Joel Klein may be the mastermind behind the meme that teacher quality, not a student’s socioeconomic status, is the biggest predictor of academic success. He has used his own streets-to-riches story to make the case.
In the November/December issue of The American Prospect, Richard Rothstein turns Klein’s argument on its head by telling a very different story of how Klein grew up. It’s a must read.
I suggest you start here, at the Economic Policy Institute blog, with Richard Rothstein’s own introduction to his piece. He maps out the thinking behind it. He also underscores the story’s emphasis on the role of public housing policy in segregating American cities. The impact of housing policy on public education is something no teacher can unwind. (This is as good a place as any to plug Antero Pietila’s book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped an American City, which untangles the history of racism, redlining, and white flight in Baltimore.) If Joel Klein succeeded because he did not grow up among poor minorities, then there has to be more to improving outcomes for American public school children than firing bad teachers. City planning, zoning, and housing policy all need to be part of the conversation.
You can read the article itself here: Joel Klein’s Misleading Autobiography: What the former chancellor of New York City schools’ sleight of hand tells us about education reform. You might also get something from this piece, “Joel Klein’s Hidden Legacy” by PBS education correspondent John Merrow, which traces Klein’s influence on American public education and education reform. That influence is multiplied by Klein’s former deputies, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso among them.