Chancellor Klein, you are the leader of the largest school system in the nation, what is the educational philosophy of the NYC school system?
Under my leadership we have created a schools management system … we don’t advocate any educational program. In the first years in my job I hired and listened to advisors who all advocated for some program or other, whole language versus phonics, Everyday Math, etc., I realized that those decisions should be made by the educators closest to the children, the principals.
What is the role of parents and teachers in the school level decision-making process?
I would expect principals would discuss these issues at the school level, however, to quote Bill Ouchi, “School-Based Management Corrupts Accountability.” We hold principals accountable for the decisions they make … they cannot and should not be able to point to parents and teachers as excuses.
What do you mean by holding principals accountable?
We evaluate and grade schools based upon student progress, we provide each and every school with a host of readily accessible student achievement data, and if schools do not make progress, by which we mean receive grades of “D” or “F” we may remove the principal.
How are you going to use the new teacher progress reports?
Ideally the teacher progress report would be the basis of determining teacher evaluations and teacher remuneration, unfortunately the teacher union opposes us.
You appear to have a conflict-ridden relationship with the teacher union, why?
The union represents teachers, we represent children. For almost fifty years the union negotiated contracts
that narrow the powers of principals and the school system. We are making every attempt to reverse decades of decisions that harm kids.
Give me some examples.
The contract relieves teachers of a host of duties, supervising kids at lunch, in the hallways, it requires the principal to give out assignments by seniority, it restricts how principals evaluate teachers, it establishes seniority excessing rules, over a hundred pages of “the principal shall not …”
What changes would you make?
I would favor an extremely brief contract that basically give principals wide discretion.
What changes would you make in legislation?
I would eliminate defined benefit pensions and tenure.
Teachers improve at different rates, and achieve the “peak” of their growth at around ten years, and then their skills diminish. They hang on until they are able to retire, frequently the last 15 or twenty years of their tenure they are simply going through the motions. If we replaced the current system with a 401(k) plan teachers could leave at any time and move on to other employment. Tenure protects mediocre and/or incompetent teachers, it is harmful to children. I really admire my friend Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, she is well on her way to creating an entirely new model that is children based not teacher based.
If the Mayor serves another term and you serve with him what will be your major priorities?
The current teacher contract expires in November, 2009 and I want to negotiate many changes, this will be quite difficult, but, this is a window that may never reopen.
Can you give me some examples?
Sure, excess teachers that do not find jobs in a reasonable period of time should be placed on unpaid leaves. If no school wants to hire someone they shouldn’t be working. The current system is criminal, they can sit around, not seek employment and receive full pay.
The union argues that teachers are excessed due to school closings or reduction in students, the teacher is not at fault, and, that senior teachers are at greater risk due to their higher salaries.
All true, but, if no school wants to hire you should we have to pay you?
Ideally we would want to test kids in September and June and base teacher evaluations and teacher remuneration on pupil progress. The union’s role is to protect members who pay dues, my role is to protect child. We have diametrically opposite missions. On some issues we can work together, but others we are on opposite sides.
Critics accuse you of using flawed tools to evaluate schools and teachers, and, twisting data to make you look good.
I’m smiling … we are at war … we are overturning a system that has been entrenched for decades, we do what we have to do and our opponents do what they have to do.
Teachers and their unions are not my enemies, they simply are caught up in a paradigm that has destroyed the American labor movement. Protectionism, whether in the automobile unions, or in teachers unions, will lead to their demise. Unionized teachers impede student progress, and, they are doomed … I want to sit down with them and create a new role that works for kids and teachers.
You sound like the financial institutions that convinced us that they had discovered a path to endless profits, in reality they were morally and ethically corrupt and may have driven the world into a depression … are you leading us down this perilous path?
Mr Klein … the interview isn’t over … Mr Klein … why are you walking away? Can’t you answer us? What if you are totally wrong? Are you also morally and ethically corrupt?