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Joel Klein

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[…]

As a non-educator, why are you suited to run the New York City Public School system?

Question: As a non-educator, why are you suited to run the New York City Public School system?

Joel Klein: What I think is that, fundamentally, the system is a service delivery system and it’s broken.

It’s incentives are misaligned, it’s managed poorly, it basically tolerates mediocrity, rewards failure. And I think if you’re a change agent then some of the very same principles apply in the Justice Department. If you’re fundamentally a transformative leader, which I’ve considered myself to be, I thought this was as important an opportunity and, quite frankly, an opportunity I trained for, for much of my adult life.

I believe so deeply that education is the great leveler, and if you get that wrong in almost a Rawlsian sense, you get the preconditions to what it means to grow up in America, you get those wrong.

And so I had a sense that this was going to take a systems transformation. It’s always hard to speak for the mayor [Michael Bloomberg] on what motivated him. But I suppose a combination of his sense that somebody who is outside the system was beholden to the structures that existed, the players that existed, somebody who had a fair amount of managerial experience, which I had had in the Justice Department and at Bertelsmann, and somebody I hope this mattered to.

And I had my passion for making sure that education was equitable and that whether you were rich or poor, black or white, you got a fair shot at the American dream; something that’s not happening in our country. And I hope those are the things that resonated with the mayor.

Recorded on: March 30, 2008