kleinknight.jpgLast week, a short interview with Joel Klein appeared in the Times, tucked into the “Big City” column in the back section of the paper. Mr. Klein was interviewed while at breakfast at the Regency Hotel (isn’t that how all public school parents start their day?) and during the conversation, he let slip a few gems about his “pie-in-the-sky” ideas for NYC schools that made me wonder if his morning cottage cheese (blech) was laced with crack. 

Here’s one: if he were “schools czar,” Klein would like every fifth grader to have the experience of visiting a college campus. Can you imagine? This, from the man who can’t even find a seat for every kindergartner. He thinks that the simple act of visiting a college campus will inspire kids to finish school and mitigate “family circumstances.” (Unsaid: field trips to NYU are cheaper than building new schools). Klein doesn’t want to “mandate” this idea, however, because he’s “trying to limit mandates, not increase them.” The reporter does not state whether Klein fell on the floor laughing when he uttered these words.

Here’s another juicy tidbit from this lovely breakfast: Klein would like to reduce the number of teachers by 30 percent and then increase the pay of the remaining teachers by 30%. He hastens to assure us that he doesn’t want to fire teachers, just wouldn’t want to hire new teachers. Invoking a book co-written by the chief development officer of Edison Schools, a charter school operation, Klein says that “through distance learning and individualized teaching approaches” we could reduce the number of teachers. Distance learning is the hip new tech-phrase in education these days: teachers post lectures and notes to the web; class discussions happen online; students interact with the teacher and their classmates in virtual space. (Unsaid: distance learning is WAY cheaper than building new schools.)

Of course! Duh! That’s been the real problem with the public school system in New York: too many teachers, dammit, cluttering up that valuable school space, which, if Klein were allowed to create his educational utopia, would be used for clubs and sports activies and important stuff like that.

What is an individualized teaching approach, anyway? And couldn’t we have that in the classrooms now, if we had smaller classes, K-12? Oh but wait – right – class size is going up in public schools these days, in all the grades. In Klein’s precious charter schools, however, classes remain small.

The fact that Klein thinks distance learning could –and should — replace actual breathing humans makes (terrible) sense when we realize what else Klein believes:

  • test scores accurately reveal what’s happening in a classroom
  • numbers clearly indicate whether someone is an effective teacher
  •  a composite score on number-two-pencil-test fully captures a student’s abilities

Let’s think for a minute about your average teen-ager. Does he or she need more time with their computer monitor? Or might they need more time in thought-provoking actual-time conversations with adults who can challenge their Facebook mindsets?

There you have it, folks, yet another through-the-looking-glass moment with the fearless leader of the DOE. Let’s get rid of the teachers and send our fifth graders on college field trips. I guess in Klein-land, that’s what passes for educational policy.

The writer of this article closes with what I consider a bone-chilling thought: the legislature renews mayoral control of the schools and Bloomberg wins a third term. Then Bloomberg is in the driver’s seat, with nothing to lose – and Klein will be riding shotgun.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.