The Klein Era: Eight Years, One Legacy

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In 2008, Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg announced city students' improved performance on standardized tests. Two years later, a recalibration of scores suggested that progress has been far less dramatic than earlier results indicated.

Photo by: City Hall

In 2008, Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg announced city students' improved performance on standardized tests. Two years later, a recalibration of scores suggested that progress has been far less dramatic than earlier results indicated.

At the end of July in 2002, haven just been granted mayoral control of school, Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned to a business leader, Joel Klein, then the CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., to run the nation’s largest school system.

“I look forward to working with teachers, parents and the Panel on Educational Policy,” Klein said at City Hall that day, “because everyone is part of the solutions we seek to the challenges we face.”

Eight years later, Klein is preparing to step down to become an executive at News Corp. And the mayor has tapped another business leader—Hearst Magazine’s Cathie Black—as his replacement.

During his time at the city Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse behind City Hall, Klein has—as he predicted–faced challenges. He has answered with three reorganizations of the school system, a reduction of social promotion, a laser-like focus on standardized testing, grades for schools, ratings for teachers, the break-up of large high schools into smaller ones, the closure of failing schools and a devotion to the charter school concept.

In an administration that values statistical measurement, there are myriad ways to measure the impact of Klein’s initiatives. Different numbers paint different pictures: High school graduation rates are up. But standardized test scores in lower grades—used to justify continued mayoral control and to fortify the mayor’s two re-election campaigns—were shown earlier this year to have been drastically inflated.

A typical child who started in Kindergarten the year that Klein took over Tweed still hasn’t reached ninth grade. A third-grader this year, taking the first crucial standardized test, won’t graduate high school until 2020. So it might be years until Klein’s legacy can be fully assessed. But here are some of the ways City Limits has covered his tenure:

A ‘D’ For Details: Should The City Release Teachers’ Ratings?
Nov 9, 2010 As a businesswoman prepares to take over the city’s schools, New York’s teacher rating system—itself borrowed from the business world—stirs controversy.

State Education Test Scores Take Nosedive
July 28, 2010 Elementary and middle school students statewide scored far worse this year on their annual state math and English exams. For New York City, it was the first year-to-year decline in at least four years.

We Won ‘Race To The Top’ Money. Now What?
Aug. 30, 2010 One thing that is clear, and of concern to many advocates and educators, is that the money isn’t going to particular school-based programs.

Hard Math: Charter Schools Race For Space
June 10, 2010 The new charter school law ended months of political acrimony. But it didn’t answer the question of where the new schools will find seats.

City Council Endorses School Turnaround Zone
May 27, 2010 If adopted, the strategy would represent a significant departure from the DOE’s current approach to struggling schools.

Grad Gain Endangered
March 27, 2010 High school graduation rates are up – but earning a public school diploma is about to get more difficult.

Getting Lost On the Way
Sept. 14, 2009 Clear lines of accountability for student discipline are needed in the era of police officers staffing public school hallways, say advocates and officials pushing for new rules.

The Education Business: Teachers Missing At The Top
June 1, 2009 The New York City public school system has always been led by teachers. Until the chancellorship of Joel I. Klein.

What Will It Take To Alter Makeup of Top Schools?
April 6, 2009 Efforts to raise the achievement of students of color, and increase their admissions into the city’s competitive high schools, have seen limited success.

City Limits Investigates: Behind the Dropout Rate
Jan. 21, 2008 How many NYC youths actually graduate? This synopsis of CLI explains what goes into that calculation – and the challenge of raising the score.

Principals With Punch: New Program Will Create ‘Empowerment Schools’
May 15, 2006 City expands popular scheme that offers schools more control if they agree to higher standards.

First Principals
Dec. 15, 2004 The Department of Education has put a dissident school principal in charge of a brave new venture: public schools that are expected to defeat the system.

Making Change: Fast Forward
April 15, 2003 Meet New York City’s newest principals: the best and the brightest–and the least experienced.

Older High School Students Losing Seats
April 7, 2003 Education czar Joel Klein’s plan to reorganize several high schools meant for the city’s oldest, most troubled students could slowly squeeze those kinds of kids out of the system altogether.