2008-11-14 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Joel Klein's Reign Of Destruction
By Leonie Haimson Executive Director, Class Size Matters

The Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship - with no input from parents or educators, and no thought of how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to our children and their futures.

He has consistently ignored the crisis of overcrowding in our schools, that in many neighborhoods has gotten worse because of rampant residential development, as well his insistence to insert hundreds of new charter schools and small schools into existing, overcrowded school buildings. In a recent survey, half of all principals say that the overcrowding creates unsafe conditions for students or staff, 29 percent said that lunch starts at 10:30 AM or earlier, 25 percent said that they have lost their art or music rooms in recent years, and 18 percent said they had classrooms with no windows. Thousands of children are being given special services in hallways or in closets.

They have put almost no effort in building new schools, and under this administration, twice as many new seats have been created in new stadiums than in schools. The city's investment in school construction as a percent its total capital spending is at an historic low, and will drop even more precipitously in the future, if the DOE's proposed school capital plan goes through.

Joel Klein has refused to reduce class size, despite repeated audits and reports from the State Comptroller's office and the State Education Department showing how under his administration, hundreds of millions of state dollars meant to provide smaller classes to NYC students have been misused. As a result, 86% of NYC principals in a recent survey have said they are unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.

Similarly, he has argued that even under Mayoral control, the Department of Education is not subject to city law, and thus he continues to defy laws passed by the City Council over the Mayor's veto, requiring him to take measures against bias crimes and bullying in schools, to allow students to bring cell phones to school, and to obey the recycling laws required of every household and business in NYC.

The Chancellor has moved to eliminate the authority of school leadership teams - made up of half parents, half staff - to have decision-making authority over school budgets, contrary to the state law that created these teams. He has continued to shut out parents from having any input whatsoever, at the school, district, or citywide level. He has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on no-bid contracts, and rather than decreasing the bureaucracy, the number of highly paid bureaucrats at DOE headquarters continues to grow —- most of whom have no background in education. To counter a recent article by a Daily News reporter pointing out the personal wealth of many of the top education officials who are former business executives and corporate consultants, the DOE press office responded in defense that two out of twenty of Klein's top advisers were long-term educators. (This article was killed in the middle of the night, and removed from the Daily News website after complaints from the DOE; but we posted a copy of it on our blog at http:// nycpublicschhttp:// nycphttp://nyhttp).

The only educational philosophy of those running the system is based on trying to improve standardized test results, no matter how much cheating and test prep that involves. Whatever the rise in state test scores that has resulted, it is not matched by improvements in the more reliable national assessments called the NAEPs. In fact, NYC was 11th out of 12 urban school districts in terms of its gains in the NAEPs over the course of this administration, and there has been no closing of the achievement gap in any subject tested. Indeed, Joel Klein's insistence on basing all decisions on high-stakes tests has led to racial disparities growing in many areas - with far fewer children of color admitted to gifted programs and to our selective high schools, and a declining number of Black and Hispanic teachers in our teaching force. In short, he has been a disaster for our schools, and Barack Obama should be forewarned not to name him to any position of authority in his administration - as much as we would like to get rid of him!

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