Why Did Joel Klein Run?

11/17/2010 02:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University,my opinions, of course, are my own

In social studies classes, a major recurring theme is "push and pull." Immigrants came to the United States pulled by the promise of freedom and work. They were pushed from their homes of origin by poverty, discrimination, and war. Entrepreneurs are pulled by the desire for higher profit and pushed by the threat of being overtaken by competitors. It is pretty clear what pulled Joel Klein away from his job as chancellor of the New York City school system. But it is less clear what forces were pushing him out.

The pull was Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation (aka Fox News), and the promise of a fabulous payday after eight-years of "innovations" such as undermining teacher professionalism and fighting against the teacher's union, ignoring the wishes of parents and students, emasculating school-based administrators by turning them into gophers for the Bloomberg Administration, and sacrificing learning for test prep. In a statement issued when he accepted the job with Murdoch, Klein claimed he had "long admired News Corporation's entrepreneurial spirit and Rupert Murdoch's fearless commitment to innovation." He wanted "to bring the same spirit of innovation to the burgeoning education marketplace."

Murdoch, whose company is committed to privatizing public education in the name of innovation and invests in Teach For America and charter schools, returned Klein's effusive praise by describing him as "a man who works day and night for one goal: that every child who enters a New York City public school will leave with a solid education -- and a fair shot at the American Dream." According to a senior adviser to Mr. Murdoch, Klein will be involved "on a wide range of initiatives, including developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace."

Klein is well positioned to help Murdoch make a lot more money. As Chancellor of the New York City school system he championed charter schools and 30 percent of Harlem's schoolchildren now attend a charter school. He also spent millions on technology, an area where Murdoch is anxious to grab market share.

Klein joins other prominent Murdoch hires such as Sarah Palin ($1,000,000 a year), Glenn Beck ($2,000,000 a year), and Juan Williams ($667,000 a year). Not only will Klein be Murdoch's education insider, but he also gives Murdoch an employee with close ties to the Democratic Party inner circle. While Murdoch generally sides with the far right and is a major supporter of Tea Party Republicans, he apparently likes to have a foot in both camps.

But what about the push?

The push is the impending financial debacle and ensuing chaos that is looming for New York City schools that Klein has ill-prepared for the future. Klein got out while the getting was good. In 1975, New York City laid off 13,000 teachers, 5,000 permanently. High school class size soared to sixty and no education could take place for months. I fear 1975 might soon be remembered as the good old days.

Congress included about $100 billion for education in the initial economic stimulus bill to cushion the recession's impact on schools and to help fuel an economic recovery. It then pumped in more money last year. States and municipalities have become dependent on the stimulus money to cover their budgets, although Arne Duncan has continued to warn that the federal money will come to an end and with it the 250,000 school-based jobs that were saved or created. It is very unlikely that the new budget-cutting Republican Congress will continue to these allocations. Meanwhile, the state's share of health insurance and pension costs are skyrocketing.

New York State Controller DiNapoli warned Monday that the state's budget deficit could top $1 billion - a shortfall three times bigger than Governor Paterson originally projected. Paterson is proposing billions in budget cuts primarily in health and education. When he was asked to describe the latest round of proposed budget cuts, Paterson offered a one-word answer: "Pain." He then added, "It's going to be pretty grim."

In New York City the situation may well be worse when the budget axe falls because so much more is needed. More than 100,000 additional students failed tougher state tests last year and they need tutoring and remedial help. At the same time, electives, after-school programs and teaching jobs are being cut and approximately 50 schools face closing. The teachers have been without a contract for over a year because Bloomberg-Klein rigidly insisted on givebacks and unilateral rule changes. As a result, the union is in no mood to find cooperative solutions.

Joel Klein made his bed but does not want to sleep in it. Cathie Black, who Bloomberg wants to appoint to succeed him, should demand that Klein come back and clean up his own mess.

Another option is that Bloomberg himself should admit his failure and resign as well. Let's see what happens.