Joel Klein Speech

Uploaded by educationgovuk on 25.02.2011

David, thank you very much for your generous introduction.
You know, listening to David
reminded me that America and Britain are two countries separated by a common language
and those of you who understood what he was saying,
you’re going to have a hard time with me. Probably need subtitles for you.
Let me also thank you for your inspired leadership and the Secretary of State.
I think this country is so lucky
to have a man with Michael’s vision and commitment to lead the charge.
Whatever happened on that Road to Damascus that led you to the conversion that you’ve
to take that cynicism and covert it into optimism is essentially
what’s going to be required to transform education in this nation.
And make no mistake about it,
here’s a guy with a cushy job, living well
could’ve actually, didn’t need the headaches and the press
and all the things that go with it
he did this for one reason:
he’s got the best job in Government, in my view the toughest job
he did it for one reason, because he believes the future of this country depends on educating
its children
to an entirely different level.
His kids will be fine – he didn’t need to do this job for his children
he needed to do this job for the children of this country
who today are not remotely being educated to the level they need.
In my world that makes you a hero my friend.
No go ahead!
And to all of you – you know it’s right now in America it’s about 5:30 in the morning
or something like that so I’m barely awake.
But I’m inspired to see so many people.
This will be an historic day, trust me. Because something game changing is going on in K-12
and you people will be the founding fathers and mothers of all of that,
your willingness to commit to try to change
to create new options and opportunities for kids is so important.
It’ll be tough, there will be days when you, like me, will pull your hair out,
saying: “Why did I do this?” but in the end there’s nothing more important,
because you see what education is about is about a school,
individual school
and what you will do in your school is change the lives and outcomes for particular kids.
At the end of my eight and a half year tenure
the fact that made me the happiest was that we had increased the graduation rate of high
school kids
(secondary school kids) by 20 points
it’s still way too low – but 20 points is around 15,000 children whose lives were
affected in a positive way.
When I started, 16,000 kids who left the New York City public schools went to the City
University schools.
When I left, 26,000 are going.
Those are 10,000 lives, so whatever numbers we talk about, understand, you’re changing
And if you think about a purpose on Earth that gives meaning to your life,
changing the lives of others is really critical.
You know Winston Churchill taught us: we make a living out of what we get;
we make a life out of what you give.
And what you’re doing here today is giving to other people.
Now after eight and a half years, I wanna share with you some of the key lessons learned
and hope that those lessons will influence the work that you do.
The most important one is a joke I used to tell when I was a lawyer for the American
Psychiatric Association.
Unfortunately schools’ chancellors are not very funny and this joke is not particularly
funny but it makes a point.
So I’m gonna share it with you, and a question, those of you who’re a little older:
there used to be a time in America where we had all these light bulb jokes
how many of this does it take to change a light bulb, etc.
My favourite light bulb joke was:
how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
The answer’s only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change.
Now if you think about that, the lesson I have learned in eight and a half years,
is the school system doesn’t want to change;
this is a critical lesson to understand.
That’s why something like Free Schools is controversial.
The school’s system pretty much works for the interests that support it and defend it,
whether it’s the adults, whether it’s the bureaucrats, the vendors and so forth.
And so even though it doesn’t work especially well for our children,
there’s mass amount of people prepared to defend a status quo,
and to talk about change but not to implement change.
Now to understand the change process, there’re a couple of other key lessons that I learned.
The first is the hardest to share, but I know it well and that is:
here and in the US our educational system is failing enormous numbers of children
and if we’re not honest about that, if we make pretend that we’re doing a good job
because it makes us feel good as adults,
then we’re gonna fail in this transformational effort.
You know David said we have a school – a charter school – on the first floor of the
We did that because the mayor said he wants every bureaucrat to understand who his or
her customers are.
And so when you walk into my building you see a child,
and symbolically, but in a very deep and personal way, you understand that that’s why you’re
You’re not there to placate the politicians, you’re not there to satisfy the unions,
you’re not there to be able to make the adults happy.
And every day I would look at those kids when I walked in my building
and I would think to myself,
some number of these kids will never make it through high school
unless we do things differently and do them better than we’re doing.
And that would inspire me as I walked up the stairs to what was the likes of a bull-pen,
we had no offices there.
But if we’re not candid about the fact that today, here in Britain or in the US,
International league tables show our countries are in the bottom third of the industrialised
When would we ever accept being in the bottom third of anything,
and let’s be candid: at the bottom of the bottom third are those kids who grew up in
in America especially, children of colour who are not remotely being educated to the
levels they need.
So that’s an important lesson that we have to start from.
The second lesson is much more important,
which is: it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I took the job so many people told me: “Well you know chancellor,
these kids, you can’t do much they grow up in broken homes,
from poor families, etc., etc. and education can only do a little bit,
so don’t be unrealistic in your expectations.”
George Bush, the former President of the United States called that the “soft bigotry of
low expectations”,
and nothing, nothing bothers me more than when people tell me there’s only so much.
People say I’m passionate about it – you wanna know why I’m passionate about it?
See I grew up in one of those families;
we lived in public, state supported housing.
My father never graduated from secondary school.
Nobody in my family, extended family had ever been to college or university.
I stood on the shoulders of teachers in Astoria Queens to see to see a world you couldn’t
see from the first floor of public housing where I lived.
And I always thought to myself: suppose their expectations had been commensurate with the
family background I had,
and said of me: well only so much could be done for this youngster
because he grew up in a very challenged environment.
And I stand here today because teachers insisted that my family’s background and poverty
would not be educational destiny.
Teachers transformed my life.
So whenever I hear about the low expectations I do get personal and passionate about it.
From the day I took this job, some of my best friends said to me,
they said: “you’ll never fix education in America until you fix poverty in America”,
and I am convinced those people have it exactly backwards
You will never fix poverty in America until you fix education in America, and that’s
equally true here in the UK.
Now when I say this I’m not just preaching, I can demonstrate.
If you look at cities in the United States and compare their performance on national
tests, rigorous national tests,
you will see for example that low-income African American children in Detroit
or in Washington DC, in Los Angeles in the 4th Grade
low income African American children
are two or three years behind low-income African American children in New York City or in Boston.
Now it’s not that our kids are where they need to be,
but you’re talking about in the 4th Grade, in numeracy and literacy, two years’ difference.
That’s not about family background, that’s not about poverty
we’re all talking about all low-income African American children that’s about education.
I will show you schools in New York City, some free, some public
that are performing at such a very different level with the very same kids.
I know it because we’ve done double-blind studies;
I’ve seen those kids in different schools.
We have a school in Harlem, a charter school, called Harlem Success,
it’s performing at the levels of our most gifted and talented schools,
getting outcomes that are unbelievable and they’re serving all children of colour in
a low-income community.
That is the power of education.
And you know when you get on a plane and they say “This flight’s to Paris”
and then you’re not going there it’s a good time to get off.
If you don’t believe what I just said,
that you can transform the life of any child in any circumstances through education,
then this is a pretty good time to leave this room.
Cos if you don’t believe that in your DNA, you will not succeed.
And I know ‘cos I’ve been in schools; I know people who don’t believe that in
their DNA.
I’m so grateful that Mike Feinberg and David Levin knew that and created the KIPP Schools
– and you’ll hear from them.
Because they said: “We can do things entirely different;
we’re not going to accept that kids from poor backgrounds can only be educated to a
modest level
and they’re proving it every single day with 90 schools.
Now the third lesson I learned – if you’re with me from one and two then the third lesson
becomes important – is:
if it’s broken but it’s fixable, it’s not going to be fixed if we keep doing the
same things, right?
I mean it’s lunacy to think that you can continue to do the same things
and you’ll get different outcomes for children.
So we need to be visionary and bold and transformative in our thinking.
And certainly we can’t buy our way out of the problem.
One of the things that the status quo crowd will tell you is:
“if we only had more money then we could do more of this and more of that.”
Let me give you one data point: in 1984 in America we issued a report
saying our nation was at risk, that our school systems were being
overwhelmed by a rising tide of mediocrity, that in fact
if a hostile foreign power had imposed the outcomes we were getting on us,
we would have considered it an act of war.
From 1984 to 2011 we’ve doubled, doubled our real-dollar commitment
so we’re spending twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars and our outcomes are worse today than
they were in 1984.
Yes, I wish we had more money,
I’m sure the Secretary of State wishes he could give you a larger per-pupil allotment.
But we have to acknowledge one fact:
money alone isn’t going to do this trick;
money poorly spent, continuing to invest it in the same holes that we’ve been digging
in in the past
is not gonna transform it.
What’s going to change it is an innovative, dynamic, exciting environment
in which parents have options, not conscripted to a single school,
and people like yourselves, not somebody
there’s no Wizard of Oz – I have such respect for people like David and others,
but when I was chancellor people use to say: “Fix schools!” like I could wave a wand
and fix schools.
No, it’s people like you coming together, committing yourselves, doing things differently,
innovating at the ground and letting others observe and see what you’re doing and replicate.
So many people have copied what KIPP has done.
I was yesterday in a school, in a school here in the UK that’s literally a KIPP clone
It’s the King Solomon School – and I was so excited to see that.
it’s such a tribute to what you guys have done and it works well,
and in fact I think you ought to go see it and learn some of the things that they’re
so you can take them back to America.
That’s why I became something very odd and controversial in America,
because I was the first person to run a state or city school system
who said “I want Charter schools” which are your free schools,
“I want them to come to New York City, to open here and to create options for our families.”
Why did I do that? After all, I was running a monopoly public school;
people who run monopolies don’t usually say I’d like competition.
I did it because I saw what people like Mike and Dave Levin were doing.
And so, it seemed to me, that if I want a choice for my children,
then I want a choice for all of my 1.1 million children in New York City.
And so I set out and I said it publicly and all hell broke loose, I said
“I want New York City to be the Silicon Valley for Charter schools.”
Meaning I wanted all the entrepreneurs, I wanted to support them I wanted to work them
I wanted to bring them in. And I did everything in my power, including
locating them where we had space in our public schools,
again a highly controversial thing.
I did that not because I didn’t have enough schools to run;
I did that not because I wanted to create controversy.
I did that for a few essential reasons.
The first: to give people choice, particularly people who had no other choice.
The second: to encourage innovation.
I really believe out there in this audience – I haven’t met you folks –
but I believe you’ll think differently; you’ll figure out ways to use software;
you’ll figure out ways to extend the day; to get kids in the weekends working;
you’ll think about how to support your teachers and inspire them,
so that when they wake up every morning they will say:
“I am here doing the most important work in the entire country, changing the lives
of children.”
And in ways that I can’t even imagine. I opened up a total of almost 500 new schools
in New York City.
About a hundred were Charter and the four hundred were new small high schools
that we used to replace failing schools,
all of them were built on a free school model with all the ingredients up on the board
in terms of autonomy, accountability, and so forth.
Every study of those 500 schools has shown that they’re out performing comparable,
pre-existing schools
not every single one of them, but as a group, dramatically and powerfully.
And in all of those schools no parent was required to go there;
in every one of those schools they chose to go there.
When I started we had 16 Charters, today we have over 120 Charter schools,
serving 40,000 children with another 40,000 on the wait list,
doing innovative, dynamic and different things, and yes, competing with each other.
In Harlem – and what I think is one of the most important things going on in America
we have somewhere around 55 schools and about 28 of them are Charter schools,
so now parents in Harlem, which is a high-poverty community, predominantly African-American,
parents in Harlem have real choice among those schools
they can go to any one of those 28 or so Charter schools there,
and they fight to get their kids the best opportunities.
One of the most cynical things in the world is to think that people who grew up in poverty
don’t want the greatest education for their kids; that they are somehow indifferent.
If you come to Harlem and see people literally walking the streets, going to different schools,
figuring out what’s best for their kids, applying to lotteries
you will see an environment in which the most challenged of families is searching for changing
the lives of their kids.
Two movies: Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, two documentaries document this so powerfully,
and if you ever need to get your juices running, watch either one or both of those two.
So we set out to do it, we accomplished it and yet there continues to be controversy.
And that’s because what I said at the outset it’s a message you have to understand
is that the system doesn’t really want to change.
They don’t like competition, think about it this way:
if you were a school in Harlem before I got there, you knew you would get
a hundred kids every year in kindergarten, now when there are 28 Charter schools there,
you have to work to get a hundred kids cos they may go elsewhere;
they can go to the KIPP Infinity school in Harlem or Harlem Success.
And so as a result, our public schools have got to respond,
cos they’re no longer guaranteed the same number of customers
and yes I view our children as our “customers”; we’re there to serve them
and that has transformed the public schools in Harlem.
One of the things I love is to see my Principles or Heads in Harlem go knocking on doors
where they know there are kids who’re about to go to kindergarten and say
“Come to PS11 because we’re every bit as good as KIPP Infinity”
And you know what, my friends at KIPP they worry a little bit about that too
because maybe they gotta take their game to an entirely new level.
But it will remain controversial and I wanna prepare you for that.
Because obviously competition threatens a status quo.
Innovation and change, you know the lightbulb may have wanted to change,
but a lot of people in public education don’t want to change and that threatens them.
So be prepared for the controversy; when you do well like KIPP does, they get thousands
of people,
they pay them to prove that they didn’t do well right;
somehow success is something we should be ashamed of.
They issue a report – double-blind study done by one of the most reputable research
companies in America –
and the press wants to ignore it, why? Cos one reporter told me candidly, you know he
“The press doesn’t report on the planes that land, only those that crash.”
And I said to him – the story in public education in communities where people like
KIPP are operating,
the story that ought to be the front page are The Planes That Land.
For far too long we crashed planes in K-12
and when people like KIPP get the results now across 91 schools, that is A1 news.
And yes Michael Gove your cynical colleagues should be reporting that,
not the few – and there are some in New York, I just closed a Charter school
that fail, and there will be some that fail here.
There is no great invention without some error, and that will be part of the process.
If you haven’t read it, look hard at Theodore Roosevelt’s In The Arena Speech.
You folks are the men and women in the arena for educational reform here in this country.
Mark my words, this is an historic day.
And let me end with a very personal story.
When I left the job I got lots of emails,
I got lots of letters from people all saying different things, thank me this, this, this
and this.
But one stands out: an African-American man from Harlem came to the twee courthouse
where our building is and he gave me a letter and a hug.
Now as you know sort of we big guys we don’t hug too much so it was a little moving for
but he gave me a big hug and the letter he left with me I read
and it said: Dear Mr Klein, I came here today to thank you.
To thank you for fighting for Charter schools in the face of so much
controversy and personal attack and assault.
He said I have two children, my first child went to public schools in New York,
in Harlem before you were chancellor
and I could tell immediately that he was not gonna do well.
The school was unruly, the teachers were not engaged and unsurprisingly, he failed.
He said it bothered me so much because I couldn’t put him in a private school
and I couldn’t afford to move to another community and I could see my child
on the road to failure and my hopes dashed.
He said my second child started school three years ago at Harlem Success Academy.
Said that wouldn’t have been there if you had not stood up and fought for Chartered
schools in this city.
My second child is now in the 3rd Grade reading at a 5th Grade level.
And every night I go to sleep with tears in my eyes thinking about the difference between
my two children.
Folks that’s what this meeting today is all about – Thank you.