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Another Education “Reform (sic)” Fraud

[ 135 ] October 11, 2012 |

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.


Comments (135)

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  1. DrDick says:

    For some reason we never see outraged calls for administrative reform and the identification and removal of ineffective administrators. After all, they are the ones who hire and evaluate the teachers, set and enforce policies and curriculum, not the teachers, and they actually have more power to effect change than the teachers themselves. Why are there no angry calls to replace the principles of underperforming schools or superintendents of underperfoprming school districts?

    • Historiann says:

      Awesome idea!

      This is so true at the university level, too. But of course, firing teachers is easy compared to firing or demoting administrators, because administrators are appointed by higher-ups, and demoting an administrator is a de facto admission that the higher-ups screwed up. (I have never seen an administrator fired or demoted in my 15-year career so far, although I have seen a lot of mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance among the administrator class.)

      • Semanticleo says:

        Management always hunkers down and says ‘look at that low-hanging fruit over there”

        The school system is full of putatively well-meaning types who, in order to justify their jobs, re-invent the 3R’s and we get new math and new English.

        In the 90’s my 3rd grader’s teacher left me speechless when I asked why he could read, yet could not spell. “We don’t worry too much about that because of spell-check, and all”

        To be fair, parents have abdicated their role in the learning process, and teachers can’t do it alone

        • ironic irony says:

          “To be fair, parents have abdicated their role in the learning process, and teachers can’t do it alone.”

          This. Exactly this.

          Parents want the teachers to basically be the “daytime” parent. That is not a teachers’ job. The teachers’ job is to teach. If parents don’t make it clear that the child is expected to learn and behave in school, don’t address any issues that their child may have in school, or find some way to involve themselves in the education of their children, they only have themselves to blame. Even a parent working two jobs can pass on the idea that education has value, even if they can’t be as involved as they wish to be.

          I also think this is just another facet in American anti-intellectualism.

          • mpowell says:

            No, this is stupid. Nothing has been abdicated. Middle class parents did not get more involved in their children’s learning in the 50s and 60s.

            The way you can tell are cultural memes are being determined by morons and ninny’s is that we have stories about an epidemic of helicpoter parents at the same time as reports of parents disengaging from their children’s learning. These are contradictory people.

            The real problem with the ed reform movement is that there is no actual evidence that the system is underserving kids today compared to the past or compared to any other country, once you correct for the level of poverty. America just has shitloads of kids living below the poverty line. Because greatness demands it or something.

            • Hogan says:

              America just has shitloads of kids living below the poverty line.

              And we’re a lot less cavalier than we used to be about them dropping out, which is how we used to solve that problem. The overall dropout rate in 1960 was around 27%; now it’s under 8%.

              • DrDick says:

                This is exactly right. What has changed is that we now demand that teachers “fix” the problems of poor children so that they perform at a level comparable to comfortable and secure middle class children. When I was in school in the 50s and 60s it was expected that they would underperform and mostly drop out and nobody cared.

                • djangermous says:

                  It also matters that there’s no jobs for high school dropouts.

                  Or graduates, for that matter.

              • Jameson Quinn says:

                It’s not just that we’re less cavalier, it’s also that each dropout is a bigger problem because there’s fewer decent jobs for dropouts.

                • DrDick says:

                  Also a good point. When I was in high school, you could still get a job in a factory or in the oil field if you dropped out, but not now.

            • Murc says:

              What mpowell said.

              Schools in the 50s and 60s were completely underserving children who came from desperate poverty, who had developmental problems, even children who came from the tiny minority middle classes because they were minorities.

              It’s just nobody gave a shit then, and schools were way less integrated.

              I mean, I’m not going to discount external cultural factors entirely. But to pretend that our schools are universally crumbling because an an abrupt change in values is sort of silly.

              • Semanticleo says:

                because an an abrupt change in values is sort of silly.

                I did not give a time-frame. It actually started in the Boomer Bubble. Are you an educator?
                If so, tell me how well parents communicate with you?

                • DrDick says:

                  No it did not. It goes all the way back to the beginnings of mandatory public education. Based on the stories my parents (professional class, but from poor backgrounds) told, if there was any difference during the 50s and 60s, it was in terms of greater than usual parental involvement in my youth than in theirs and even that was modest except among the more affluent sectors of society.

                • Semanticleo says:

                  Any educators here?

                • DrDick says:

                  Many, if not most of us are college professors, but somehow I do not think that is what you mean. Also, unless you are a public school teacher whose experience goes back to the Baby Boom years, you have no better basis for comparison than anyone else in this regard.

                • I’m an educator.

                  There is no evidence that parents are less involved in their kids’ education now than they were fifty years ago, and a great deal of evidence for everything Murc said at 12:06.

                • Semanticleo says:

                  “unless you are a public school teacher whose experience goes back to the Baby Boom years,”

                  I am interested in primary, secondary teachers responses to the question of
                  ‘parental involvement’, today, and yesterday. The tall weeds of ‘when this started’ was my fault in the oblique reference.

                • Well, I stand in front of classes and do stuff, anyway.

                  I hope I’m an educator.

                • Murc says:

                  When both JFL and I agree on a contentious point, you have to ask yourself, just how far into the weeds HAVE you strayed?

              • Josh G. says:

                Let’s not forget that in the 50s and 60s, teaching was one of the very few jobs considered suitable for college-educated middle-class women. A lot of women who went into teaching back then would, if they grew up in later decades, be in medicine, business, law, or other higher-paid professions.

                Sexism provided an implicit subsidy to public education for decades, and a lot of taxpayers (especially older ones) are reluctant to face the fact that this is gone and isn’t coming back.

                • DrDick says:

                  Good point.

                • Holden Pattern says:

                  I think that racism and classism also provided an implicit subsidy to education for upper-middle and upper class white kids. It’s a lot cheaper to educate only the kids you care about. Suddenly, in the 1960’s and early 1970’s you have to pay for all these poor (colored/hispanic) brats, and it gets expensive on a per-capita basis.

                • Holden Pattern says:

                  …and it gets expensive on a per-capita-taxpayer basis.

                • mpowell says:

                  This is true, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s had an actually substantial impact on the quality of teaching. It may be that lower teacher quality is being made up for in other ways, but it remains that case that controlling for SES, kids these days are doing great compared to the past.

              • Pestilence says:

                Murc: i just took it as a sign of the coming apocalypse

            • ironic irony says:

              I agree with you that kids living in poverty are far more concerned with whether they will eat dinner tonight or not than if they are receiving a stellar education at school. It’s a shame that few people care about whether they graduate or not (and that’s as true today as it was in the 50s). The statement I quoted above I agreed with as well. This is a multi-faceted problem, and nowhere did I state that lack of parental involvement was the sole reason for “poorly performing schools.”

              The phenomena of helicopter parents is an interesting one. This still doesn’t address the fact that there are plenty of parents out there who don’t make it clear to their kids that education is important, then turn around and blame the teachers for everything from bad grades to bad behavior in the classroom.

              The problem is complex, and won’t be solved by ridiculous amounts of standardized testing or union busting.

              • Semanticleo says:

                won’t be solved by ridiculous amounts of standardized testing or union busting.

                Or, defensive academics who won’t address the issue of fucking with the 3R’s in their quest for immortality.

                Fuck their sensitivity.

        • Hogan says:

          Apparently whoever wrote the ad for The Lincoln Conspiracy in the sidebar doesn’t realize that there are two asses in assassination. Spellcheck my asses.

      • rea says:

        My blood is still boiling from recent encounter with my grandkid’s school adminstration:

        [rea]: Why is he in detention?
        [VP]: He insisted on leaving class to use the bathroom.
        [rea]: Why wasn’t he permitted to leave class to use the bathroom?
        [VP]: Students are supposed to take care of that between classes.
        [rea]: How long is the break between classes?
        [VP]: 3 minutes. Also, I did not appreciate that remark you made to him, when I required him to call you.
        [rea]: How on earth do you know what I said to him in a phone conversation to which you were not a party?
        [VP]: We always put those conversations on speaker phone, so I and the other students in detention can hear what is said.
        [rea]: Did I miss the part where you told me that the conversation was being heard by you and others?
        [VP]: No, it’s not our policy to do that.
        [rea]: Have you run that be the school district’s atttorneys? Are you aware that’s a felony in our state?
        [VP]No need to be rude, sir.

        • You’re reporting that I hope. And I also hope you were rude.

        • spencer says:

          This is exactly why I hated school so much as a boy.

        • Hogan says:

          [VP]No need to be rude, sir.

          I’ll be the judge of that.

          • rea says:

            My boy later told me, by the way, that eveyone in detention got to hear this conversation as well, including me telling the vice principal he was committing a felony.

            Note what this is–bullying. Deliberately embarrassing kids by having their peers listen to their parents react to them being in detention.

            And the thing about bathroom breaks is simply physical abuse.

            And this is, on the whole, an excellent school and school district.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              And this is, on the whole, an excellent school and school district.

              This is what shocks.

              • The Lorax says:

                I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a VP who wasn’t an asshole. Certainly all of them were when I was in school. I suspect the disciplinarian role draws a certain type.

                • Snarki, child of Loki says:

                  Totally agrees with my experience.

                  I think it’s the role they’re in: the VP is the “bad cop” to the P’s “good cop”.

                  Only sometimes, instead of “good/bad” cop it’s “bad/worse” cop.

              • Pestilence says:

                I would have to say that by definition, it isn’t, if thats a general policy and not a single teacher abusing power. For every abuse you’re aware of, there’ll be 10 that are as yet undiscovered

            • Murc says:

              Note what this is–bullying.

              That’s true, but it misses the forest for the trees a bit, I feel.

              Things like this become clearer if you stop thinking “school” and think instead “prison.”

              The dynamic is the same in many ways; you have a very small number of authority figures responsible for a much larger population that isn’t there willingly and is capable of causing an awful lot of trouble.

              And in that situation, a lot of people fall into the behavior pattern of control. Maintain control at all costs. Never be wrong. Never show weakness. You’re outnumbered.

              The point of putting the call on speaker may not have been malicious bullying as we traditionally understand it. (It might have been, of course. Plenty of people are dicks.) Instead it was a control mechanism. Embarrass the prisoner child. This will provoke shame-based avoidance mechanisms in him, AND reduce his standing amongst his peers… thus making him easier to control. In fact, it’s a double whammy, because you’re actually outsourcing the control to his peers.

              And I doubt he was consciously aware of what he was doing.

              The thing about bathroom breaks feeds into this as well. Students, wandering the halls between classes, unsupervised? That’s not good. They’re uncontrolled then. They can either use precious school resources establishing an elaborate control system to allow things like bathroom breaks, or simply ban them.

              Like I said. When evaluating pathologies in how students are treated, always try thinking “prison” instead of “school.” It can make things a lot clearer.

            • djangermous says:

              “And the thing about bathroom breaks is simply physical abuse.”

              Yeah shitting blood through all of highschool because you’re effectively never allowed to go during the school day at any time was among my less-favorite parts of being there.

        • RedSquareBear says:

          Read this expecting a quoteblock from Avalon (“You can but you may not”).

          Got something even better.

    • Brandon says:

      It’s not their fault! Unions make it impossible to fire anyone ever! You can’t blame administrators!!!!

    • R. Porrofatto says:

      Exactly. When they were in charge of their respective school systems:
      Joel Klein $250,000
      Michelle Rhee, $275,000 plus a $41,250 “signing bonus”

      So how come these “pay for performance” advocates never consider their own performance and pay? If NYC schools still suck as bad as Joel says, shouldn’t we get at least a $2 million refund for his 9 years of failure?

      • Has anyone asked Arne Duncan about the performance of Chicago schools? These people never do anything but quick hit & run, fire some people, bump up test scores a few points, then move into the corporate school business.

        • swearyanthony says:

          And usually it turns out the test scores weren’t improved – instead they just gamed the system. Just like finance guys – get it, make your money, move on to the next scam victim. No consequences afterwards when it all turns to shit.

    • Leeds man says:

      For some reason we never see outraged calls for administrative reform

      That’s inherent in any hierarchical institution, no? That’s why we have revolutions.

  2. Epicurus says:

    Lest we forget, Mr. Klein is a lawyer by training, who worked at Microsoft. What are the odds that he is a colossal liar? Pretty, pretty good…

    • Cody says:

      To be fair, all the people who worked at Microsoft I now assume work at Apple suing people for using rectangles with rounded corners, whichc was CLEARLY patented by Apple!

      Lawyers ARE the worst people!

      Am I on the right blog for this…

  3. CZHA says:

    Education models that support teachers and engage families produce improvements in measurable outcomes as well as “intangibles.” Unfortunately, and perhaps because these models employ shared-effort and not us-them strategies, they tend not to get as much publicity.

    Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has disproportionately high numbers of minority and poor kids in the public schools, has been working on a targeted community schools project for a few years. This past year, the Tulsa Public Schools District adopted the model district-wide, but the state cut funding for all general education.

    When the enemies of anything “public” gain control of all things public, everyone suffers.

  4. Joshua says:

    Even in the wild west of Wall Street, you open yourself up to some liability if you just decide to invent dollar amounts to make yourself look good.

    Michele Rhee did more-or-less just that in Washington DC and she still has a career hawking her snake oil. I would’ve at least thought the crooks she was running this scam with would have at least realized how bad she was for it. But nope.

    • sparks says:

      Researching medical charlatans of a century ago, I found that they were often just fined even if they made tremendous profits, and the bigger they were, the less likely jail was in the picture. Same with patent medicine hustlers. The sociological/educational charlatans of our time are just a new twist on an old, old, grift. The only addition is ideological. The quacks of the past didn’t spout ideological justifications for their profiting. What’s worst of all is how easy the con is to spot.

  5. Kurzleg says:

    I’m going to sound like a GOPer or old man screaming “Get off my lawn” here, but what about accountability for students and parents? Personal responsibility has its limits, evidently.

    • Cody says:

      Sure, I think we all accept you aren’t going to get complete success. I think that’s the point. We would all just prefer if we didn’t take millions from public education so we could pay billions for private education that accomplishes less and takes away worker’s rights.

      • Kurzleg says:

        I don’t disagree. My point is that GOPers and school reformers are all for accountability right up until they’re not. In other words, the “school reform movement” is finally-distilled caprice.

    • djangermous says:

      “what about accountability for students and parents?”

      Or, since everyone dumps on students and parents constantly and all the time, why don’t we ask an interesting question, like “what about accountability for administrators and decision makers?”?

  6. Sly says:

    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.

    Joel Klein isn’t like Michelle Rhee… he’s responsible for her. It was Klein who recommended Rhee to Mayor Fenty in D.C., after Rhee ran for a teacher recruiting non-profit in NYC that Klein worked with.

    And people who’ve been watching Klein up-close for a decade have moved well beyond “seem.” Klein is the absolute worst of all the feckless opportunists from the Clinton administration that now pollute the public sphere.

    Yes, even worse than Lanny Davis.

    Klein awarded contracts to Newscorp’s ed division, now called Amplify, and then (shock of shocks) was given the job of running Amplify when he stepped down as chancellor. And from this perch he gets to write op-eds in Newscorp-owned publications excoriating a teacher strike over standardized testing in Chicago while simultaneously failing to disclose that his company was given the contract for that same testing regime.

    And that’s just the shit he did in the past year.

    • Cody says:

      It immediately jumped out at me that he went from choosing the school’s curriculum to selling expensive new curriculum to them.

      How does one get a cushy job selling educational materials when your previous job was choosing who to buy them from!?

      • djangermous says:

        “How does one get a cushy job selling educational materials when your previous job was choosing who to buy them from!?”

        With enormous ease and probably a generous benefits package.

      • Sly says:

        It immediately jumped out at me that he went from choosing the school’s curriculum to selling expensive new curriculum to them.

        In fairness to Klein, he did serve a brief stint as the guy who ran the cover-up “internal investigation” of phone hacking at Newscorp.

  7. David M. Nieporent says:

    Shorter Richard Rothstein: “Contra Joel Klein, teachers don’t matter.”

    Great, but I’m not sure how that’s supposed to be an argument in favor of teachers’ unions.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Shorter Davey: Once we cut teachers’ pay, benefits, and security, we’ll get better outcomes, because I hate unions, and shut up, that’s why.

      Okay, not actually shorter…

    • witless chum says:

      It’s incumbent on Klein and his ilk to explain why unions are the problem, as opposed to things like the number of children who are living in poverty and thus handicapped in their ability to learn in a 100 different little ways. It’s a weird American belief that the educational system can solve poverty.

      At least to people who think everyone should have the right to organize and be in a union.

      • Murc says:

        It’s a weird American belief that the educational system can solve poverty.

        Well, I personally believe that a robust and effective educational system, while it can’t solve poverty on its own, is probably one of the most important, if not THE most important, tools to solve poverty.

        I don’t find that weird. It makes logical sense.

        • witless chum says:

          I think it can on an individual level, sure. Many people are able to take advantage of it and excel.

          But society-wide? I guess my sense is that the conditions of poverty really make it difficult for poor kids to learn, even when they have a real opportunity to do so. So we’d do better investing in trying to see that they aren’t hungry, don’t move every two months, have some stability in their home life, etc, rather than doubling down on trying to do that through educating the same kids.

        • DrDick says:

          The evidence from Scandinavia strongly suggests a better and more open educational system can do a lot to ameliorate poverty.

          • L2P says:

            I thought Sweden, Norway, and Finland kind of showed that you needed a broad-based egalitarian social welfare system combined with an equally-distributed educational system. Do you just need the schools?

            • dave says:

              What they show is that you have

              an ethinically, racially, and linguistically homogeneous population.


              No subgroups of that population have been subject to invidious discrimination such that, even as recently as 60 years ago they were actively prevented from achieving literacy


              a generous social safety net which ensures that economically disadvantaged portions of the population have their basic needs met


              You can educate those kids slightly worse than American public schools currently educate their middle class white children.

              • The Lorax says:

                You realize that Scandinavia today isn’t the racially homogenous place it was 20 years ago. Sweden’s past 10% immigrant-born.

              • mpowell says:

                Thank you. It’s rather putting the horse before the cart to conclude that Sweden demonstrates that you can use your education system to achieve greater equality.

              • DrDick says:

                I would like to see some actual data to back this up. I see people (mostly white supremacists and their fellow travelers, BTW) assert this, but have seen no studies to empirically conform it.

              • Pestilence says:

                You’re clearly not talking about Sweden then, which is now quite richly heterogenous with immigrants from the south, & has an oppressed minority of long standing, if not as oppressed as the non-white segments of the USA.

            • DrDick says:

              I did not say it was the only (or even most important) factor, only that it contributed.

    • Hogan says:

      Shorter Richard Rothstein: “Contra Joel Klein, teachers don’t matter aren’t the only thing that matters.”

      You’re welcome.

    • DrDick says:

      Shorter David: I still do not understand how the world works.

    • Every single one of the Spartans at Thermopylae died – just as 300 David Nierporents would have died.

      This does not mean that “soldiers don’t matter,” but that there is only so much that can be done, even by the best personnel, in an impossible situation.

    • UserGoogol says:

      Isn’t it?

      The point of unions isn’t that the employees “matter.” The point is that the ability of employees to be able to collectively negotiate encourages them being able to have fair working conditions/benefits/salary/etc. Workers doing low value work need unionization most of all.

      If teachers “didn’t matter” to the extent that we could just abolish teachers altogether, then unionization would be irrelevant. But if teachers “don’t matter” merely in the sense that quality doesn’t make much of a difference, then unionization becomes very important.

    • Boudleaux says:

      Holy shit — you read that article and that’s what you came up with?

      What a fucking moron.

  8. Rob says:

    It can not be stressed enough that the same people who funded The Bell Curve are those who are behind education “reform”.

  9. […] Another Education “Reform (sic)” Fraud: Scott Lemieux This entry was posted in Potpourri. Bookmark the permalink. ← Reader Feeder Bits for (Wed. 10-Oct-12 1730) […]

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