I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Joel Klein: As Excellent As He Says He Is? Part I

I and many others spent a good deal of time last year documenting the real legacy of Michelle Rhee. This is important work: Rhee occupies an outsized place in the current debate about education "reform," largely based on claims of her own success, both as a teacher and as Chancellor of Washington, D.C.'s schools.

Thanks to the close scrutiny of Gary Brandenburg, Bob Somerby, Matt DiCarlo, Dana GoldsteinDiane Ravitch, USA Today, and others, we now know the true story: Rhee was never a miracle worker. She was, at best, an average new teacher (meaning she had a long way to go) and a mediocre large-city superintendent when judged by student achievement (when judged by other criteria, she was clearly a trainwreck).

It's important to get this on the record, because the anti-teacher and anti-union "reforms" Rhee implemented in D.C. - the very ones she wants to impose on the rest of the country - did nothing to affect large-scale changes in educational outcomes. Rhee's argument for "reform" is, in fact, undercut by her own history.

I say that it's time to start applying this same level of examination to other prominent members of the corporate "reform" movement. When they make claims of big successes, those claims ought to be vetted very carefully: after all, why should we listen to what they have to say about holding educators accountable if they aren't held to account themelves?

Which brings us to Joel Klein.

Klein was Chancellor of the New York City schools under Mayor Bloomberg from 2002 to 2010. He is now running Amplify, the education arm of Rupert Murdoch's corporate empire. His resume has given him great influence in the media as a spokesman for corporate "reform," which, in Klein's view, should include buying his techie edu-products.

Klein has an unfortunate habit of twisting the facts to suit his fancy:

- This past year, Klein co-wrote the infamous report on education for the Council on Foreign Relations with Condoleezza Rice. The two attempted to make the case that America's public school system posed a national security risk; they conveniently downplay the United States' 22 percent child poverty rate as the true cause of inequitable educational outcomes. Reportedly, Klein stacked the deck for the report, vetoing Diane Ravitch as a member of the task force turning down a suggestion that Ravitch testify before the task force*.

- Klein gave a presentation to potential investors in Amplify where he conflated data on school spending with educational outcomes. As I showed, his presentation was totally phony. Klein tried to show that American gains in reading and math were flat while spending was on the rise:

Using the exact same data, I reconstructed his chart to show exactly the opposite:

This is a shameless abuse of statistics and speaks volumes about Klein's willingness to twist facts to meet his own ends.

- In a stunning personal embarrassment, esteemed education researcher Richard Rothstein showed how Klein has dissembled badly about his own childhood and schooling. Klein uses his personal story as "proof" that poverty does not matter in educational outcomes, and that bad teachers are far more responsible for the "achievement gap" than socio-economic factors. Rothstein shows that, in fact, Klein grew up in middle-class surroundings with educated parents and a public education system that served him well.

So we know that Joel Klein is happy to take a spin when it suits his purposes. That gives us more than enough reason to take a look at his claims about his legacy in New York City. Fortunately - and thanks to a heads-up from the great edublogger Gary Rubinstein - Klein has put those claims together in a piece that appeared in the New York Daily News this past fall:
Critics are entitled to their opinions. But they are not entitled to their own facts. The results under Bloomberg are irrefutably and demonstrably strong. 
Independent studies by respected researchers like Caroline Hoxby and Margaret Raymond at Stanford, James Kemple at the Research Alliance and the independent public policy institute MDRC all support this conclusion. So do the numbers, which the critics conveniently ignore. 
There are three sets of relevant systemic metrics: high school graduation rates, state test exams in grades 4 and 8 for reading and math and federal exams for the same grades and subjects.
OK, then: the gauntlet has been thrown. Do Joel Klein's claims stand up to scrutiny? Did the policies he implemented in New York City lead to improvements in graduation rates, state test scores, and federal test scores?

Two things before we get started:

1) Klein himself is setting the standard for "relevancy" here. I frankly think there are many other things we should look at besides these three metrics, but let's leave it at these for now.

2) It's not enough, in this challenge, to show that New York City made gains. If NYC got caught up in nationwide or statewide trends that led to better outcomes, Klein shouldn't be able to take undue credit for them. The real question is whether Klein's policies in NYC led to more gains than in other jurisdictions.

So those are the conditions. It's going to take a few posts to put this all together. Ready? Stand by...

Bring it on...

* A correction: Ravitch wasn't suggested as a member of the task force, but a member did suggest she testify. Klein said no.


Michael Fiorillo said...

Ah, Jersey Jazzman, ever the gentleman; you're far too kind and discreet. What you call Klein's tendency to "take a spin" might be more accurately re-phrased as "lying."

Leonie Haimson said...

Check out our analysis of NYC's NAEP scores here:


By comparing the gains of student subgroups, including poor, non-poor, Asian, White, Black, and Latino, NYC made less progress than any of the other large districts since 2003 other than Cleveland. Though test scores are not everything, they are the major way in which the corp reformers judge schools.

In addition, class sizes increased rapidly under Klein, as did cheating scandals,demoralization of teachers, scorn for parents, and millions of dollars wasted through mismanagement and corruption.

Yastreblyansky said...

Welcome to this side of the river! Klein may have passed to the other side of the Great Revolving Door, but he still needs to be exposed. I wrote a brief post on the MDRC study, more ordinary mockery than the total demolition job I hope you will do.

Ken Houghton said...

This is also far too generous:

"[T]he anti-teacher and anti-union "reforms" Rhee implemented in D.C. - the very ones she wants to impose on the rest of the country - did nothing to affect large-scale changes in educational outcomes."

Not true. They distracted, and wasted at least three years of education. Even ignoring the cheating--which, frankly, I won't do, since it's a clear indication of widespread institutional corruption--DC lost at least five years of potential progress under Rhee (three there and two-or-so to recover), damaged a generation, and increased the time it will take to achieve true long-term gains ("large-scale changes in educational outcomes").

E. Rat said...

Whenever I hear Joel Klein's name, I'm reminded of his autohagiography in the Atlantic a few years ago - specifically his claim that he new a whole bunch of New York City teachers, all of whom told him they were burnt out and were holding on only for their pensions.

I look forward to your findings!

george1la said...

Klein and Rhee are in the real world losers. N.Y., according to the latest Deloitte and Touche audit's budget was $23.9 billion for 1.1 million students or about $22,000/student. D.C. is about $29.000/student. How do you both educationally and financially crash school districts with that kind of revenue/student. It is bad enough that LAUSD superintendent Deasy and Board President Garcia constantly state that LAUSD only has $4,800/student when it is actually $11,233/student. Look at how much N.Y. and D.C. have next to LAUSD. It is substantial. Now LAUSD just blows away vast quantities of money it must just be totaly insane in N.Y. and D.C. In fact, you would have to try hard to mess up that much money.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

It's GUY Brandenburg, not Gary.