Open Letters To Reformers I DON’T Know. Part I: Joel Klein

From Education Blogger Gary Rubinstein

Some very big reformers have recently gotten very quiet.  Michelle Rhee has stepped down as CEO of StudentsFirst, Wendy Kopp is no longer the CEO of Teach For America, Kevin Huffman ‘resigned’ from being commissioner of education in Tennessee, John Deasy is out in Los Angeles.  And some reformers who are still in their positions have been less vocal on Twitter and elsewhere.  It seems to me to be part of a new coordinated strategy — they’ve voluntarily entered the witless protection program.

But there are plenty of reformers out there to rotate into the mix and I was interested to see what former NYC chancellor Joel Klein had to say when he started his own Twitter account a few weeks before the release of his latest book ‘Lessons of Hope.’  I’m working my way through the book right now, I got a copy from the library.  So far I’m glad to see that Mr. Klein sounds a lot more ‘kinder and gentler’ than I expected him to be.  The book has not sold well yet.  It made it to number 12 on the Education subcategory of the New York Times best sellers list the first month, but isn’t on the list in this second month.  Number 12 sounds not bad until you see that the current number 12 book on that list ‘Fully Alive’ is ranked over 10,000 on the Amazon.com best sellers list.

The book is pretty well written, actually.  Klein is very vague about numbers in the book.  He’ll mention a principal he admires and write, for example, that “Bryant under Kriftcher was nevertheless a safe and orderly place where the Regents exam success rate had improved considerably.”  Though the book is more reasonable that I had anticipated, it does still have plenty of ‘status quos’ and ‘adult interests’ sprinkled in of course.  Here’s a sample from page 23:

Teachers enjoyed the protection of an extraordinarily powerful union that too often spent its time defending the worst among them.  Any attempt to wipe away the old power structure would meet massive resistance because it would make everyone feel vulnerable and uncertain.  But it would be necessary if the schools were going to serve the needs of children, rather than the needs of the adults who worked in or depended on them.  I suspected Bloomberg knew all this, but I wanted to impress on his team that, if they didn’t want to change the status quo profoundly, I wasn’t their man.

Most reformers have Twitter accounts but they are generally one-way accounts.  They tweet something.  Angry educators tweet back barbed comments and the reformers ignore them.  Most reformers do this, I think, because they have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they get cornered into saying something wrong in a public Twitter feud.  I don’t blame them.  What did Apollo Creed gain by letting underdog Rocky fight him on equal terms?  He ended up getting killed by Ivan Drago in an exhibition match.  But Joel Klein has spent plenty of time arguing in front of The Supreme Court of the United States so he is generally willing to get into it even with angry Twitter followers.  I’ve challenged him a few times.  He generally responded.  I try be civil — stick to data that I can back up, not get personal.  He hasn’t blocked me or anything yet.

A few years ago I wrote a series of ‘open letters’ to reformers I know or knew at one time.  These letters were some of my most popular blog posts ever.  When Wendy Kopp responded to my letter, stories were written about it on the same day in The New York Times and The Washington Post.  Of the twelve letters, there were only three responses.  That was more than I expected.  The point of the letters isn’t so much to get a response but to present clear arguments which could help others when trying to explain the problems with ‘reform’ to their families and friends.  Responses back are definitely a bonus.  Generally the responses are very weak.  I’d say Wendy’s was the most thoughtful.  The ones from Michael Johnston and Mike Petrilli showed that they weren’t up for the challenge.

The letter that follows is the first in what could become a new series ‘Letters To Reformers I Don’t Know.’  Joel Klein is my first recipient

For the full blog go to: https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/open-letters-to-reformers-i-dont-know-part-i-joel-klein/

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