20, No. 9
May 3 -
Klein Lays Out
Vision for School System Overhaul
Visits Bronx to Promote Plan
By ALEX KRATZ
Last week, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein parachuted into
the northwest Bronx to promote and explain his ambitious overhaul of
New York City public schools. Also known as the Children’s First
Initiative, the plan has been met with national accolades, local
opposition, and often, just plain confusion.
With all the system-wide changes being implemented, it’s difficult
for even the most informed parent to keep track, let alone make
sense, of it all. In fact, parent groups around the city have called
for the chancellor to slow down and take time to listen to what the
parents think and incorporate their input.
Despite this, Klein, with strong backing from Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, is plowing ahead with his plan.
Most changes to the school system, major or minor, only require
approval from the city’s Panel for Education Policy, which replaced
the Board of Education in 2002. The panel is comprised of 13
members. Each borough president appoints one panelist, while the
mayor installs the other eight.
The Final Chapter
The dramatic next step in the Bloomberg/Klein makeover comes July 1,
when the new fiscal year begins. That’s when every school in the
city will be reorganized by support structures (see sidebar),
regions will be disbanded and new evaluation tools will be
It’s a sort of final chapter in Klein’s epic school system makeover
– a risky bid to change what he calls “a culture of failure.” With
that as a backdrop, Klein showed up at PS 37 in Kingsbridge last
Monday to answer his critics and reiterate the Big Picture.
“We have two options,” Klein said, responding to critics of his
plan. “Stay on the same course and pray for a miracle, or we can do
the hard work and make changes.”
Buffered by a cadre of handlers, Klein strode to the stage and sat
in the middle of a long table. He was flanked by other members from
Community District Education Council (CDEC) 10, who were holding
their monthly public meeting.
Klein, a product of Queens public schools who took over the
country’s largest school system five years ago after gaining
notoriety as the Clinton Administration lawyer who beat Microsoft in
a landmark anti-trust case, started his pitch at the beginning.
He talked about how the system he inherited a half decade ago was in
shambles: graduation rates plummeting, dropout rates skyrocketing
and the achievement gap (between whites and minorities) growing.
More than 50 years after Brown versus Board of Education, the
historic case that guaranteed equal education for all races, Klein
said, minority students in the city were four years behind white
students. He called this gap “shameful” and “unacceptable.”
He went on to say that although the gap remains wide, there are
signs of progress. The city’s overall four-year graduation rate
jumped another 3 percent to 50 percent in 2006, after rising 3.5
percent in 2005. Last year, 15 of the city’s new small high schools
(part of Klein’s plan calls for smaller, more intimate academic
settings) graduated 73 percent of its students. The Bronx Aerospace
Academy, a small school on the Evander Childs campus, graduated an
astounding 93 percent of its kids, all of them minority students.
Klein also boasted that New York City was again, for the third
consecutive year, named one of the top five most improved urban
school districts in the country by the Broad Foundation, a
non-profit that focuses on public education.
Points of Emphasis
To continue improving the system, Klein said he’s pushing four
points of emphasis:
|-Accountability. On every level, from students to
teachers to administrators, Klein said, everyone must be
held accountable for improving schools. That means
tougher and more thorough evaluations of students’
progress and teachers’ and administrators’ effectiveness
-Empowerment. Klein said this means taking money from
the bureaucracy and giving it back to schools. Each
school should be able to best determine how to spend
extra funds, which will average out to be $170,000 per
school next year.
-Equity. Each school should receive equal funding based
on the needs of its students. “It’s only fair,” Klein
-Good teachers. This is Klein’s bottom line and the
reason the city has fought with the teachers union over
mandatory tenure and pay raises. “Seniority is the old
model,” Klein said. Performance and talent is the new
Basically, Klein is making schools responsible
for everything – curriculum, parent involvement, professional
development for teachers, arts programming – meaning strong
leadership and good decision-making will be more crucial than ever.
“I want to make schools the center,” Klein said. “I don’t know any
parents who send their kids to a district. They send them to
Flaws in the Plan
After Klein left the meeting, Council Member Oliver Koppell, a
former school board member who represents a big chunk of District
10, said he’s still not convinced. Both he and Assemblyman Jeff
Dinowitz have recently expressed criticism of Klein’s overall plan.
“The whole re-organization has many flaws,” Koppell said. “The seeds
of conflict and confusion are there. The whole system seems doomed
Koppell added that he’s worried that arts and extracurricular
activities will suffer because schools will choose to spend extra
funds on preparing for math and reading exams, which are required by
the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act and are tied to
CDEC 10 President Marvin Shelton, who moderated a
question-and-answer session with the chancellor after he outlined
his reform plan, has been regularly informed every step of the way
and he’s still struggling to make sense of it all.
“There’s a lot up in the air,” Shelton said about all the details
and kinks of Klein’s plan. Shelton acknowledged that “something had
to be done,” but said the jury’s still out on whether it will all
“The movement is coming fast,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, tomorrow
morning we’ll put our kids on the bus and they’ll get a better
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