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Big Change in the Big Apple: Putting Children First in New York City

In early March of 2004, Joel Klein sat down with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss the
future of the New York City Department of Education (DOE). It had been almost two years
since these two men – both prominent community and business leaders with little experience in
public education – had taken on the task of reforming the largest public school system in the U.S.
And now they were facing multiple crises which threatened to derail their ambitious reform plan

Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, was elected Mayor of New York
City in November of 2001. Within months, he had convinced the State‟s predominantly
Democratic legislature to give him control over the City‟s massive school system. In July of
2002, he appointed Joel Klein – former federal antitrust attorney and Fortune 500 business
executive – as the Chancellor. In the 1990‟s, Klein had gained national recognition as the lead
prosecutor in the federal government‟s anti-trust case against Microsoft, the software behemoth
founded by Bill Gates.

In their first year, Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg built an impressive amount of
momentum. They had successfully dismantled a bureaucratic structure of 32 community
districts, hired Caroline Kennedy to raise additional funds from the community, launched a
Leadership Academy with pro bono advisory support from former CEO of General Electric Jack
Welch, negotiated a new contract with the teachers‟ union, and offered up an ambitious plan for
the reform of the DOE – Children First – which implemented a series of ambitious
organizational and curricular changes.

But now - in early 2004 – there were still faced with many challenges, and success was not

Just a few months earlier, the DOE‟s contract with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had
expired. Bloomberg had worked hard to negotiate a new contract when he was given control
over the DOE in 2002, and the contract‟s generous raises of 16-22% for all teachers went a long
way toward building a relationship of trust with President Randi Weingarten.

But the City had been unable to negotiate a new contract in 2003, and the teachers had therefore
been working without a contract for several months. Bloomberg‟s once-friendly relationship
with Weingarten took a turn for the worse, and she started to openly criticize the reform effort.


Copyright 2006 by The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. Tim
DeRoche wrote this case in the Fall of 2005 under the supervision of Becca Bracy Knight of
The Broad Center. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any way form or by any means –
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise – without the written
permission of The Broad Center.
"They want to show they are tough guys," she told the New York Daily News. "They want what
they want, but all it will do is backfire."1

In addition, the district had been forced to abandon its new reading curriculum for 49 of the
city‟s neediest schools. Criticized for not adopting a curriculum with a more systematic
approach to phonics, Klein and Bloomberg had faced the reality that the district was likely to
lose out on up to $115 million in federal funds over three years, if they stayed with their original
choice of a balanced literacy curriculum.2 While the district asserted that the new curriculum
was still in alignment with a balanced literacy approach, their decision was seen by many as a
public admission of defeat.

At the same time, Bloomberg faced a decision that would forever define what “mayoral control”
really meant. In January, he had announced that the DOE would end the practice of social
promotion for 3rd-graders. From now on, students that didn‟t meet the basic level of proficiency
in reading and math would be required to repeat the 3rd grade. But the Panel for Educational
Policy – the governing board for the DOE – was threatening to veto the controversial policy
change. What‟s more, several of Bloomberg‟s own appointees were leading the charge against
the policy change.

Finally, the district‟s instructional leader was under fire. Diana Lam – deputy chancellor for
teaching and learning – had been accused of nepotism, and the scandal had also embroiled
Klein‟s chief legal counsel. Lam had been an important leader in the effort to implement the
balanced literacy curriculum, and Klein and Bloomberg knew that the controversy threatened
both their moral authority as leaders and the implementation of their reform plan.

Klein and Bloomberg knew that March 2004 would be a critical month. They had to put the
nepotism scandal behind them and re-establish their authority as leaders.

Could they rise to the challenge? Could they re-gain their momentum? Or would they be
swallowed up in controversy, just as many of their predecessors had?

They were about to find out.

A Sizeable Challenge

When Klein started his new job in the fall of 2002, he knew that the Chancellor‟s position in
New York City was perhaps the most challenging K-12 position in the entire country.

As one journalist put it, “If Klein thinks he had a tough time battling Bill Gates and the corporate
legal sharks from Microsoft, wait till he gets into trench warfare over the city's neighborhood
schools. It's one thing to analyze a system on paper. It's quite another to deal face-to-face with

Celeste Katz and Joe Williams, “Joel‟s End-Run „Round Randi,” New York Daily News, 28 January 2004
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, “N.Y.C. Shifts Reading Plan In 49 Needy Schools,” Education Week, 14 January,
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Putting Children First in New York City
tough union leaders, cagey bureaucrats, irate parents, parochial community leaders, downtown
business chiefs and editorial boards who want to tell you how to run things.”3

With an annual operating budget of over $12.5 billion4, the New York City Department of
Education would have ranked #162 on the Fortune 500 list of America‟s largest companies in
20025. Serving over 1 million students and employing over 90,000 teachers, the district could
only be described as gargantuan.

What‟s more, this gargantuan system was failing. Only 30% of the city‟s 8th-graders reached
proficiency in reading on the New York state standards test, and only 30% in math. Fourth-
grade statistics were only slightly less troubling: 46% proficient in reading, 52% in math.

If you looked harder, though, there was an even more disturbing reality in the numbers: The
achievement gap between white students and their minority peers was appallingly large in both
4th grade and 8th grade:

4th-graders 8th-graders
Reading Math Reading Math
White 71% 77% 54% 54%
African-American 39% 41% 21% 19%
Hispanic 38% 45% 20% 20%
Table 1: Percent of NYBOE Students Reaching Proficiency on the NY State Standards test in 2002. By ethnic subgroup.

Perhaps the most troubling statistic was graduation rates. Using the respected Manhattan
Institute methodology, the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA) calculated
that only 59% of New York‟s 8th-graders in 1997-98 had earned diplomas by 2002. For African-
American and Hispanic students, the results were even worse: just 56% and 49%, respectively.

The district organization itself was bloated and inefficient. The district spent an astonishing
$12,000 per student. But – according to district‟s own budget records – only 51% of these
resources made it into the classroom6. The rest was spent at various levels of the bureaucracy.

Over the last century, the Board of Education – the name for the central administration before
Bloomberg renamed it a Department - had gone through waves of management reforms, from
centralization to decentralization and back again. The result was a system in which power was
shared by the district‟s central office at 110 Livingston Street in Brooklyn and 32 community
districts which had direct management authority over local elementary and middle schools. High
schools, in contrast, were organized in separate high school districts by borough, separate from
the K-8 schools.

As a result, the system was overwhelmed by layers of bureaucracy. A study by the consulting
firm McKinsey & Company for previous Chancellor Harold Levy identified over 22,000 central

Juan Gonzalez, “Chancellor Can‟t Ignore Local Role,” New York Daily News, 30 July 2002
School-Based Expenditure Report, New York Department of Education, 2001-02.
“Fortune 500 Largest U.S. Corporations,” Fortune, 15 April 2002.
School-Based Expenditure Report, New York Department of Education, 2001-02.
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office employees, including those employed at the district headquarters and those employed by
the community districts.7

The Chancellor position itself was a focal point for all of the system‟s problems and
controversies: financial scandals, bitter fights with the teachers‟ union, recurring waves of
violence in the schools, tension with City Hall, and – above all – an ongoing failure to educate
many poor and minority students, leaving them unprepared for life as adults.

As a result, Klein was the system‟s fourth chancellor in less than a decade. And conventional
wisdom said that he had little chance of distinguishing himself from the “legion of failed
chancellors” who had come before.8

Enlisting Help

In the late summer of 2002, Jim Shelton was walking through the Dulles airport in Washington,
DC. Just an hour earlier, he had accepted an exciting new job, committing to open up the East
Coast office for the New Schools Venture Fund, one of the nation‟s leading supporters of charter
schools. But his life was about to take an unexpected turn.

“I was walking through the airport, and I got a phone call from Joel Klein,” Shelton remembers.
“I didn‟t even know who he was.” Within just a few weeks of that first call, Shelton accepted an
offer to join the Chancellor‟s team, putting his new job at New Schools on hold.

Klein was determined to launch a strategic planning process that would provide a roadmap for
his tenure as Chancellor. “If you‟re going to have the kind of impact that you want to have,”
Klein remembers saying to himself, “then you‟ll really need to do some serious planning.” Not
only was he aware of the challenges inherent in the job, but he was also a newcomer to K-12
education. If he was to get off to a quick start, he would need to absorb a tremendous amount of
information in an extremely short period of time. And he would need to surround himself with
people who could help him make strong, informed decisions.

Shelton was one of those people. A former consultant with the high-powered consulting firm
McKinsey & Company, Shelton had experience running the types of analytical teams that Klein
wanted to launch. And, as co-founder of LearnNow, a school management company that later
merged with Edison Schools, Shelton understood the challenges associated with operating K-12

With Shelton coming on board, Klein knew that his planning process was in good hands. But he
also knew that such a process would cost money. “It‟s hard to get money for anything like
R&D,” he said, referring to the Research & Development process that many private companies
devote significant resources to. He and Shelton hoped to bring in some of the best minds from
the business world to help sort through the complex operations of the DOE, but that would not be

McKinsey analysis, 2001.
Andrew Wolf, “Mythical Figures and Magic Formulas in N.Y. Schools,” The New York Sun, 16 August, 2002.
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Knowing that he couldn‟t raid the DOE‟s operating funds for such a process, Klein reached out
to two foundations who were involved in K-12 education reform, The Broad Foundation and the
Robertson Foundation. Between them, these foundations provided $4.5 million, strongly voicing
their support for Klein‟s leadership of the long-stagnant DOE.

With millions of dollars at their disposal, Klein was able to launch a major strategic planning
process that would touch on nearly all aspects of the DOE‟s operations. One of Klein‟s first
steps was to hire McKinsey & Company, Shelton‟s former employer. With experience guiding
corporate clients through periods of major change, McKinsey formed teams to help Klein and
Shelton tackle three of the thorniest issues: (1) organizational structure, (2) operational
effectiveness, and (3) school leadership.

In addition, Klein and Shelton launched seven other “working groups” that would tackle
instructional issues like Math and Literacy, as well as operational issues like Budgeting and
Facilities. Importantly, the process also included a significant Community Engagement
component, led by Michele Cahill, a former executive with the Carnegie Foundation who had
been working with the New York schools for over 25 years. “We engaged in a dialogue with
over 60,000 people through large and small events,” Cahill remembers. “We weren‟t taking a
poll, but we wanted to make sure that people were being listened to.”

“We were able to bring in a significant number of outside experts,” said Klein, “and the process
ultimately gave us a series of integrated recommendations that would guide all of our actions.”

The “Waking Up” Phase

Chancellor Klein proved to be a bold, daring leader.

Jim Shelton remembers the decision-making pattern that repeated itself many times in those first
few months. “On a given issue, I would always tee up three choices for Joel: one conservative,
one radical, and one super radical,” says Shelton. “Usually, being who I am, I would
recommend the middle option. But at least 50% of the time, Joel would go for the most radical
option. He knew we had to shake up the system.”

Maureen Hayes, a former investment banker who joined the team in early 2003, called it the
“waking up” phase. She describes Klein‟s mentality: “You want to do as much as you can as
fast as you can. You want to throw the bureaucracy off-balance, because that‟s the only way you
can make real change.”

Klein and his team had chosen a bold, risky path in which they would confront the bureaucracy
head-on. But one question remained: Would it work? Or would the system simply grind to a
halt, resisting these outsiders who were bringing about so much change in such a short period of

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Putting Children First in New York City
A System of Great Schools

While the Children First strategic planning process had produced dozens of recommendations,
Klein knew that he would have to focus on a handful in order to make an immediate, positive
impact on the lives of children. His philosophy was clear to everyone who worked with him:
“We‟re creating a system of great schools, rather than a great school system.”

With this philosophy in mind, Klein and his team decided to focus on five key reforms: (1) a
reorganization of the management structure, (2) creation of a Leadership Academy to develop
new school leaders, (3) adoption of a consistent curriculum across the whole system, (4) a
process for engaging the community, and (5) creation of new schools, both charters and small
high schools formed from the reorganization of traditional large, comprehensive high schools.


In a sense, the reorganization had started the day Mayor Bloomberg had been granted control of
the school district. The legislation that changed the governance of the district also included a
provision that would abolish the 32 community school boards.

Within a month of gaining control of the system, Bloomberg announced that the Chancellor and
all central staff would move to the newly-renovated Tweed Courthouse building, right across the
street from City Hall. It was a bold, symbolic move, signaling to the system and to the City that
Bloomberg was now fully in charge.

But the Children First process pushed these symbolic changes even further. The McKinsey team
responsible for Organization and Management had examined options for a wholesale
reorganization of the school system. They concluded that the cost savings associated with such a
move – approximately $50 million – were negligible given the size of the system‟s overall

However, the team also concluded that a major organizational change was still desirable, for
managerial reasons: (1) decreasing the “span of control” of local superintendents or cluster
leaders, (2) increasing the focus on instruction by the system‟s chain of command, and (3)
increasing vertical integration of the system by grouping local elementary, middle, and high
schools all into the same organizational structure. (In the existing structure, high schools were
organized separately, in their own districts which reported directly to the Chancellor.)

By making these three changes, Klein could focus the managerial resources of the system on
improving student achievement. In the old system, the superintendent of a CSD oversaw over
30 schools on average, meaning that the superintendents were unable to play a major role in the
improvement of instruction in underperforming schools. “We never saw the old
superintendents,” said one high school principal. In addition, with the organizational barrier
between primary and secondary schools, principals and teachers had no incentives – and few
opportunities – to integrate the curriculum across grade levels.

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Putting Children First in New York City
Based on recommendations from the McKinsey team, Klein and Bloomberg created the position
of local instructional superintendent (LIS) which would replace the old position of CSD
superintendent. LISes would oversee just 10-12 schools including both primary and secondary

The LISes, in turn, would report to ten regional superintendents, and the ten regional
superintendents would report directly to the Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning. It
was, as Bloomberg called it, “one unified, focused, streamlined chain of command,” and the
DOE would no longer be home to “Byzantine administrative fiefdoms.”9

Operational support moved from the CSD offices to 6 Regional Operations Centers (ROCs) that
report to the Deputy Chancellor of Operations.

“The real goal,” says Cahill, “was to allow our instructional people – including principals – to
have more of a focus on instruction.”

A Leadership Academy for Principals

“There are not a lot of people who want to do this job,”10 said one education professor about the
position of principal in the DOE. When Klein took over as Chancellor, he became responsible
for a system in which almost half of the 1,100 schools were led by principals with less than three
years experience. And 260 more were eligible for retirement within a year.11

The McKinsey team had detailed the problem in even greater detail. They described a system in
which the financial rewards for becoming an assistant principal were meager at best and in which
all administrators were constrained by bureaucratic red tape and onerous provisions of the
teachers‟ contract. As McKinsey showed, it was extremely rare for the DOE to hire a principal
from outside the system, meaning that there was no easy way to inject new blood and new
passion into the system. The average number of applicants applying for an open principal
position had dropped from 54 to 12 in just six years, a precipitous 78% decline.12

One of Klein‟s biggest priorities, then, was to create a pipeline that would recruit and develop
outstanding school leaders for the DOE. "As school leaders, principals are the key to overall
school performance,” said Klein, “and to the kind of fundamental change that many of our
schools require." With these words, he launched the New York Leadership Academy.

From now on, the district would seek to hire the best of the best, rather than just promoting from
the district‟s existing assistant principal ranks.

In January of 2003, Klein asked Jack Welch, the world-famous former CEO of General Electric
– renowned for his ability to hire and develop outstanding managers – to chair the advisory panel
for the new Academy, hoping that he would bring private-sector rigor to the professional

Karla Scoon Reid, “Mayor Outlines Major Overhaul of N.Y.C. System,” Education Week, 22 January, 2003.
Jeff Archer, “Novice Principals Put Huge Strain on New York City Schools,” Education Week, 29 May 2002.
McKinsey analysis, 2002.
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Putting Children First in New York City
development program. In addition, Tony Alvarado – charismatic former superintendent of
Districts 2 and 4 within the DOE – was added to the advisory panel to help focus the training on
instructional issues.

To manage the Academy, Klein hired two outstanding leaders that bridged the business and
education worlds. Bob Knowling, an experienced telecommunications executive, would serve as
CEO of the Academy, and Sandra Stein, an educator from Baruch College, would serve as its
academic dean. “What‟s our idea of leadership?” Knowling asked. “I believe that a leader‟s role
and purpose is to create the environment where people can excel. And it starts with clear vision,
explicit values, and appropriate reward and recognition.”

Another key component of the plan was focused on principal placement. Klein hoped to
implement a plan that would directly impact the leadership of the City‟s most underperforming
schools, those that served mainly poor, minority students and that were consistently producing
appalling test results and graduation rates.

With a $15 million grant from the Wallace-Reader‟s Digest Funds, the DOE would offer $75,000
in incentive pay for high-performing principals to commit their leadership for three years to an
underperforming school, mentoring a young aspiring principal candidate who would be groomed
to take over the school at the end of the three year period.

In August of 2004, the Leadership Academy graduated its first class of 77 aspiring principals.
By 2007, they planned to hire up to 100 outstanding new principals each year from the Academy.

“Principals are now being chosen because they‟re instructional leaders and not because of who
they know,” said Carmen Farina, a former community district superintendent who eventually
became the Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning under Klein. “That was a major,
major shift.”

“School leadership matters,” says Klein. “Having a great principal in a school can really make
an impact. We‟ve seen it time and again.”13

Consistent Curriculum

While many of the Children First reforms were designed for the long term, Klein also believed
that his team could have an immediate impact on student achievement. While New York schools
had been using over 40 different literacy programs and over 50 different math programs, Klein
believed that consistency across schools would address problems of student mobility and make it
easier for the district to provide valuable professional development. “There‟s a real value in
getting everyone in a huge, complex organization on the same page,” he said.

Diana Lam, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, led the process to select the new
reading curriculum, which was unveiled in January of 2003. Based on the balanced literacy

Gabe Pressman, “Interview: New York schools' chancellor, Joel Klein, discusses some of the major transitions
taking place,” News Forum (WNBC New York), 14 September 2003.
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Putting Children First in New York City
approach, the curriculum focused on exposing children to books in classroom libraries. Phonics
would be taught – as necessary – using the Month-by-Month Phonics program.

“Children learn to read and write most effectively by practicing their skills with real books
everyday,” said Lam in support of the program. “Instead of using reading textbooks for
instruction, teachers will use classroom libraries, consisting of children‟s literature and non-
fiction books that appeal to a variety of different interests to better engage students in reading
and writing.”14

The district would support the implementation of the curriculum by funding classroom libraries
for grades K-9, ultimately leading to the purchase of over 8 million books by the beginning of
the 2003-04 school year. In addition, each school would hire two instructional coaches – one
for literacy, one for math – to help teachers implement the new curriculum.

The choice of curriculum, however, was a controversial one. The program represented a step
away from the systematic, phonics-based programs supported by the federal government‟s $6
billion “Reading First” initiative. Even long-time Bloomberg supporter Sol Stern took aim at the
new curriculum, saying that balanced literacy “totally disregards what the scientific evidence
says about the most effective teaching methods in reading.”15

Randi Weingarten, head of the teachers‟ union, endorsed the curriculum at the outset, but later
criticized the process for selecting the new curriculum. "This administration doesn't even want to
know what teachers think about what works for kids," she said.16

But Lam fought back: "I think that the critics think this curriculum is too rigorous and maybe
poor children can't do this," she said. "We did not want to settle for anything but a rich and
rigorous curriculum for our students."17

Politically, however, it wasn‟t possible to implement the program in all schools. The Chancellor
noted that approximately 200 “high-performing” schools would be exempt from the curriculum
changes, presumably because they were already successful. This strategy proved extremely
controversial, though. If the district were to simply skim the top 200 schools off the top, those
exempt schools would almost certainly represent all the wealthier areas of the City, since higher
levels of income are generally correlated with higher levels of student achievement.

In the end, the DOE decided to factor poverty levels into the analysis, so that the 200 exempt
schools would represent a cross-section of the system as a whole. But – in effect – this had the
unintended consequence of sending the message that it was acceptable for schools in poorer
areas to have lower levels of performance.
NYDOE press release, 21 January 2003.
Sol Stern, “Opportunities Lost: How New York City got derailed on the way to school reform,” Fwd:, 6
December 2004.
Alexandra Marks, “One city, one curriculum: Consistency is the goal in New York City's efforts to improve its
schools. But learning to work from one central playbook is not easy for its teachers,” The Christian Science Monitor,
20 January 2004.
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, “N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum,” Education Week, 15 October

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Professor Joseph P. Viteritti of New York University pointed out the danger: "When you start
gearing standards to demographics, you're going down a very dangerous path. It's politicizing it,
so we're going to have different expectations for students based on race and class."18

Ultimately, over 300 schools received a waiver or exemption, although in the end many opted to
adopt the core curriculum.

Interestingly, the DOE would eventually supplement the balanced literacy curriculum in the
poorest-performing schools, as well. In January of 2004, Chancellor Klein announced that the
DOE would adopt a more phonics-intensive program for 49 of the lowest-performing schools in
the system. By adopting the Harcourt Trophies program, the district hoped to increase its
chances of qualifying for approximately $115 million in federal funding from the Reading First
program while still following a balanced literacy approach. According to the DOE, the Harcourt
Trophies program was chosen because it was a program with a balanced literacy approach that
most resembled their original curriculum and it was unique in having a parallel bilingual
component (Harcourt Trofeos).

Cahill, a senior aide to Klein at the time, was reluctant to admit that the district‟s critics had been
right, but she acknowledged that the DOE was influenced by the Reading First guidelines: “We
thought that to have a very strong and competitive application, we needed to have a program that
is considered comprehensive."19

Community Engagement

Following up on his commitment to community engagement in the strategic planning process,

Klein made community engagement one of the pillars of his reform plan.

He made news early on when he brought in Caroline Kennedy to head the high-profile Office of
Strategic Partnerships. In this role, Kennedy became the district‟s chief fundraiser. In her first
year, Kennedy garnered commitments of $49 million for the Leadership Academy, plus $4.5
million for the Fund for Public Schools, the non-profit organization designed to spur private
investment in the public schools. She even secured the Dave Matthews band for a high-profile
fundraising concert in Central Park, raising over $2 million for the schools.

From Klein‟s point-of-view, it was a no-brainer to go after private money. In a time of budget
cuts, the extra funds helped make up the difference. And because the money came from non-
governmental sources, the DOE had more flexibility to spend the money on bold, innovative
programs, like the Leadership Academy. Finally, by bringing in someone with the skills and
name recognition of Caroline Kennedy, the DOE managed to score a public relations coup,
focusing a tremendous amount of positive attention on the entire DOE reform effort.

The Fund for Public Schools, operating somewhat independently of the DOE, even launched a
Citywide advertising campaign, trying to build support for the ambitious reform plans.
David J. Hoff, “Complaints Pour In Over N.Y.C. Curriculum Exemptions,” Education Week, 5 March 2003.
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, “N.Y.C. Shifts Reading Plan in 49 Needy Schools,” Education Week, 14 January 2004.

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At the grassroots level, Klein also placed a high value on community engagement in every single
school. While the DOE tried to implement budgeting reforms that would give schools more
spending discretion, the Chancellor made a high-profile exception to this rule when he mandated
that every school in the system would hire a parent coordinator. It would cost the DOE a total of
$43 million. “Parent coordinators are essential to our effort to make our schools more
welcoming and to actively engage parents in the school community," he said when he announced
the creation of the position.20

Like the hiring of Kennedy at the system level, Klein‟s emphasis on parent coordinators was a
part of a greater effort to overcome decades of apathy and cynicism and to mobilize New York‟s
resources for the betterment of the schools.

“If parents are involved in their kids‟ education,” Klein said, “then it makes everything easier.
We must have community support for our reforms.”

New Schools

In 2002, during his first few weeks as Chancellor, Klein attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for
several new small schools created by the New Century High School Initiative, a partnership with
the Carnegie Corporation, Open Society Institute, Gates Foundation and New Visions for Public

“He was really impressed by the leadership of the new schools,” says Kristen Kane, who would
later become a key player in Klein‟s effort to launch new schools. However, Klein was
impatient with a plan that only called for 75 new schools. “Can we do 150?” he asked Bob
Hughes, the president of New Visions.

By early 2003, the Chancellor had increased the goal to 200, encompassing both new small high
schools and charter schools. He created the Office of New Schools to oversee both prongs of the
ambitious effort: (1) closing large failing high schools and replacing them with new small
schools, and (2) opening up many more charter schools that would operate outside the district

Many of the district‟s high schools were monstrous failures, with over 3,000 students and
graduation rates below 40%. “For too long we had two tiers of high schools: one tier for kids on
their way to success and another tier for everyone else,” noted Klein. “And 90% of the kids in
the failing schools are African American and Latino.”

In addition, Klein had a natural affinity for the charter school model. “I wanted to bring
entrepreneurial talent into the system,” he said, “and to create more alignment between
accountability and authority.”

Linda Jacobson, “N.Y.C. Puts 1,200 New Parent Liaisons in Schools,” Education Week, 17 September, 2003.

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Ninth months later, the plan was in full swing. In September, Klein announced that the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation would donate $51.2 million to start 67 new small high schools. It
would be the single largest grant ever given to the nation‟s largest school system. Grants would
be funneled through key community partners – including New Visions, Outward Bound, and the
Asia Society – all of whom would help launch the new schools and provide an ongoing support
network for the students.

By the fall of 2005, the DOE had opened up 178 new schools – including 24 charter schools –
meaning that they were almost 90% of the way toward the ambitious goal they‟d set less than
three years before.

Kristen Kane, who would head the Office of New Schools for two years, says that Klein was
focused on one overriding goal: “It‟s all about inverting the system so that schools are on
top…rather than on the bottom.”

“We’re in a war.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Bloomberg and Klein had gotten off to a good start with the United
Federation of Teachers (UFT), one of the most powerful teachers‟ unions in the country. In
2002, within days of gaining control of the system, Mayor Bloomberg had finalized a new
contract with the teachers that offered them raises of 16-22%.21 And Chancellor Klein voiced
early support for an English/Language Arts curriculum designed by the UFT under Randi
Weingarten‟s leadership.

Weingarten, who had fought openly with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, publicly committed to
work “hand in hand” with Mayor Bloomberg and thanked him “for wanting to be a part of the
solution, instead of blaming people.”22 In January of 2003, she issued a glowing endorsement of
the Children First reforms, calling them “breathtakingly possible.”23

But – within a matter of months – the relationship started to deteriorate. In addition to being
head of the UFT, Weingarten served as the chairwoman of the Municipal Labor Committee, with
responsibility for coordinating all the bargaining efforts of all city unions. In that role, she had
little choice but to object to Klein‟s plan to lay off over 4,500 city workers, including hundreds
of teacher‟s aides in the school system.

Claiming that the teacher‟s aide layoffs were racially discriminatory, she filed a lawsuit against
Chancellor Klein. And she retracted her previous support for the Children First reforms:
“Excuse me, Mr. Mayor,” she said, “but who was smoking what the day this arrangement was
dreamed up?”24

In truth, her anger at Bloomberg and Klein also reflected frustrations with a smaller union role in
the policy-making progress. Previous Chancellors Rudy Crew and Harold Levy had worked

Timothy Williams, “NYC, Teachers Reach Contract Deal,” Associated Press, 11 June 2002.
Alison Gendar and David Seltonstall, “Mayor Gets Schools Reins,” New York Daily News, 13 June 2002.
Abby Goodnough, “Schools Plan Loses an Ally,” New York Times, 15 May 2003.
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closely with UFT on many matters of policy, but Klein relied more heavily on his internal team
of executives and external consultants, many of them from the business world.25

In part, this arrangement reflected Klein‟s beliefs about the changes necessary to improve student
performance. “At the heart of the problem,” he said in January of 2004, “are the three poles of
civil service: lockstep pay, seniority and life tenure. Together they act as handcuffs and prevent
us from making the changes that will encourage and support excellence.''26 As an alternative,
Klein attempted to gain support for a “thin contract” of eight pages as a replacement for the
existing 205-page contract. Weingarten rejected the proposal, and talks broke down in early

With Klein taking aim at three pillars of union contract, it was clear that Weingarten could never
be a full partner in the reform efforts. Unsurprisingly, her response was less than enthusiastic: “I
am really disappointed,'' she said. ''It's time to stop the rhetoric and roll up your sleeves and work
with us to help the kids.''27

Another union leader was even less diplomatic: In a newsletter to the union membership, Tom
Pappas, chairman of the UFT‟s Unity Caucus, wrote, “We're in a war with the Department of

Culture Clash

The tension was rising inside the DOE as well. Hoping to overcome the system‟s inertia, Klein
had brought in his own team of managers, many of them ambitious young professionals with
little background in public education.

Matthew Onek, a 31-year-old graduate of Stanford and Yale Law School, became one of Klein‟s
most trusted aides. Elisa Mandell, a 27-year-old graduate of Northwestern, served as Chancellor
Klein‟s liaison to the Panel for Educational Policy. And 31-year-old Garth Harries of Yale and
Stanford Law School served as a project manager. The media gleefully reported that most of the
young newcomers earned over $100,000 per year.29

These young lawyers and consultants reported to an even higher level of non-educators who
served as Klein‟s core leadership team: His chief-of-staff Maureen Hayes was a former
investment banker at Wolfensohn & Company, and LaVerne Srinivasan, the deputy chancellor
for management, had come to the DOE with Klein from Bertelsmann, Inc.

Everyone admitted that the new blood brought energy to the system, but critics questioned the
wisdom of putting important policy matters into the hands of people with no background in
public education. “They are so committed and they are so rah-rah-rah,” said Jill Chaifetz, the

David M. Herszenhorn, “Chancellor Urges Changes in Teachers' Pay,” The New York Times, 28 January 2004
Carl Campanile, “Klein Pleads for Support as Union Declares War,” The New York Post, 8 September 2003.
David M. Herszenhorn, “Not So Long Out of School, Yet Running the System,” The New York Times, 25 March
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head of Advocates for Children, a monitoring group. “And they are all so completely

But Klein defended his hiring strategy. “If you are trying to institute some fundamental change,
which we are, you want people who look at the world from a variety of perspectives,” he said. “I
have tried to surround myself with balance.”31

Several long-time DOE executives retired out of frustration with the new direction. Said one
anonymous former district executive, “They looked upon career educators as being fruitless,
mindless, and helpless.”

Mayoral Control?

While Klein and Bloomberg had made significant progress in implementing key elements of the
Children First plan, there were those who thought the reforms didn‟t go far enough. In
particular, some critics criticized the administration for failing to end “social promotion.”

Social promotion was the practice whereby students would be advanced from grade level to
grade level, even if they hadn‟t met the minimum standards of academic competence. While
Klein and Bloomberg had publicly agreed that the policy needed to change, they had not yet put
a plan in place.

Herman Badillo, former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York
and deputy mayor under Ed Koch, was particularly critical. “Apparently, they abolished the idea
of eliminating social promotion, which means, in my view, there are no standards," Mr. Badillo
said. “I can't imagine why it's tolerated. It makes a farce out of the whole concept of education."

In January of 2004, Bloomberg devoted a major section of his State of the City speech to this
issue: “We‟re putting an end to the discredited practice of social promotion. We‟re not just
saying that this time. We‟re going to do it.”32 Specifically, children who still scored at the
lowest level of 1 on the City-sponsored tests for 3rd-graders would be held back in third grade.

To prevent the massive retention of 3rd-graders, Klein created a special summer program – the
Summer Success Academy – to intervene with failing students and help them pass the test and
move on to fourth-grade. 33

But the idea also had its detractors, and they immediately went on the attack. A coalition of PTA
groups opposed the plan, and the teachers‟ union filed a lawsuit demanding that the 2004 test
results be thrown out. Some even accused the Mayor of using the policy to artificially improve
the scores of 4th-graders (by weeding out children who were struggling) and thereby improve his

Jeff Archer, “Mayor‟s Firm Hand Over N.Y.C. Schools Sparks New Debate,” Education Week, 24 March 2004.
Kathleen Lucadamo, “Summer School Program Unveiled To Keep Failing Third-Graders Moving,” The New York
Sun, 16 January 2004.
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political positioning. "I am just shocked that this is such a blatantly political use of 8-year-olds
on the part of a mayor‟s administration to stay in power," said one Brooklyn parent.

More importantly, it became clear in the following months that several members of the Panel for
Educational Policy, the governing body for the DOE, would vote against the plan. Three
prominent appointees of the Mayor – all non-whites – appeared to be considering a vote against
the policy change, concerned that it would be ineffective and might disproportionately affect the
educational progress of disadvantaged, minority children.34

If the three appointees - Augusta Souza Kappner, Susan Torruella Leval, and Ramona Hernandez
- did oppose the plan, then it was almost certainly doomed to defeat.

Scandal in the Chancellor’s Office

While the social promotion debate raged on, Chancellor Klein was beset by a mounting scandal.
It started in the summer of 2003 when the New York Sun reported that Diana Lam, Deputy
Chancellor for Teaching and Learning and a key proponent of the DOE‟s curriculum reforms,
had helped her husband get a job as a Regional Instructional Specialist (RIS) in the Bronx, a
position that paid over $100,000.35

When the story came out, the district initially denied it, claiming that Lam‟s husband, Peter
Plattes, was simply a volunteer. "Peter agreed to help out and won't be paid a dime," said a
district spokesman.36 Plattes resigned the position, but then later took a job teaching at a Bronx
high school. Shortly thereafter, he was forced to resign once again when Chancellor Klein
learned of the hiring decision.

A full investigative report by Special Commissioner Richard Condon, released in early March of
2004, revealed that although he had never received a paycheck from the DOE and ultimately
agreed to donate his time as a volunteer, he was offered a paid RIS position, accepted the
position, and had begun to perform the duties associated with that position.37

The report was particularly damaging because Klein and Bloomberg had been so bold in their
effort to “clean house,” laying off hundreds of teacher‟s aides in their first year and replacing
long-time executives with smart Ivy-Leaguers in their twenties. Bloomberg even stated that he
had a policy of “zero tolerance” for conflicts-of-interest in the school system.

"They got rid of everyone in the system because they said there was all this patronage," said one
lower Manhattan elementary school teacher. "Now it looks like they just wanted control for

David M. Herszenhorn, “Mayor's Aides Fight For New Standards On Pupil Promotion,” The New York Times, 13
March 2004.
Andrew Wolf, “Nepotism Puts Klein in Sticky Spot,” The New York Sun, 8 March 2004.
Joe Williams, “Educrat‟s Hubby Snags Summer Job,” The New York Daily News, 2 August 2003.
Letter to Chancellor Joel I. Klein from Richard J. Condon, Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New
York City School District, 5 March 2004.

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Putting Children First in New York City
Swift Action

Thus did Klein and Bloomberg find themselves at a crisis point in March of 2004. They had
been weakened by critics who assailed the wisdom of their reform plans (e.g., ending social
promotion), and the ongoing scandal surrounding Deputy Chancellor Lam threatened to
undermine their moral authority as new leaders for a moribund system.

The Mayor‟s poll numbers – which had only recently shown a slight improvement – still showed
that his approval ratings were lower than 40%. And he had staked his political future on his plan
to remake the school system.

In such a precarious position, what could the men do?

Lam had been the most important champion of the curriculum changes made by the DOE. With
her background in K-12 education, she gave Klein‟s administration badly-needed credibility in
curriculum and instruction. It was difficult to imagine moving forward without her. But, in light
of the scandal, her presence also threatened everything that they had built so far.

Ending social promotion was also a critical, high-profile element of the reform plan. If the Panel
for Educational Policy was successful in blocking the proposal, both Bloomberg and Klein knew
that their leadership would be called into question.

The two men decided to act boldly and decisively.

On March 8th, Klein asked for the resignation of Deputy Chancellor Lam, as well as chief
counsel Chad Vignola. "I'm sorry this event occurred," Chancellor Klein told the press. "My
decision with respect to Ms. Lam was based on the fact I thought she would no longer be
effective in the job."39

Exactly one week later, on March 15th, Bloomberg did what was necessary to ensure that the
vote on social promotion would go his way. Just hours before a planned meeting of the Panel for
Educational Policy, Bloomberg replaced two of his appointees who had signaled their objections
to his policy. In their place, he appointed two individuals who supported the policy. It passed

Of course, the decision provided fodder for the administration‟s critics, who compared
Bloomberg to a military dictator. "How is this different from what a military junta does?" said
Eva S. Moskowitz, the head of the City Council‟s education committee. "This was a coup."40

But Bloomberg stood strong. “Mayoral control means mayoral control,”41 he told the press.

Jeff Archer, “Key N.Y.C. School Official Forced to Resign,” Education Week, 17 March 2004.
Jeff Archer, “Mayor‟s Firm Hand Over N.Y.C. Schools Sparks New Debate,” Education Week, 24 March 2004.
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Good News

Within a few months of surviving their biggest crises, Klein and Bloomberg started to see the
political pressure abate, as good news began to emerge.

The first positive signs had come in December of 2003, when the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP) released data on 10 large school systems in the country.
Somewhat surprisingly, New York was the only major metropolitan system that scored above the
national average for central cities, outperforming districts including Los Angeles, Atlanta, and

Soon, state and city tests started to show positive trends as well. In June of 2004, the DOE
released test results that were overwhelming positive: In math, three of four grades showed
improvements of six percentage points or more in proficiency scores. And in English Language
Arts, both 3rd-graders and 8th-graders showed their highest scores ever recorded, as well as the
biggest one-year gains43.

When Bloomberg announced that the end of social promotion would be extended to the 5th-grade
(in September of 2004) and 7th-grade (in August of 2005), there was virtually no opposition from
the community, partially due to the success of academic intervention and remediation programs
for 3rd-graders, which prevented a massive retention problem in the elementary schools.

And, in April of 2005, The Broad Foundation announced that New York had been selected as a
finalist for the nation‟s largest education award, The Broad Prize for Urban Education. Based on
a rigorous study of test data, the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA) had
determined that New York City was performing at a higher level than other high-poverty districts
in the State and that achievement gaps had narrowed in recent years when compared to the State.

In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg‟s poll numbers started to rise, with his approval rating rising above
40% for the first time since the first few months of his administration.44 In 2005, his approval
rating would continue to improve, reaching the previously unthinkable level of 65%.45

Moving Forward

Upon his election in November of 2001, Mayor Bloomberg had said that reforming the schools
was a two-term job. With a Mayoral election scheduled for November of 2005, it was uncertain
whether the voters of New York would give their team the chance to finish the job.

Even with all the good news, Klein knew that the job was far, far from done. The district‟s high
school graduation rate – as measured by the Manhattan Institute methodology – was just 65%
overall, and the gap between graduation rates of White and African-American and Hispanic

Joe Williams, “NY Schools Top the Rest,” New York Daily News, 18 December 2003.
NYDOE press release, “New York City Students Show Significant Gains in Mathematics Exams This Year with
Three of the Four Tested Grades Showing Gains of Six Percentage Points Or More,” 3 June 2004.
Michael Saul, “Mike Riding Comeback Trail,” New York Daily News, 15 March 2004.
David Saltonstall, “Bloomberg Builds 27-Pt. Lead in Poll,” New York Daily News,” 12 October 2005.
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Putting Children First in New York City
students had increased. 46 What‟s more, proficiency rates for minority 8th-graders had improved
only slightly in three years, continuing to lag white students by over 20 percentage points.

With four more years, Chancellor Klein knew that his team would continue to build on the
Children First reforms they had already implemented: (1) launching and expanding the
empowerment schools to provide principals with greater autonomy in exchange for
accountability for student achievement, (2) implementing an accountability initiative to set clear
expectations for schools and measure their performance, (3) recruiting and developing more
talented principals through the Leadership Academy, and (4) continuing the development of
portfolio of high quality options for students and families, including new small schools, charter
schools, gifted and talented programs, and schools and programs for over-age, under-credited

But he also hoped to tackle three specific problems at the Central Office. First was a redesign of
the Department of Human Resources, switching its emphasis from compliance and paperwork to
the recruitment and development of outstanding employees for all levels of the organization.
Second, Klein also hoped to implement best practices from districts that had given more
budgetary discretion to schools, including Edmonton, Canada and Cincinnati, Ohio. And,
finally, he planned to implement a “much richer accountability system” that would focus on the
“value added” by each teacher and school.

However, Klein understood that the system was still resistant to real change: “Because of a
mixture of incentives and economic realities,” he says, “it‟s hard to get people where you want
them to be.” Ron Beller – a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs who led the
implementation effort in 2003 – was even more candid about the problems that remained. “This
is all about the union contracts,” he says. “It‟s the dirty little secret. They make it impossible to
run the organization efficiently and to hold people accountable.”

But – even with all the challenges still in front of them – no one could deny that Klein and his
team had sparked a major shift in attitude among district employees, parents, and even the
community at large. “People thought it was something wrong with the kids,” says Maureen
Hayes. “I don‟t think people believe that anymore.”

Says Beller: “There was an affliction of low expectations. And Joel is a hero for pointing out
that it doesn‟t have to be that way.”

Analysis by the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA) for The Broad Foundation.
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