Monday, November 10, 2008

Worst possible choice for Sec. of Ed.? Joel Klein

My mailbox has been bombarded this week with emails from educators and teacher groups in New York. They are panic stricken over the possibility that N.Y. Chancellor Joel Klein may get Obama’s top education job. The NYT has been touting Klein, who has strong personal connections to Democratic big wigs like Caroline Kennedy and John Podesta. The Times makes it sound like opposition to a Klein appointment is coming solely from the teachers union. But I’m hearing it from school reformers, parents and educators of all stripes. While I was in North Carolina last week, at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum, Gotham teachers were all talking the same smack about Klein.

Right now, I don’t have any particular favorite for the job. But my hunch is that Obama’s transition team will recommend a governor or high-profile public school advocate, someone who is fairly neutral on the hot-button and wedge issues and someone who would use the bully pulpit to support public education and adequate funding.

I can’t even see issues such as standardized testing, privatization, vouchers, charter schools, etc… being high on Obama’s agenda in his first year in office when a New Deal for economic recovery and job creation is key. I am hoping he will ultimately support some kind of New Deal for Public Education, to keep the nation’s school districts from going belly-up and to finally ditch No Child Left Behind (or at least it’s most viral aspects). I’d like to see the Broader, Bolder Coalition unite behind something like that from outside the DOE.

Joel Klein would be the worse choice possible for Sec. of Ed. Why? First of all, he is an extremely divisive force—not what Obama needs right now. His appointment would be a pure power play coming from Mayor Bloomberg and the Ownership Society wing of the Democratic Party, pro-voucher Republicrats like DFER and the conservative think tankers, like Finn and Petrilli at Fordham.

Klein, along with Michelle Rhee in D.C., and Paul Vallas in New Orleans, has been a leading force for privatization of public school management, union busting, discrimination against special-ed and ELL immigrant students, and a defender of the worst aspects of NCLB. He is the main opponent of the Bolder, Broader group and his appointment could turn the DOE into a target for parents’ and community groups’ protests for years to come (maybe that’s a good thing). It would also cause a big rift with current Obama ally Randi Weingarten and the teacher unions.

Does a new Obama administration need all that? And why he would do anything to strengthen Bloomberg’s hand right now, I can’t even imagine.

A story in Saturday’s New York Times describes more Bloomberg/Klein failed policies in the district.

On a recent Saturday morning, as hundreds of anxious students lined up for the test outside the stately stone-gray facade of Brooklyn Tech, parents and students attributed the racial disparities to a lack of private tutoring, subpar middle schools that do not expose students to test material, transportation problems, cultural differences and a simple lack of motivation on the part of some students.

This despite, millions being spent by them for rigged evaluations and misleading PR. Remember the "Texas Miracle" scandal that plagued Rod Paige's term as Bush's secretary of ed? All in all, I can’t think of one good reason, political or educational, to have someone like Klein running the DOE. Can you?

For more reasons to oppose a Klein appointment see:


  1. I was concerned that a President Clinton would choose Vicki Phillips, whose ham-handed moves wreaked havoc in Portland, Ore. She seemed less likely under Obama, but I was still concerned about a Secretary Phillips.

    But from what I'm reading, you're right, Klein would be even worse.

  2. Interesting point, Steve. Phillips & Klein are both backed by Gates and Broad. They are both out in Seattle today at a big Gates Summit Meeting. Check my blog tomorrow.


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