Primary Sources

Chancellor Klein's testimony, for those playing along at home

Were you somehow unable not to make today’s mayoral control hearing? Don’t worry! You can still read Chancellor Joel Klein’s testimony in its entirety right here on GothamSchools, courtesy of the Department of Education:


Good morning, Speaker Silver, Chairwoman Nolan, and members of the Education Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today, and thank you for holding this series of hearings. I’m honored to be part of a process that is so important to our children and our City. I’m joined by my deputy, Kathleen Grimm, who will discuss our Capital Plan. The president of the School Construction Authority, Sharon Greenberger, is also here to help answer your questions.

Seven years ago, when Mayor Bloomberg took office, everybody agreed that the City’s public school system was in crisis. Its schools were failing many of its students—especially the neediest ones. Since then, we’ve come a long way—thanks in large measure to your bold decision to support mayoral control, and, I would add, the significant infusion of funds that you have delivered. What we’ve created is not perfect, our work has not been without mistake, and the transformation we have worked to engender is not complete. But the results show how far we’ve come. Today, more than 10,000 additional students are graduating than when we took over in 2002. Today, many more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. And today, the gap separating African-American and Latino students from their white and Asian peers is shrinking.

So, let me jump right in and start with what I think is most important. Whoever the mayor is, you should continue to provide him or her with the authority and accountability for public education in our City. Nothing is more important than education to our City and its families, and our City’s highest elected official should have the responsibility for this core function, just as he or she does for the safety, health, and the economic well being our City. Some have proposed that we should dilute the mayor’s authority over education policy and budget decisions, by changing the composition of the Panel for Educational Policy, for example. But if we do, we undermine the mayor’s accountability to the City, and that would be a mistake. If he cannot pursue his priorities, he cannot fairly be responsible for what happens in education.

We don’t need to speculate about this. That’s precisely the way it was before you authorized mayoral control in 2002. There was divided authority, a school system in distress, lots of finger pointing and blame passing, and a new chancellor every two or three years. Today, there are people who disagree strongly with our priorities and who focus exclusively on the mistakes we have made. But whether they agree or disagree, no one questions that the Mayor and I are accountable for the state of our City’s schools.

There is a second reason why the Mayor should be both responsible and accountable: when it comes to education, someone has to watch out for all 1.1 million students. Divided authority—and a local, rather than a citywide focus—often leads to interest group politics in education, and those with power, or access to power, typically prevail. There are, in short, as is often the case, winners and losers. But we cannot afford losers in education. For example, there are many parents in our City who know how to navigate the system to find a good school for their children, parents who can call someone who is well connected to find out how to play the game. But who looks out for the students who are not so well connected, the children of our poorest families, the children of color, and the children of parents who recently arrived here in America? In New York City, indeed throughout our Nation, those students have typically gotten the short end of the stick in public education. And that’s a significant reason why we have the shameful racial and ethnic achievement gaps that we do. The mayor and chancellor must advocate for those children—and set priorities in a way that will ensure they too get an equal educational opportunity—or their needs will continue to be neglected.

Our experience over the past seven years in New York City demonstrates that mayoral control provides the necessary ability to make real changes in the largest school system in the country. The sorts of reforms we have implemented would not and could not have happened in the absence of such authority. By definition, such reforms are often controversial. You certainly don’t have to agree with every program we’ve undertaken or policy we’ve implemented, but I think it’s clear that to get the job done—and get it done right—we need real reforms, not the feel-good stuff that so often characterizes education reform. Everyone wants more money for education—our children need and deserve it. But more money alone, as experience throughout the Nation sadly demonstrates, hasn’t solved the challenges we face.

I know Deputy Mayor Walcott outlined our results last week. I’d like to just highlight a few points:

We have made substantial progress in attacking the achievement gap. For our fourth graders, we have cut the achievement gap in half in math since 2002 and we’ve reduced it by about 20% in English. Progress in the eighth grade is less substantial, but it is still in the right direction. On the national tests, our African-American fourth graders are beating out African Americans throughout America and in virtually every other large city in both math and English.

Overall, our students have made sustained progress in math and reading since 2002. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding State standards is up almost 30 points in fourth and eighth grade math. In ELA, the percentage is up almost 15 points in fourth grade and 14 points in eighth grade.

In every area, New York City’s students’ gains have outpaced gains in the rest of the State, where students are taking the same tests and not making remotely the same progress.

And most importantly, as I said, many more students are graduating from high school. The City methodology, which was in effect long before mayoral control, shows that we have increased the four-year graduation rate by more than 2 points per year after a decade of stagnation that preceded us. And, under the State’s new methodology, in existence for the past three years, we’ve gone up almost 3 points per year from 2005 to 2007.

Because of our steady progress in improving student achievement and reducing achievement gaps plaguing poor and minority students, we won the country’s most prestigious education award, the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2007.

Today, we are working together, as one City, to address the needs of our students. We have one system that sets clear expectations for our schools and our students. No longer do we think of ourselves as 32 separate fiefdoms, divided along income and zip code lines. We are the City of New York. WE know that success in some communities with sustained failure in others hurts all of us.

Today, we focus relentlessly on student achievement, something you heard far less about before mayoral control. Look at the first page in the folder we provided. Students’ advancement to and beyond proficiency is directly linked to the rate at which they graduate from high school on time with a Regents diploma. Small increments of growth in proficiency produce large increases in the probability of success in high school. As the chart illustrates, only 23% of students finishing eighth grade with a proficiency ratings of 2.50 in ELA and math graduate four years later with a Regents diploma. But students leaving middle school with a rating of 3.50 graduate at a rate of 81%—58 points higher. For every tenth of a point gain in proficiency within that range, the probability that a rising ninth grader will graduate in four years, college ready, increases by about 5 points.

These are big differences and that’s why mastering the materials on New York State’s standardized tests matters and why the gains that we have made on those tests that I’ve described will have significant life-time effects.

As is obvious, I strongly believe that mayoral control is the best governance system for urban public schools. I said that publicly and often long before Mayor Bloomberg decided to run again, and I have repeatedly urged lawmakers throughout this Nation—especially big-city mayors in cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—to adopt a system of mayoral control. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t seek to improve the statute. I recognize that it is not a sacred text. Like the work we do every day, now is the time to focus on what we can learn from our experiences and make modifications that will benefit our schools and students. But as we strive toward that goal, there is a real danger that the debate over the statute becomes a debate over specific policy decisions that were enabled by it. Even if you don’t like some of the decisions we have made, it would be a grave mistake to constrain, now and long into the future, the fundamental ability to make the kind of transformational change our kids need by dividing up decision-making in the law. No matter what how it is labeled, that is not changing or tweaking or improving mayoral control, it is ending it—and that is a line that, for our kids’ sake, we can’t afford to cross.

Before I close, I would like to address the issue many people who question mayoral control have raised as a problem, and that is the issue of parental involvement. First, let me provide some independent data. A survey by the Community Service Society—a well respected advocacy group known to all of you—found that the percentage of public school parents “grading” their children’s school with a B or higher has jumped significantly under our administration. Among our City’s poorest parents, this figure rose from 24% to 64%. Among the “near poor,” it rose from 47% to 64%, and among the “moderate-higher” families, it rose from 59% to 66%.

And just last week, a Quinnipiac Poll found that voters with children in public schools support the continuation of mayoral control by a margin of almost 20 points—57% to 39%.

Yet, although I believe that we’ve made strides with community and family engagement over the course of the administration, I also know that we can do a better job. This is a complex education system to navigate and we can, and must, do a better job helping our families navigate it. We also need to give families and communities more information in a more timely fashion so that we can do a better job of getting their input. Working together with you, and learning from our experience over the past several years, I’m confident we can build a better process.

In conclusion, let me again emphasize that the conversation we are having today is one of the most important conversations facing us as a City. There are things we’ve learned since 2002, things we could no doubt have done better with the benefit of hindsight. But we have a duty to make sure our City continues to have the tools it needs to further transform education for the benefit of our children, especially those children who, almost 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, remain profoundly shortchanged. I look forward to working with you to learn from the experience of the past seven years to construct the best possible education law for our students and their families.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”