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Making Schools Work with Hederick Smith district wide reform
 
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Joel Klein

Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City Schools.

 
district wide reform
NEW YORK CITY:::JOEL KLEIN INTERVIEW

Interview with Joel Klein, Chancellor (2002-present)
New York City Department of Education

Hedrick Smith: You have the interesting experience of a layman coming into a field of specialists. You're not unique. There are others, like Alan Bersin. What do you do when you have not been an educational professional? How do you get your ideas for what you want to do?

Joel Klein: I think the first thing I did was set out to find good people to work with me, people who actually had some of the experience and expertise. Now, remember, one of the reasons you've seen recently so many what they call “nontraditional” superintendents or chancellors is because of a sense that the major issues in education are not simply technical issues, but really reorganization, reincentivizing a system that hasn't worked. This is the system throughout the United States in large, urban areas that simply hasn't worked very well for vast numbers of children. So, what you do is you bring in people with educational expertise and experience, and you build a team. And then those people obviously reach out to members of the community. I've met often times with the people in the universities here, at the education schools. You study the literature. You have advisors, and it's through that process that you bring a lot of the experience, expertise to the table.

But I continue to believe the really challenging issues in public education are not the issues that are, if you will, within the ambit of expertise. They're much more in the ambit of organization, management, accountability and, in the end, properly creating incentives.

Smith: Do you turn to people who may not be folks that you are going to put on your team? I mentioned the name of Alan Bersin. I think maybe Alan Bersin's somebody you turned to, or Tom Paysant, Tony Alvarado, people who've been around a long time, working at these problems. Can you talk a little bit about any of that kind of expertise?

Klein: Sure. One of the first things I did, even before I think I actually took the job, is I went out to San Diego and met with Alan Bersin, someone that I knew from my time in the Clinton administration, and Tony Alvarado. And I spent the day with the two of them and their teams, talking about the issues. I spent time with Roy Rohmer, who's also a nontraditional superintendent who's in Los Angeles. I still spend time with these people – with Arnie Duncan, in Philadelphia, just recently. I was talking to some other superintendents on a pretty regular basis, and Tom Paysant, whom you mentioned.

And you ask them about, you know, “What do you think about this?” “How are you tackling this kind of issue?” There're a lot of people willing to help. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who had actually been in New York, who's now the superintendent in Cleveland, she's been very helpful to me. So, there are a lot of people willing to give you their views – and their candid views, which I appreciate.

Smith: Now, when you get all done, what do you consider the hallmarks of your reform effort here in New York, gathered from these various sources?

Klein: First and foremost, is accountability. This is a system that has had no accountability. And very few systems that we know that work well have zero accountability. Basically whether you perform well or you perform poorly, you're fundamentally treated the same. And that's been an organizing principle.

The second thing, I think, that's been critical is the focus on leadership. You know, I went out, Rick, and created probably the most dynamic and certainly the largest Leadership Academy for training principals in the United States. We raised close to $75 million from the private sector to support this effort. I believe, and I believe it deeply, that a great principal is critical to restructuring education. Leadership matters. Teachers, others in the school building, guidance counselors, parents, they will tell you the difference between a great principal and one who is, shall we say, not ready for the job; and principals as administrators, as managers, or principals as instructional leaders, principals as instructional leaders, but with a focus on both. You've got to have the leadership qualities.

Again, it goes back to the issue you started with, in a way – the question of expertise. There is an expertise, obviously, in effective instruction. Although, quite frankly, as you know as well as anyone, there are lots of arguments about the different, if you will, pedagogic techniques. And I actually have some views about that. But no question, though, that running a school requires leadership skills. How you build a team, how you get your teachers to support what you're doing, how you get your community, your parents, how you bring in the resources that you need to help run it – those are major leadership issues. And we created this academy. We've got people like Jack Welch, Dick Parsons working with us on this academy and really focusing on leadership. I think it's critical.

The third thing we did was focus on a core curriculum. Biggest problem we have in New York City is our students, many of them, are not ready for basic math and reading. I mean we have kids in high school – this is hard to believe – we have kids in high school who can't read. And one wonders how this happens; it's because the system just pushes people through the system without, again, any accountability.

So, we focused on trying to shape a core instructional approach and realign our administrative resources to implement that instructional approach. And we've had enormous, I think, success in the reorganization – not that it's been easy. But we now have a local instructional leader responsible for ten or so schools, with a real focus on why are our children not learning reading and math. That's key.

The next thing we did which, I think, will be a hallmark, is our New Schools strategy. And that has two components. One, we welcomed charters. I am a guy who believes we need innovation. We need people with fresh blood and different ideas side by side with the current system. And so we've been very user-friendly to charters, and I'm glad to say we're having real success in attracting people. If you read in the papers, you'll hear about Amistad, which is really an extraordinary operation – a middle school charter in New Haven that's doing outstanding work with very hard-to-serve kids. They're coming to New York, and I'm proud of that. KIPP Academy, some of the others.

And then a lot of our secondary schools, which had two, three, four thousand students and graduation rates that were pitiful – 25, 30% – we're restructuring them to make them smaller, academically more rigorous and focused on student achievement. And we've gotten a lot of support for that. I'm really proud of it, especially given my past. Bill Gates and his foundation have supported us in a major way, so that's been a very successful initiative. And we know something about that initiative, which is, right now the schools we've opened under that initiative have much higher attendance rates. I mean much higher. And they have higher promotion rates. It's early, but the early data are very encouraging.

Smith: And you picked – what some of your other staff people call a “thinking curriculum.” Instead of picking a scripted curriculum, you've picked balanced literacy. You picked an open-ended kind of curriculum. Why?

Klein: I think there're two dimensions, and everyone wants to do this as a “tastes great, less filling” debate. You know, it's either/or. And I just don't see it as either/or – which is, I think the basic skills do take a certain amount of discipline and drill and ability to do the times table. I think children need the times table. I think children need to develop, basically, issues about grammar, vocabulary. I think those are important, and I think there's no way to shortcut those things.

At the same time, I think if you stop there you're thoroughly going to shortchange children. And I looked at these scripted programs. First of all, I listened to the people in the city – people like Carmen Farina, who's gotten incredible results. I mean people don't want to look at the numbers she got, who'll disagree with us because she's gotten incredible results in the school district that she was working, with this program. I listened to other people in the city who had had experience. Second, I looked at some of the cities that were using the scripted programs, and what you found was that they would do okay, typically, in the second grade, the third grade; but then as children got to the fifth grade and the sixth grade and the seventh grade, they fell off. And they fell off dramatically. And I say this not entirely facetiously: I don't see my job as getting children a third grade education. I see my job as getting people to successfully graduate high school.

And one of the things people need is, first of all, to learn beyond the reading techniques. They've got to learn to develop a passion and excitement about literature, an ability to discuss it. In math, people have got to learn the critical thinking skills – that's going to be required of them in the job market in the 21st century.

So, one of the things we did, for example – and it cost us a great deal of money – is we put a classroom library in every classroom. And one of the things that always excites me when I walk into a school is when a kid comes up to me and says, “Chancellor, I just picked out this book to read.” And I say, “Why?” And the child tells me exactly why, rather than the old days where we would just give a kid – like when you and I probably went to school – Dick and Jane and See Spot Run and all of this. And I think Dick and Jane and See Spot Run has a role to play in terms of learning the basic structures; but I think it's much, much more important not to stop there and to put in place a more robust curriculum.

So, now, if you're go into our classrooms, you will see children talking to each other about their books and why they're reading this and what they learned and discussing things like what's the main theme. And you'll hear the students say to another, “No, I think the main theme of this book is thus and such.” So, critical thinking and a passion for education has got to be a part of the educational equation.

Now, some people want to say, “Well, you don't do phonics, but that's just wrong. We do do phonics. Indeed, we have very rigorous phonics programs. But I think a scripted approach is not going to get us where we need. And, frankly, I think it doesn't realize that the key variable in the end is the quality of the teacher. And if you harness a teacher to a script, I think you're going to undermine teaching and learning, ultimately. I think we have a high-quality teaching corps in this city as a general matter, and I think you'll see that reflected in some of our test results. And I think we need to work with them through professional development and through support, and I think we can actually accomplish this.

It won't be easy, and it's a lot easier to script it, I think. But imagine saying that. I mean do you know any great university that scripts its teaching force? It's just not a way, it seems to me, to find a key to success here.

Smith: I'm sure you know – people have told you that one of the things that drew us to New York – not just the Yankees and the size and the great city – but was a guy named Tony Alvarado and what he began to do back in District 2. But listening to you, the Leadership Academy, professional development, a wide-open “thinking curriculum,” emphasis on the principal as the key change agent – I mean so many of those things sound like you've built on what Tony Alvarado was doing in District 2 and expanded it?

Klein: I think there's a lot of truth to a lot of the ideas that Tony developed – Tony and Alan Bersin together, took to a new level and I hope we're taking to yet a new level. But I think there's a lot of sound, basic thinking in the ideas you're talking about. …For example, before I met Tony Alvarado I said to people, “The most important thing I could do in my chancellorship is” – at the time I came here, we had about 1200 schools – I said, “If I leave this system with 1250 great principals, that's the most single, important thing I could do.” And then I read a thing called The Principal Challenge, which actually made the same points about leadership and about how American business and then the American military went through the same kinds of transformations. So, I think Tony, I think Alan, I think a lot of people were on the mark when they focused on some of these core ideas.

Smith: And also, you've got two different approaches here. You talk about the open-scripted, “thinking curriculum,” and you've got people like Eric Smith and others down in Charlotte who've run a district on more scripted curriculum. I don't know whether or not you had Charlotte in mind when you were talking about doing well in first, second, third, fourth, fifth grade; but it begins to peter out in seventh, eighth grade.

Klein: Charlotte's actually done reasonably well across the board. It faces a different set of challenges. Now the district, for example, I looked hard at because it was the one that was most mature, was San Diego at the time. Not San Diego. I apologize. It was Sacramento, which had been on one of these prescriptive programs. And then I started to look at others and see that they flattened out. And I was just reading an article recently I had seen in The New York Times about a school district where they were all excited about their third grade results, but they had fallen right off the table in the fifth grade. So, that was part of it.

Second, it struck me...that trying to script our teachers is not likely to be an effective, long-term strategy. And third, I looked at the results that people like Carmen Farina were getting. Remember, we had on-the-ground people – someone else that probably you've heard of, Shelly Harwayne who followed Tony, and there are others. And then I said, “Look, this is not ideology. There are some kids who need very, very structured programs,” and we have highly structured programs. We brought in a nationally recognized program for phonics. But I used to say to some of the people who raised these issues, I said, first of all, if a child comes to the first grade reading, why am I going to give him a scripted phonics program? We need differentiated approaches for different children. If a child can't read, I don't think listening and reading by himself will do it. I think you need very structured phonics, phonemic awareness, decoding programs.

But I reject the notion that we can't walk and chew gum at the same time, or that if you don't polarize this debate somehow you're not playing straight. I think we do both. And the purists on either side would probably say we don't – we do too much of one or too much of the other. I don't think so.

And one of the things that is very important to me, Rick, is I've studied Carmen Farina's results in reading, and where she's getting the biggest bang in her school district – the one she ran for several years – is in the eighth grade, where you're seeing real gains, sustained gains. And I think eighth grade gains are a pretty good sign of what we're looking for in this system.

Smith: In talking about standards and the need for accountability, that, of course, is a hallmark of No Child Left Behind. Has that helped you? Has that hurt you?

Klein: Well, in a way, New York was ahead of No Child Left Behind. Rick Mills, our commissioner, was a big advocate of standards, and still is. He's vigilant about them. He believes in testing as a means of measurement and accountability, and has pressed very hard on it. And our city has been there –

Smith: Because New York State was on accountability standards several years before No Child Left Behind?

Klein: We've had city and state testing going on, I think, since 1999. And so I think we were one of the states to come into compliance with NCLB. I think standards are very important. I think there's a false sense of security when we try to explain away why students aren't doing well on tests or other things that enable us, in the short term, to feel good; because you can promote a child, even though the child hasn't learned very much.

Smith: Well, my question would be whether or not standards put the focus on the child as opposed to on the adult. I mean the adult is teaching a curriculum, and they say, “I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, and I've finished the year. They can move on.” That's one thing. But if you have tests, and you got a whole bunch of kids in a class, in a school, in a neighborhood, they're not doing well, then you can see what the school's doing. … We've heard other people say, “The standards help us. The use of standards helps us focus on the children and what we're delivering to the children, rather than on the agenda of the adults.”

Klein: Oh, I think that's absolutely right. And we, in New York, put in place a third grade promotion policy which said if you didn't pass the test – except for an appeal that's very rigorous – if you don't pass the test we're not moving you into fourth grade. And this was met with a lot of noise, but we actually had a very successful launch over the summer. A large number of students passed the test. And then the following year we put in place a fifth grade promotion policy, which we're working on now.

And one of the things I'm proudest of with that policy – we opened up a Saturday academy for struggling readers, struggling math students in our schools in the fifth grade, who're supposed to be going on to middle school next year. And, you know, on every Saturday in New York, close to 10,000 of those kids are in school, working away on math and reading; because they now know they're not going to be just simply promoted to move them out of the elementary into the middle. So, you're absolutely right in terms of accountability.

It also, I think, begins to raise these issues about differentiation – which teachers are really getting very good results, which are not. And you'll hear from me and others about merit pay as a way to begin to differentiate in the system. And I think this is a very important strategy, and I'm pleased to see so many people now seriously talking about it.

Smith: Well, Saturday class, maybe summer school, as well – that's more time on task. I mean that's one of the hallmarks of the KIPP program. …Those kids are going to school 50% more time than most kids in public school. They're going to school a longer day, they're going a half day on Saturday, and they're going three weeks in the summertime. When you add it all up, it comes to about 50% more time in class.

Klein: For students who need it – struggling students – it's absolutely critical. It does take more time. You know, we won this case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the city's entitled under the court ruling so far to it looks like four, five, $5½ billion of additional money. And one of the things that I want to spend that money on is to start children earlier – half day at age three, full day at age four – so we get them into the academic, instructional milieu at an earlier age. For many of these students, they're not getting the kind of help at home that they need, and we need to get them involved. And, second, to do just what you're talking about – extend the day and extend the year.

Now, that's not true for every student. Some students may not need an extended day. You have to differentiate. But I'll tell you this: if you don't get kids on grade and ready for education by the third grade, you're going to be playing a catch-up game that is very, very hard to work. And that's what's happened to public education all along, because it's very painful to think about holding young children back. So, we just push them through the system. Then they get to high school, and they can't read. And again, I'll keep saying this, because people don't believe it – I have students in high school who cannot read. I'm not even talking about understand; they cannot read the text in front of them.

Smith: We are hearing it from people who take an entirely different approach – Bob Slavin with a very scripted program, Success for All. We hear it from people in Charlotte. We hear it from the San Diego people. No matter how you cut it, if you've got kids who're simply not making it – language problems, high mobility, minority kids, no backing at home for the education – it's going to take more people, more resources, more money, more time in school, more reading coaches. Whatever it is, it's going to take more resources to do it. Is that a message you would agree with?

And secondly, is that a message the American public is hearing? Are people understanding – because there has been an attitude here for a while that you can't just throw money at the problem. But there has been a tendency to put more resources behind the kids who're actually doing very well – better science labs, having more qualified teachers, more experienced teachers, beautiful buildings, whatever. What it sounds to me is that you're saying – and lots of others are saying to us – is, “We've really got to put lots of extra resources on the kids who're having the most trouble, so we can get them up into our system.”

Klein: I think that's a critical issue. We need to put the resources in there in a smart way. One of the things I've seen in education, and you see it throughout the country, is people plow in additional resources in a way that doesn't get any improvement. That's happened time and time again. But the kind of thing you're talking about – for example, increasing time on task, starting children lower at an early age – those things, I think, will get us a real return.

Smith: Talk professional development. You've got a hundred minutes every two weeks that you're doing. That costs money. You had to sign a contract. You put teachers into professional development; you have got to put substitutes in the classroom in order to train them. Those are big investments. My question to you: are those investments worth it? Are they paying off? Do we need to understand that it's going take those kinds of investments in order to reach the kids who are having the biggest struggle?

Klein: I think it will take those kinds of investments. I think those investments are paying off, but I think they need to be done well. For example, you talk about professional development. I have no doubt that effective professional development is going to have a large return on investment, but that doesn't mean all professional development is effective. You can waste people's time, too.

And one of the things that's important for me and for my team is to keep monitoring the professional development to make sure that the systems we're using, the approaches we're taking are getting results. If they don't, then you're just throwing money at the problem; and this is where, I think, differentiation works.

Smith: When you look at those examples you turn to…Bersin and Alvarado…Carmen Farina, of course… what is it about what they did that made their professional development, their selection of principals, their emphasis on an open curriculum – what made that work? What were the keys to that?

Klein: This is the great question. What made Jack Welch a great manager and other people who didn't? I mean, we look at this all the time. What are the keys, I think, in education – first of all, the ability to identify others with leadership quality. There's no question about it. You pick the wrong school leader, it's very hard to have effective professional development.

Second of all, I think there is a rigor to the work that a Carmen Farina or a Tony Alvarado does. There's a rigor in the sense that they know there are no shortcuts. That's a little bit why I have some questions about scripted programs, as if you can rely on shortcuts. There's a rigor in the sense that if you think about this conceptually, if you can move your teaching force, through professional development, to let them work at a higher level – that's the way you're going to move your student body. You know, why does a team in baseball or basketball – why do they practice – right? What's professional development? It's a form of practice. It's a form of training. Why do they work out? Why do they invest in all of these activities? To make the team stronger, to make them play at a better level. And, again, some training is not very effective; and some is very effective.

Now, one of the things we need to do, too, is work with the education schools – and I'm doing this right now – to make sure that their training is aligned with our training. There's no purpose to have students go to education school and not have that training aligned with our needs in the school system. So, we need to do a better job in there, too.

But there's no question that as a strategy, in the end, what happens for a child is a product of what happens between that child and his or her teacher. There's no magic. You know it; I know it. I can remember the teachers who changed the way I thought, who pushed me to new levels, who taught me a great deal about science and literature. And, frankly, I've forgotten a lot of them who really didn't have much of an impact, and that's true from when I was in the first grade to when I was in college or law school. And what we need to do is invest in actually increasing the talent of our teaching pool and then leveraging it. One of the reasons why I'm a big proponent of creating positions like master teachers and paying more money is because talent can teach other people and bring them all up, and that's what this has got to be about – a rising tide.

Smith: Let's move from that to the Leadership Academy. You've mentioned it, and we've ticked off on the list, but who's going to the Leadership Academy? What is that Leadership Academy about? What's your strategy there in that Leadership Academy?

Klein: I think it's a variety of things. The first thing is we have people apply, so like for 90 positions we get 1000, 1200 people apply. And actually this is not “who you know” stuff. Knowing somebody is not what this is about. And you'll get people from other cities who apply for this in significant numbers. You'll get some very young people. Some people say, “Well, too young to be a principal.” I don't know about that. David Levin, who's at KIPP is doing a fine job. Desha Towle, who's at Amistad, is doing a fine job. So, I don't have the view that you've got to be in the system 20 years to be a principal.

The other thing we do is we take some very seasoned people, no question about it. We take some teachers who are six, seven years into their experience. I just heard from one young lady today who was a math coach. I met her two years ago, when she wanted to talk to me about math coaching – about a year and-a-half ago. I urged her to apply to the Leadership Academy. She got in. She's doing incredible work. So, we look for people and then screen them. And we screen them along lines of talent, instructional ability, their past.

Smith: Your looking to build principals, by and large?

Klein: No, what we do is we train them. We invest – you were talking about professional development – we have a 15-month training program that has two dimensions. It's practical and like boot camp. You ask them. One of the things I loved is they would be here the first year – their summer program was here. They would be here 12, 14 hours a day. You don't hear about that in our system. You know, people are always looking at the clock. But I was thrilled. They were here 12, 14 hours a day.

I remember we heard some grievance that they were only supposed to work seven hours, and I said to them, “Well, you're by the contract, if you want to leave after seven, go ahead.” I said, “But if you want to be a principal, you ought to think about that. Your choice.” They all stayed. They all have a passion.

Second thing we did: we mentored them, let them walk side by side, footstep by footstep with other principals who are master principals now, who are at the top of their game – watching a great principal. Then we worked with them to prepare and open their schools. And they take some tough assignments. And we're having real success. It's early, but we're really hearing from the field that this is working.

So, then we ramped it up. We took another 90. We'll take another 90 next year.

Smith: Talk to me a little bit about these local instructional superintendents. They seem to me like a key engine for spreading best practices.

Klein: Absolutely. … If you don't have best practices permeate the system – we've got 1350 schools and in any business, if I were running a business, all the time I would be looking for best practices and how to export them from my most successful business to my second, to my third, so that you constantly improve the system.

Smith: What are these local instructional superintendents doing? Exporting best practice from one of their schools in their group to others?

Klein: Well, what they're doing, actually – they work together. We have ten regions, and each region will have ten or eleven local instructional superintendents, and each local instructional will have ten or so schools. So, it's a kind of ten-ten-ten, we like to refer to it as. Now, what they're doing is both bottom-up and top-down. If you've got ten schools to worry about you can spend time in there. You can actually get to know what's going on. You'll see an art program. You say to one of the other schools in your network, “Boy, you ought to look at this art program,” and you bring people in. And then you'll tell your regional superintendent, “You know, they've got a phenomenal art program,” or, “They've got a reading interview.”

Smith: We're in a school and they've got some third and fourth grade teachers who apparently the local instructional superintendent thinks are pretty good. She's got a number of third and fourth grade teachers from other schools that are struggling coming in to watch these teachers.

Klein: It's what it's all about, right? It's what you've got to see it in action. Look, when you want to be a great basketball player, you watch other people who play the game. You study the tapes. You learn. And it's the same thing here. It's so much easier to walk into a classroom where you have high-quality teachers and have other young teachers, in particular, who're just learning the ropes, sit and observe. So, a local instructional person who has a span of control of about ten schools can actually do this and then can breed the best practices through the region. So now you're talking about, in a region, maybe as many as a hundred and twenty or so schools. And it's obviously different at the high school from the middle school, but still.

And then the regional superintendents meet together. And you know the kind of discussions they have? They say, “Look, this intervention program, we're not getting great results. What are you using? Is that working better for you?” “How are you selecting your principals?” “Are you thinking about this approach?” So you've got people working together in this ten-ten-ten to export best practices. Is it perfect? No. We need to do a better job on the communications side, but it's working.

Smith: You said a moment ago “watching the tape.” We were in a school the other day, and they're literally watching the tape. The teachers taped each other, and then during their hundred-minute meeting they sat down and watched the tapes of themselves teaching and talked with a dozen other teachers. And they're critiquing the tape. They're watching themselves. They're swapping ideas – what worked, what didn't work.

Klein: It's going on, and it should go on more. I was just talking literally yesterday to Carmen Farina about this, about how we need to do more taping. And then because you can run with computer technology, they can all have these tapes on their computers. This is one of the things that I think has a tremendous potential.

When I got out of law school, I was out in California. I taught a class at Stanford law school on human relations in legal practice. And one of the things – here you are a young lawyer, you're trying a case, you're doing a negotiation, you're seeking a job interview – and I used to videotape everything. And people were astonished, people were astonished, seeing themselves. When I did a moot court, if I was going to argue a case in the Supreme Court I would tape myself, and I would want to listen and watch and hear. I used to play it back time and time again – an audiotape – listening to my argument, listening to other people asking my questions, to see what I thought about it.

This is obviously a very powerful technology, and we're doing a good deal of it and will continue to do much, much more of it. And the fact that you saw it in one of our schools is really heartening to me.

Smith: You said, in effect, New York City and New York State were actually ahead of No Child Left Behind. But No Child Left Behind has got all these different gradations. You've got to move all these 13 different categories of people up – is that a help or does that become a burden? Do people start getting focused on that? I've heard some people say, “Look, it's stimulating us. It sets standards. We needed benchmarks.” You sort of said, “We had the benchmarks, anyway.” And other people saying, “Look, we have some schools that are really making some headway. But if you look at the No Child Left Behind yardstick, some of these subgroups are actually holding us back, because we're looking at that, and we're taking our eye off a larger ball.”

Klein: I think both sides have an element of truth. I hate to be Solomonic about this. I do think it's very important to continue to insist on standards. I would suggest – and I think other people would agree with this – I think No Child Left Behind has to look much more at what we call “value added,” which is how much progress a child is making. Right now, I think there's too much focus on whether a child is performing at grade level, because that may reflect certain things that are very troubling. For example, strategically, I could take all the higher-performing kids, put them in one school, and then lower performing kids in another school. The one school would look great; the other would not.

So, what, to me, is the key variable – and I'd love to see this in No Child Left Behind – is to move toward not what a child knows, but what a child learns from year to year. If special ed. kids are moving forward steadily and they're really getting a learning experience, then we should reward those schools; if English language learners are, we should reward them. If struggling students are moving forward, we should reward them.

But there's too much tactical maneuvering. I was astonished – when I became chancellor, people told me that they would just take some of the special ed. kids from the various schools and put them all in one school. Then the scores at all the other schools would go up, because you removed special ed. kids. Now, that's kind of silly.

Klein: So, if you looked at what we call the change year to year, what did this student know in the third grade, how did he do on the third grade test versus the fourth grade test versus the fifth grade test, then you will see real longitudinal progress. And I think that would be a much more focused and robust way.

The other thing you point out, which is true – you don't want to lose the forest from the trees. If a school is generally – even under the current standard – doing quite well, the fact that they may have fallen down in one aspect shouldn't lead to a negative label. Because labeling in this game has consequences. So, I think we should look at performance metrics, but we don't want to slice the salami too thin here.

Smith: I started to ask you about the challenge ahead. What is the challenge ahead? What we hear and what I sense from you, and what we certainly hear from Congress and the President at the moment: high school. We've done a lot of work in elementary school. And we've done a fair amount of work in middle school, but the high schools are still a pretty tough nut to crack. But maybe that's not your challenge. What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead?

Klein: High school and middle school are both very big challenges. There's no question about it. I think the biggest challenge in a school system, ultimately, are the issues reflected in the Teaching Commission's report by Lou Gerstner and others, which is, one, we need to think about effective ways to attract high-quality people into the teaching profession. We need to think about the economics of it. We need to think about the training at the education schools. I think it's very, very important. And we need to think about a reward structure that really does reward excellence.

This Teaching Commission has a line in there that is so powerful to me, which is: teachers view this as a calling, and they want great things for their kids. But a system that does not reward excellence is unlikely to inspire it. And I think we have to move toward a system that rewards excellence. I would support pay-for-performance. I would support differential pay for hardship assignments. And I think that's the way to build the human capacity.

In the end, Rick, ours is a human enterprise. Technology, labs, buildings, all can facilitate; but teaching and learning is the interface of a student and a teacher. And the quality of that relationship is the most critical thing. We've got to create environments that maximize the chances of success. But one of the reasons I focus on leadership is great leaders attract great people to work with them, no matter where they are. And that's one of the things we are trying to do in this system.

But I think a multiyear effort to really transform the profession from one that fundamentally does not reward excellence to one that stimulates, supports and rewards excellence is one we need to endeavor and work on together.

Smith: Multiyear.

Klein: Multiyear.

Smith: I want to raise a very important question with you. Memphis, after three years Gerry House's reform gets junked; San Antonio, same thing; big question mark hanging over San Diego.

Klein: Question mark? It's over. Alan's gone. You don't need to go out there. Alan Bersin has signed a negotiated agreement. He's gone. It's a tragedy. It's a tragedy that a man of that talent and quality, who has done some of the most serious and important, transformative work in education fundamentally got beat by the politics of it.

Smith: Got beat by the…?

Klein: -- by the politics of it. They had a change on the board, and basically they bought out his contract.

Smith: This is America – I mean this is one big city; but this is an American experience again and again. How many years does it take to really get traction on the kinds of problems you and I have been talking about for the last hour, and you've been working on for the last many months?

Klein: I've been working on it for two and-a-half years. How many years do I think it takes?

Smith: Yes.

Klein: A decade. I think, in a decade you can actually restructure the system, create new incentives, new rewards; find a dynamic, new approach to labor-management relations.

But I think, in the short term, there's going to be enormous resistance. One of the things that I thought was brilliant about what Michael Bloomberg did when he secured mayoral control right at the outset – he had no illusions about what it takes to transform a system like this – but he knew that under mayoral control we would have a mayor and a chancellor together for two terms at a minimum: eight years. And I believe it's going to be this mayor, and I hope he keeps me as his chancellor. But I think eight years would be a minimal amount of time. I'm committed to stay here for that duration, and it pains me to see politics lead to this kind of new chancellor every two and-a-half years.

Smith: But wait a second. The implication of what you're saying is that school boards and school politics may be one of the biggest problems inhibiting and obstructing effective school reform in America.

Klein: I absolutely believe it. We had a school board in New York before Mayor Bloomberg had the courage – and I believe it took real courage – to seek mayoral control. We had a school board in New York that each borough present appointed one, and the mayor appointed two. They would pick a chancellor, and as soon as there was any political noise in the system, the chancellor would go. Wonderful people served in this job, but they would get recycled every two, two and-a-half years.

You can't do this job in two, two and-a-half or three years. Tom Paysant has had a decade, and I think he has really built into the DNA of the system some significant change. Alan Bersin served for six-plus years, and I think he would've – if he had stayed three or four more years –completed the critical work that he needed. It pains me to see him gone.

So, I don't think this is a job for two or three years. I really just think that's a bad idea. And unfortunately, I think a lot of times school board politics end up either leading you to make all sorts of political compromises that are not in the best interest of children, or end up short-term chancellors. And I don't think that's the way to change public education, frankly.

Smith: How will you know in your own mind, privately, when you're looking in the mirror – not when you're talking to a bunch of parents, when you're talking to the mayor – how will you know when you have succeeded? What are your own internal yardsticks?

Klein: Dramatically different graduation rates – high school graduation rates. That is, to me, the critical thing. Right now so many of our students are simply exiting the system. They're not graduating the system. One in two, for as far back as people could look at, didn't get any form of diploma, basically. And I think we have to change that number dramatically. To me, at the end of K to 12 education, a student should be prepared for one of two things: certainly, one, either to go on to college, where he or she can succeed; or to be able to sustain himself or herself independently in the workforce. When we dramatically change the number of the students in our school system that are capable of either one or both of those options, then I will have succeeded.

Until then, there will be interim things: the test scores year-to-year, parental satisfaction – parents understand when the school's working for their kids. They are things I look at as interim benchmarks. But as I said to you when we started, I don't see this as being about a third grade education. You need to have a third grade education to succeed in high school, but it's really about exiting high schools and being ready for college or the workforce – one or the other.

Smith: When you have a guy like Alvarado in District 2, he's dealing with 25,000 kids – you can do a lot more personal things there. You're dealing with a million kids – you've got a much larger operation here. When you talk about accountability, you've got a whole lot of people pressing down on the system. Some become mechanistic; it becomes about compliance. Eventually, this stuff does not have the same kind of yeast, the same kind of ferment, the same kind of passion and insight that you're talking about. Are you at this point in the curriculum?

Klein: Yes, I agree, and I think it's happening less and less each day, but there's no question. And that's because you have to work with a variety of people in that ten-to-ten-to-ten alignment we talked about. If you have a weak link somewhere in there, that will translate itself into mechanistic, compliance-based education. That won't work.

Have we eliminated it? No. Are we making progress? What do you think – I meet my regional superintendents and I ask them all the time, “Do you have the right local instructional people? If you don't, there's no substitute. This is not cookbook.” Obviously, in any large-scale transition you've got to be prepared to look at the people in the links of the chain.

Tony had the same problem in District 2. Sure, District 2 was smaller; but District 2's bigger than many school districts in the United States. He was not a one-person show; he had to work with other people. If he had a weak link in the chain, then that link would take its toll.

And so I think we keep trying to work to correct that. But I admit that there're times when people do use a cookbook when they should use human ingenuity.

The second thing you've got to understand is there's a lot of resistance. In a system that's been doing things a certain way year in and year out, when all of a sudden you're trying to move it to a different level, in a different direction, there's going to be resistance. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well, just let the teachers teach.” We should support our teachers in teaching, but the idea that you just “let them teach” – I've seen the results of years of letting every person do his or her own thing, and those are results we can't countenance going forward.

So, the issues of management you're talking about, of making sure you have the right people, who are able to lead and excite and stimulate – that's why the leadership program. A couple of weekends ago I spent with my 75 senior leaders out at Crotonville, which is the GE Leadership Center, with Welch; and we were working with them on “what is leadership?” How do you export best practices? Almost every issue you've talked to me about we were discussing – even the issue which you raised implicitly, which I think is a wonderful one, is, in looking for a principal how much do you look for leadership skills and how much do you look for instructional expertise? And it was a very interesting set of discussions, but all the things you're asking me about are about leadership, human resources and creating a teaching force that plays at its next level – which we can do.

Smith: The second thing you're talking about, really, is revamping labor-management relations. You're talking about rewarding excellence. If you're going to produce excellence, you've got to reward excellence. You're talking about pay incentives for master teachers, recognizing quality in performance. But you've got a union here. You've got … some experienced teachers who seem to have their heels dug in, or verbally they go along with you, but it doesn't seem to change. How do you get over that hurdle?

Klein: Well, hard work. I think it's going to take hard work. And obviously, we've got to negotiate these issues. Look at the paradigm in America today, everybody's talking about these issues. Denver just implemented a pay-for-performance system. Governor Schwarzenegger just gave a major speech on pay for performance. This mayor and this chancellor have been talking about pay for performance and about some of the other issues. So this takes some time, but can you imagine a system that's built on lockstep pay, lifetime tenure and seniority?

What kind of cases do we lose? I had a case recently where a principal appointed a reading specialist to teach kids in an after-school program. Again, some of the things we've talked about. She picked the best reading specialist in the building, and we lost a case saying she didn't pick the one with the most seniority. Now, you can't even say this with a straight face! It's not rational. Is that right for kids? Of course not. Nobody even disputed that the teacher that was chosen was the best teacher – just not the one with the longest experience. And as long as we operate under that model, I don't think we can realign.

Smith: Part the tragedy for Alan Bersin in San Diego is that he and Tony got into a confrontation with the union. The union went out and actually campaigned against him and campaigned against the board members that were supporting him. Now, it was more complicated than that, but that was a major factor there. Alvarado was able to negotiate with the union here in New York. He was able to appoint distinguished teachers, or “master teachers,” run them longer days, higher pay – things like that. And then you get in another culture, and – same guy, same ideas – and you wind up with a head-to-head. I mean are there things that have to be negotiated out? Can you tough it out, or do you have to negotiate?

Klein: I think you've got to be prepared to tough it out. I think, otherwise, if you don't make some fundamental changes, then, you're not going to see some significant difference…

You pointed to a thing about Tony. The difference between New York : you can always do things on a sort of project basis, on a demonstration. You know what I mean? There's a lot of that. What Tony tried to do in San Diego, and what Alan was trying to do in San Diego was to do it systemically, and that's what I'm trying to do here in New York. I don't have just District 2. I've got, actually, 32 school districts plus all my high schools. So, in my view, we need systemic reform.

And I will tell you one of the most powerful articles I have ever read was a speech that Al Shanker, who is the head of the UFT here in New York and the head of the national organization, the American Federation of Teachers – he gave at the Pew Forum in 1993, so that's well over a decade ago – in which he said if we don't move to pay for performance, we are going to pay an enormous price. He said if we don't restructure the incentives, we are not going to achieve what we want. And he said something that was so important. He said unless we are talking about student outcomes, everything else is about power, and power will not enable us to succeed.

So, I don't want to kid you. This is hard stuff. But I actually believe slowly, steadily – we won't get everything in the negotiations – but I think we'll get some changes and we move forward. I wish it would happen more quickly. Nobody likes tough labor negotiations. Nobody likes polarization. But if we don't see some changes, then I think the alternative is worse.

Smith: So, you're saying the difference between District 2 – I just want to be clear about this – that was an experiment; whereas, San Diego was systemwide?

Klein: See, what Tony did with District 2 was obviously to say, “We're going to focus on a small part.” District 2, percentage-wise in New York, is relatively small. Don't hold me to this exact number, but let's just say in terms –

Smith: Twenty-five thousand out of a million.

Klein: -- twenty-five thousand. Well, you take out the high schools. But say 25,000 out of about 800,000 or 750,000. It's a small piece of the overall puzzle, and so you can always have a demonstration. I have one going on in the Bronx now with 36 master teachers, which we negotiated with the union. But when I said, “We need to have several thousand master teachers citywide,” that has different implications. And that's what I think happened in San Diego, which was they were going to do a system wide transformation; and that's what we need to do in New York. And I think that is harder.

A lot of times what people try to do is sit on small demonstration projects. I don't think that's an effective way to transform the system. I think unless you change the culture throughout the system, you won't get it done.


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