education, please listen to the parents of New York City who have experience with Joel Klein and under no circumstances appoint him as your secretary of education.
What Klein has done as Chancellor here, under the direction of Mayor Bloomberg, is to remove virtually all consideration of actual education from the school system and replace it with a business-oriented model, in which measures of “outcome” have replaced actual learning as the standard—just as most educators in this administration have been replaced with businessmen. In other words, our schools have to a large extent become test-prep factories, with our children the “products.”
Furthermore, actual avenues of input from those knowledgeable about what goes on in the classroom—teachers, students, parents, principals—have been closed. Unlike your bottom-up campaign, education in New York City has become a top-down one-way street. With Orwellian precision, the hugely expensive Office of Accountability is in no way accountable to parents, students, or the public.
Don’t be misled by Joel Klein’s propaganda. Test scores, claims of increasing principals’ control over their own schools, nods to parental involvement, reports from accountability, assessments and “school report cards” that don’t measure what they claim to—all of it is just for show. What our children have lost under this chancellor cannot be replaced.
Please think about the kind of education you want for Sasha and Malia and how you can provide that for the rest of the country’s children, who are no less worthy. Then think about who is likely to create the possibility for that circumstance. As much as we would like to see Klein depart, we cannot bear to see him inflicted on the rest of the country!