Michelle Rhee is the most famous fraud among the education union-busters whose fake stories flatter various elites while doing nothing to advance the interests of underprivileged children. But Joel Klein, former chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, would seem to be another one. Like Rhee, he has pleasing anecdotes about how the education system has gone to hell because of unions that don’t care about education. But as Richard Rothstein explains, Klein’s tales hold up about as well as Rhee’s:
The lesson Klein, Duncan, and others draw from this autobiography is that poor children today fail because their teachers, unlike the 1950s Mr. Harris, are overprotected by union contracts, have low expectations for poor students, and so barely try to teach them. To correct this, Klein and others who call themselves “school reformers” hope to identify ineffective teachers and replace them with new ones who rest their security not on union rules but on an ability to rescue children from material and intellectual deprivation.
Unlike a politician’s biography, which gets vetted by the press, Klein’s account has never been questioned. That’s too bad, because in nearly every detail the story he tells is misleading or untrue. The misrepresentations call into question the reforms he and his acolytes promote.
The bottom line:
But his less-than-honest autobiography has been accepted unquestioningly by allies like Arne Duncan who use it, as he does, to support needless test obsession for millions of schoolchildren, on the theory that more accountability for teachers will cure our social ills. Klein’s story has contributed to the demoralization of tens of thousands of teachers who are now blamed for their low-income students’ poor test scores. Klein and Duncan’s conclusion that public schools must be failing because they don’t perform the miracles they allegedly performed in the past has helped justify a rapid expansion of charter schools. Most charter schools have done no better for disadvantaged children than the schools from which they came, while stripping regular schools of their most motivated students. Contemporary reforms have produced much turmoil in public education but little or no meaningful improvement. Meanwhile, social inequality has grown and with it, challenges to educators hoping to narrow the achievement gap.
Somehow, I’m guessing that this true story will not be made into an unwatchable and unwatched Hollywood movie.