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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part IX

February 3, 2013

By far the most entrenched, most connected, most influential pro-corporate-reform NCTQ advisory board member is Joel Klein, so much so that I have decided to award him a title:

Joel Klein, The Viral Host of the Corporate Reform Agenda.

This post is noticeably the lengthiest I have written thus far, and given what I’ve uncovered, I am certain that there is still more to find.  Having noted such, I am also certain that by the end of this post, readers will have a solid grasp of Klein’s potential as the ultimate corrupter of all that is good about public education.

Keep in mind that the NCTQ bio fluff is not Schneider-endorsed.

And now– the man and reformer viral host– Joel Klein.

Joel Klein

Joel I. Klein is CEO of the Educational Division and Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, at News Corporation.

 Prior to that, Mr. Klein was Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education where he oversaw a system of over 1,600 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees and a $22 billion budget. He launched Children First in 2002, a comprehensive reform strategy that has brought coherence and capacity to the system and resulted in significant increases in student performance. 

He is a former Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., a media company, and served as Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice until September 2000, and was Deputy White House Counsel to President Clinton from 1993-1995. Mr. Klein entered the Clinton administration after 20 years of public and private legal work in Washington, D.C.  He attended New York City’s public schools and graduated from William Cullen Bryant High School.

He received his BA from Columbia University where he graduated magna cum laude in 1967, and earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1971, also graduating magna cum laude. He has received honorary degrees from Columbia University, Duke University, Amherst College, Manhattanville College, Georgetown Law Center, Fordham Law School, New York Law School, and St. John’s School of Education.  He received the Lewis Rudin Award for Exemplary Service to New York City from New York University for his work as Chancellor.

Joel Klein was appointed chancellor of NYC schools in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  As is true of many corporate reformers posited in power over education, Klein had no backgound in education and had to have such a requirement waived in order to become chancellor.

That right there presents a problem for one appointed to an advisory board evaluating teacher training programs.

As a reformer, however, Klein is quintessential.  He is willing to shape a story to suit the reform agenda.

One of the great arguments of corporate reform is that poverty is used as an excuse for maintaining “the status quo,” which is, of course, “failing” public schools.  Corporate reformers ignore studies such as those demonstrating the strong positive correlation between their labeling schools as “failing” and the proportions of students receiving free and reduced lunch.  Joel Klein has taken the “poverty doesn’t matter” stance further by offering his own life as proof that it wasn’t his poverty that was the problem; it was that he needed an effective teacher to come along and usher him into the world of educational success.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has used Klein’s story to promote the idea of “effective teacher as saviour”:

“Klein knows, as I do, that great teachers can transform a child’s life chances—and that poverty is not destiny. It’s a belief deeply rooted in his childhood, as a kid growing up in public housing. … Joel Klein never lost that sense of urgency about education as the great equalizer. He understands that education is … the force that lifts children from public-housing projects to first-generation college students. … In place of a culture of excuses, Klein sought [as chancellor] to build a culture of performance and accountability.”  (Emphasis added.)

(You know that “sense of urgency” noted above?  Joel Klein helped sell the “urgency” concept as co-chair [with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice] of the Council on Foreign Relations committee that determined it is the public schools that are “threatening national security.” Yep. Domestic security hinges on the schools.)

Like other reformer promotions, the idea that a good teacher is all that is needed to rescue children from the debilitating grasp of poverty certainly sounds appealing.  And who could argue against the firsthand experience of a man who was himself rescued?

Except that Klein, well.. he “stretched the truth.”

Okay.  He lied.  He wasn’t poor. He was middle class.  And his achievements are what one might expect from someone of his (actual) economic upbringing.

You just have to read it for yourself:

Here is Klein’s autobiographical account in his own words, faithful to original context, culled from numerous speeches and interviews that Klein has given and continues to give:

I grew up in public housing in Queens and grew up in the streets of New York. I always like to think of myself as a kid from the streets, and education changed my life. … I stood on the shoulders of teachers to see a world that I couldn’t have seen growing up in the family that I grew up in.

My father had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade during the Great Depression. My mother graduated from high school and never went to college. No one in my family had attended college … or knew about college. I had no appreciation of reading or cultural activities. …

By most people’s lights, we were certainly working-class, poor. … I grew up in a pretty unhappy household. …

Teachers set expectations for me that were not commensurate with my background or my family’s income. …

Nobody in [my] school said to me, ‘Well, you grew up in public housing, your parents don’t read, you’ve never been to a museum, so we shouldn’t expect too much from you!’ … I wanted to play ball, I had a girlfriend at the time. I thought school was OK, a little overrated but I thought it was OK. … Mr. Harris, my physics teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School, saw something that I hadn’t seen in myself. … I realized, through him, that the potential of students in inner-city schools is too often untapped. We can fix that. Demography need not be destiny.

From the day I took the job as chancellor of the New York Public Schools, friends told me that I would never fix education in America until you fix the poverty in our society. … I’m convinced now more than ever that those people have it exactly backwards—because you’ll never fix poverty in America until you fix education.

I reject categorically the principle that poverty is an insurmountable impediment, because I see that we have surmounted it time and again.

I never forget and never will forget who I am, where I came from, and what public education did for me. I am still the old kid from Queens.

 The enlightening piece here is that the account above has been challenged by one of Klein’s contemporaries:

…As it turns out, Klein and I grew up in similar circumstances—third-generation, educationally ambitious, Queens, New York, Jewish households, with parents who had nearly identical jobs and incomes. I’m just a few years older than Klein. We attended neighboring schools; I even had the same physics teacher, Mr. Sidney Harris, whom Klein credits with his rescue. We both attended Ivy League colleges (he went to Columbia, I to Harvard)…. Educational values were not absent from Klein’s family. His father, Charles Klein, like many of his generation, left high school during the Depression, but the notion that his parents couldn’t read or didn’t know about college is misleading. His mother, Claire Klein, was a bookkeeper. With fierce competition for scarce jobs, Charles did well enough on a civil-service exam to land work at the post office, remaining for 25 years in a secure job he hated to ensure he could send his children to college. This was not the commitment of semi-literate parents with little knowledge of higher education. … Klein’s family was also not poor by any reasonable criteria. Charles Klein’s annual post-office salary in the 1950s was about equal to the national median household income. [Emphasis added.]

What about Klein’s saviour teacher, Mr. Harris?  It’s hard to argue that a student needs “saving” if the student is already excelling in school.  Before Mr. Harris came along, Klein was already a member of the National Honor Society, math team, editor of his school newspaper, and student body president.

The most misleading information in Klein’s suppposed, my-teacher-saved-me-from-my-poverty success story is in his reference to “living in public housing.”  As his contemporary notes:

As Klein must know, the words “public housing” evoke an image of minority unemployment, welfare dependence, unwed motherhood, truancy, gangs, drug dealing, addiction, and violence. Klein, though, grew up in racial privilege, dramatically different from the segregated world of most youngsters in public housing today. … Klein did live in public housing after his family moved to Queens in 1955 when he was nine years old. But he fails to say… that some public housing in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Woodside Houses project where his family resided, was built for white, middle-class families. The poor and the problems poverty causes were unwelcome. This distinction is critical to understanding Klein’s history and why it undermines his current policy prescriptions. (Emphasis added.)

As a second author notes:

If my suspicions were correct, rather than proving, as Klein would have it, that ‘demography need not be destiny,’ his life story would actually support the opposite claim – that Joel Klein’s academic and professional success fulfilled conventional demographic predictions for children of his middle class upbringing. (Emphasis added.)

Like many reformers, Klein “shapes the truth” to promote his agenda. He is even willing to “reshape” his own story.  However, the truth is that Klein’s lie places undue pressure on public education institutions to “save” children from all societal ills, the most pervasive being childhood poverty.

It is a well-documented fact that poverty affects test scores.  Still, the reformer push to raise those scores continues. In 2012, Klein joined with Michelle Rhee to form StudentsFirstNY. Their mission? Put the responsibility for overcoming the effects of poverty squarely on the schools, the same place that Klein and Rice heaped the responsibility for national security:

 StudentsFirstNY is bringing together parents, children, educators and political leaders who know that great schools can help students overcome the challenges of poverty – and who together will build a grassroots movement to fight against a failed status quo which, if left unchanged, will ultimately shatter the people’s faith in the importance, power and possibility of public education. (Emphasis added.)

Again, the agenda sounds good: We’re going to overcome poverty, and we’re going to do so through the schools. And– get this– we’re going to “come together” and form a “grassroots movement.”  How, you ask?  Via a “policital group,” of course:

StudentsFirstNY, the new political group formed by leaders of the education reform movement like Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, officially announced its arrival on Wednesday morning.

In a news release, the group gave the full line-up of its board members, who include Mr. Klein, the former city schools chancellor, and Ms. Rhee, the former Washington chancellor, as well as charter school and reform advocates like Eva Moskowitz, who runs a chain of charter schools in New York City, and Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone.


There are also a number of people from the hedge fund and investment banking world, many of whom have been long-time supporters of the reform agenda. [Emphasis added.]

More hedge fund and investment bankers “interested” in education.  So much for the homey, warm-and-fuzzy language of “grassroots.”

And just what is that “reform agenda”?

The group supports the expansion of charter schools, merit pay for teachers and the firing of teachers who are found to be ineffective. It is opposed to granting teachers tenure and conducting layoffs based on employees’ seniority. [Emphasis added.]

And what of those “funders”?  Well, it just so happens that Joel Klein chairs the Broad Center, where both Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp sit on the board.

These three NCTQ advisory board members sit together on the Broad Center board.

Pause and calmly contemplate that.

This excerpt from the Broad philosophy will sound familiar to ears trained in reformerspeak:

The work we do in pursuit of our mission—to raise student achievement [test scores] by recruiting, training and supporting leadership talent [there’s that word] from across America to transform school systems—is centered on the following set of core beliefs. Education is a right, not a privilegeWe must act with urgency  [national security depends upon it!] to ensure that every student has access to quality educational opportunities. All students can graduate from high school prepared for college or career regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.  [Just like Klein did, except he didn’t really.]   Across America, students from all backgrounds and personal circumstances are closing achievement gaps and proving they can achieve at high academic levels. Effective leaders… embrace actions that put student achievement first [test scores]  [and] make decisions that improve outcomes for all students [again, test scores].  [Emphasis and commentary added.]

Joel Klein, through his connections with Broad, has been responsible for the grooming of Broad graduates to be like himself and usurp educational leadership positions around the nation, including Baltimore Schools Chief Andres Alonso, New Orleans Superintendent-gone-state-superintendent John White, and Chicago Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard.

This is the influence of the Broad money. And Joel Klein is here to spread the corporate reform virus nationwide.

But there is more than Broad money to Joel Klein.  In 2003, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed 51 million dollars to NYC schools to create 67 “small, themed high schools.”

However, all of this is nothing compared to what I discovered next:

One of the more telling ventures in which Joel Klein was involved is revealed in this 2009 paper detailing how schools should spend a federal, one-time  $100 billion dollar investment:

The federal government’s unprecedented $100 billion investment in our nation’s public schools through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform public education. We believe that states and districts must use these funds to act smartly and with focus to set the groundwork for real student improvement for decades to come — preparing many more young people to graduate high school ready for college and careers.

The pressure will be to save jobs and preserve the status quo with little real change for our nation’s students. We hope that state and school district leaders will have the wisdom and courage to focus these resources on investments that will have a payoff — both in the short-term and over time — so that this unprecedented investment in public education will enable our nation’s schools to better prepare our students for college, work, and life.

This paper lays out five big ideas for investing the one-time recovery funds that, if seized, will enable parents, educators, taxpayers, and students to see real educational results by 2012 and provide the base for more dramatic improvements in the future. If states and districts focus their funds on these ideas, we believe that it will be a down payment on excellence that lays the groundwork to produce breakthrough gains in what our students learn and achieve for the next generation.

Keep in mind, this paper was written in 2009:

First, and most fundamental, by January 2012 Americans should expect to see a common core of fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, college- and career-ready standards adopted by at least 40 states representing the majority of the nation’s students. [Emphasis added.]

Now, hold onto your chairs:

More robust and user-friendly data and information systems in every state, district, school, and classroom that provide students, parents, teachers, principals, and district and state leaders timely information to know what’s working, what’s not, and what additional help students need.

Recall that student data is now being collected and used, without parental consent, to “inform educational [product?] needs.”

Spooky.  Sinister.

The authors of this 2009 paper are telling districts what they can expect to see occurring nationwide by 2012.

There’s more:

A meaningful professional teacher evaluation system in every state and school district that shines the spotlight on teacher effectiveness and provides support to help teachers improve by providing clear, differentiated feedback.

A rigorous and focused effort in every state to close and turn around 5 percent of its poorest-performing schools. By 2012, states and districts should have shut down at least 500 of these schools and replaced them with new, higher-performing schools that have much higher expectations for students and the operational and staffing flexibility to effectively meet their students’ needs. Furthermore, every state will have a clear mechanism that it is using to aggressively close its lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and replace them with higher performing, new schools including public charter schools.

For its $100 billion investment, the public rightly expects focused actions and tangible progress in the next two years, not more of the same.


What governors and state chiefs should do: Ensure educators, policymakers, and parents are using the data to drive key decisions. Create options for successful innovation, such as local “Turnaround Zones,” a statewide “Governor’s District,” or mayoral accountability. Eliminate statewide caps and reduce barriers for public charter schools and other successful providers.

You really should read this paper.

This is a paper.  The contributors to the paper include NCTQ advisory board members Klein, Rhee, Sanford, and Barber; NCTQ President Kate Walsh; former Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek (who left Louisiana and became the superintendent-in-residence of the Broad Superintendents Academy), Aimee Guirera, director of the Data Quality Campaign (FERPA issue?), the Joyce, Gates, Broad, Fordham, and Hewlitt Foundations; TNTP’s Timothy Daly, former TFAer Jon Schorr (New Schools Venture Fund), and Eric Smith of the Florida Department of Education, among others.

Four NCTQ advisory board members and the NCTQ president contributed to this 2009 paper predicting the national emergence of the corporate reform movement.


In addition to undue power and influence, there is huge money here promoting a clear agenda of corporate reform three years before the reform movement mushroomed nationwide.  These reformers wrote in 2009 that districts should “expect” these reforms “to be in place” by 2012, and they were. (Incidentally, March 2012 yielded an explosive awareness of the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] and its role in ghost writing legislation and passing it on to statehouses around the nation. As for ALEC education legislation, Florida played a key role in presenting a “model” for such reforms as letter grades for schools.)

The next year, 2010, Klein left NYC to work for news mogul Rupert Murdoch.

It should come as no surprise that Klein and Murdoch share an interest in corporate reform. Both Murdoch and Klein want to expand charter schools, neutralize unions, and remove teachers found to be “ineffective.” And, of course, there was the power of Murdoch’s New York Post in promoting Klein’s education agenda while he was chancellor, including (as was advised in the 2009 report cited above) eliminating statewide caps for charter schools.

Murdoch donated one million dollars to Education Reform Now, an organization chaired by Klein and that advocates against LIFO (“last in, first out”) faculty seniority.  Its board of directors is made up of executives at the hedge funds Hawkshaw Capital, Gotham Capital, SAC Capital and Maverick Capital, all pro-charter.

Following the Chicago teachers strike in Fall 2012, Education Reform Now paid for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s commercial about the strike where he promotes reform “for the kids.”  Education Reform Now also involved itself in school board elections in Buffalo, NY, and Milwaukee, WI.

Indeed, Murdoch’s money influences NYC even beyond Klein’s departure:

Combined with the increased scrutiny of Klein’s role in the DOE’s recent proposal to renew a $4.5 million contract with Murdoch’s Wireless Generation (which Klein himself now oversees in his work as head of the Education division at News Corp.) and the State Education Department’s decision to award a $27 million no-bid contract to the same company, it’s likely that this web of connections will be important to keep an eye on as Klein settles into his new position at Murdoch’s side.

The money reaches far, and the power of corporate reform is profound.

No one exemplifies this truth more than Joel Klein. His corporate reform financial and policy connections pale by far any other single NCTQ advisory board member I’ve examined up to this point.

Klein embodies anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-traditional, pro-corporate reform.

And he is working hard to persuade America to buy into his view of educational progress.

He’ll even fabricate a false Dickensian history to convince you.


Previous posts in this series:

Part I: NCTQ 2012 Letter Grades and Louisiana; reformer use of the op/ed

Part II:  NCTQ Alternative Certification publication

Part III:  NCTQ Adivisory Board members Steven Adamowski, Michael Barber, Roy Barnes, and McKinley Broome

Part IV:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Cynthia Brown, David Chard, Andrew Chen, and Celine Coggins

Part V:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Pattie Davis, Michael Feinberg, Michael Goldstein, and Erik Hanushek

Part VI:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Joseph Hawkins,  Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch

Part VII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Wendy Kopp

Part VIII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Michelle Rhee

  1. Linda permalink

    Klein and Murdoch…can you think of two sleazier opportunists with no morals? The man whose company hacked into the cell phone of missing, murdered thirteen year old will now have access to the data of all of our children under the name of reform? And to somehow rationalize this as improving education is delusional. May they rot.

  2. I’ve been looking at Joel Klein’s record in NYC. The series isn’t complete yet, but you can read what I’ve written so far here:

    The bottom line: Klein is not nearly the miracle worker he and others proclaim him to be.

    • Thank you, Jersey. I appreciate your input and value your work. Of course people like Klein are not miracle workers; they are carefully positioned frauds.

  3. Can you reformat and repost this? The right margin is clipped….

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