After staying silent as mayoral candidates have taken aim at the education policies he engineered, former schools chief Joel Klein is now speaking up to defend the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.
In a speech in Washington, D.C. to charter school supporters this morning, Klein plans to criticize what he calls “a complete lack of courage among most of the candidates” for statements they’ve made during the campaign to replace Mayor Bloomberg, according to a copy of the speech provided to GothamSchools in advance. In the speech, Klein praises the reforms that took place during his eight-year tenure at the Department of Education, listing the growth of charter schools in Harlem as a crowning achievement.
Klein has stayed mum so far on City Hall politics since he abruptly left the department at the end of 2010. He was quickly hired by Rupert Murdoch and now runs NewsCorp’s education technology division, Amplify, from its Brooklyn headquarters in Dumbo not far from his former office at the Tweed Courthouse.
But as Bloomberg’s third term comes to a close, the administration’s legacy, which Klein helped establish, has been under attack. Klein’s most divisive policies, which include closing schools and opening non-union charter schools in their place, have received the most scrutiny from leading Democratic candidates.
In response, Bloomberg’s aides, and the mayor himself, have deployed an offensive accusing the candidates of pandering to the teachers union. Top aide Howard Wolfson called the moment “PanderPalooza,” and Chancellor Dennis Walcott condemned the candidates in a speech to principals in May.
In Tuesday’s speech, Klein echoes their language, charging that some candidates would “turn back the clock” on providing choices to families. He specifically mentions a pledge made by three candidates, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former Comptroller Bill Thompson to put a moratorium on space-sharing plans, which have benefited the charter sector.
“They may say they support charters, but without co-location these schools have no place to go and would effectively disappear,” Klein will say, according to his prepared comments, at the annual conference for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “I think some folks might ignore these children and their families because they don’t have political action committees or City Hall lobbyists.”
Responding to Klein’s comments, a spokeswoman for Thompson, who recently received the UFT’s endorsement, accused “the mayor’s team” of “pitting parents against one another.” De Blasio used the opportunity to promote his plan to tax the city’s wealthiest residents to expand prekindergarten.
Republican candidate Joe Lhota and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat whose candidacy has lost its frontrunner status in recent weeks, embraced Klein’s comments.
“I’ve long said that to have charter schools, you have to have co-locations,” Quinn said. “A moratorium on co-locations is double talk for opposing charter schools.”
“There is no daylight between Joel Klein and Joe Lhota on this issue,” said a spokeswoman for Lhota, who has called for doubling the city’s charter sector. The spokeswoman had one request: Next time, “he should mention that Joe Lhota is the clear exception” from the candidate field, she said.
Anthony Weiner “likes and respects Joel,” said Weiner’s spokeswoman Barbara Morgan, who worked for Klein at the Department of Education. But she said “the focus on charters should not lose sight of the other 95 percent of students who are in traditional public schools.”
Perhaps the harshest response came from Sal Albanese, a former teacher who is running a long-shot campaign.
“Mr. Klein advising us on schools is like Dick Cheney advising us on Middle East peace,” said Albanese, who has said he would appoint someone with extensive experience in the classroom to run the city’s schools. “[Bloomberg] has divided our schools and done nothing to help our kids learn the skills they need to thrive.”
The speech comes just days after Klein, who chairs the board of StudentsFirst NY, hired Eva Moskowitz’s longtime aide at Success Academy Charter Schools, Jenny Sedlis, to become the advocacy group’s executive director.
But while Klein’s speech focuses heavily on the gains made by charter schools in Harlem, where many of Success’s schools are located, he mentions Success only once. Instead, he focuses his praise on Geoffrey Canada, a popular figure who heads Harlem Children’s Zone, a community-based organization that operates two charter schools in Harlem.
Canada’s charter schools don’t achieve the same kind of test scores as other charter networks in Harlem, including Democracy Prep, Success, and KIPP. But Klein’s speech holds up Canada, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race, as having an important role in reforming education.
“The key ingredient to that work was courage,” he says. “Geoffrey Canada had it, Mike Bloomberg had it, thousands of parents and students across the city had it: courage to do what’s right. Courage to make a change that we all know is needed. And courage to tell political special interests, ‘No thanks, we’re putting the children first.'”