What is your legacy?
Joel I. Klein became New York City schools chancellor in July 2002 after serving in the highest levels of government and business. As Chancellor, he oversees more than 1,500 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees, and a $21-billion operating budget.
Mr. Klein’s comprehensive education reform program, Children First, is transforming the nation's largest public school system into a system of great schools.
Before Mr. Klein became Chancellor, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsmann, Inc., and chief U.S. liaison officer to Bertelsmann AG from January 2001 to July 2002. Bertelsmann, one of the world’s largest media companies, has annual revenues exceeding $20 billion and employs more than 76,000 people in 54 countries.
From 1997 to 2001, Mr. Klein was assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division. Serving one of the longest tenures ever as head of the 700-lawyer division, Klein led landmark cases against Microsoft, WorldCom/Sprint, Visa/Mastercard, and General Electric, prevailing in a large majority of cases. Mr. Klein was widely credited with transforming the antitrust division into one of the Clinton Administration’s greatest successes. He also served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and as the antitrust division’s principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. His appointment to the U.S. Justice Department came after Klein served two years (1993-95) as deputy counsel to President William J. Clinton.
Question: What has been your greatest success and failure as Chancellor?
Joel Klein: Let me put it this way, I do think we have moved the ball forward. I think the Mayor has basically driven reform very, very hard and successfully here in New York. We have a lot more to go, if you ask me, in the process. We are still in the early stages.
f you think of Churchill’s words, “This is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning” -- and that’s where I think we are, but a lot more work has to be done.
I think the basic things that have changed the system is we conceptualize the model that we’re now implementing based on leadership, accountability and empowerment, which is very different from the typical models that have permeated public education. What do I mean by that? The first thing which I thought was our most successful conception was we stopped talking about a great school system, and started talking about a system made up of great schools. Because school is where the action is. And if you don’t get that, and you talk about systems, systems are political, systems are managerial, but they’re not where service is delivered to kids.
And so then we started to focus heavily on the human resource equation, getting great principals, making sure principals could hire the teachers they want. In the past, before I got here, 3500, 3000 teachers would show up each year at a different school and say, I have a legal right to be here, and if the principal or the other teachers said well, you’re not the right fit for this school, it didn’t matter. That’s all changed.
We’re now using incentives to help principals in high need schools attract talent. So fundamentally what we’ve tried to do is create a system where schools become the unit and the schools are empowered to make decisions.
By the same token, we put a letter grade on every school. We hold our schools accountable for progress. Not for what the kid brings to the school, but what the school does for the kid. So we compare similarly situated schools.
I think that those three pillars--leadership, empowerment and accountability--have really changed the fundamental paradigm in our city. There are certain things that we have done, some things we didn’t implement well, that I wish we had a better shot at. If you ask me, the lesson that I wish I had learned sooner is I don’t think we’ve been as effective in engaging our community and making sure that people in the city knew what the changes were about.
We’ve let other people characterize changes in a way that is both inaccurate and harmful. And I think we could have done a better job engaging parents in the school system, making them feel like they were strongly allied with what we’re doing, believe in the work we’re doing. Because I think most of the parents in our city understand the schools are getting better.
Recent surveys show that in every income group--poor, near poor and moderate and high income--in all three of those groups an independent survey showed that the number of parents who say their kids are in an A or a B school has gone up, and in the poor and near poor, it went up very significantly. And even moderate and middle it went up about 8 points. But in poor it went from 24 to 64% of the parents over the course of the Mayor’s term. So that’s huge, but I think we did not do as good a job as we should have in engaging them and if you will the politics of educational transformation.
Question: Would you consider running for Mayor yourself to keep this campaign going?
Joel Klein: What I'd like to see is a Mayor who will keep the campaign going. I've always said I serve in appointed positions as to where I am most comfortable. But I'd look forward to the opportunity to work with another Mayor in keeping, moving forward public education in the city of New York.
Klein says he was able to conceptualize a new model for education based on leadership and accountability but didn't always communicate well enough to the community.
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