the departed

Chancellor Klein's exit: the best kept secret in the DOE

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Chancellor Joel Klein leaves the podium after discussing his plans to resign and join the News Corporation.

News that Chancellor Joel Klein will step down has caught his staff — even his most senior advisors — by surprise and sparked debate over whether he was pushed to resign.

Department of Education employees, some of them eight-year veterans with strong personal ties to the chancellor, learned of Klein’s resignation at a press conference this afternoon. And they didn’t meet his replacement, Hearst Magazines chairwoman Cathleen Black, until after the mayor and chancellor addressed reporters.

“I was literally scheduled for a 4 o’clock meeting, walked in, and watched a bunch of people going ‘Oh my God,'” said a DOE official.

Said another: “It’s the best kept secret in the history of the DOE.”

Even Black’s meeting with teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, which Mayor Bloomberg mentioned at the news conference, was an accidental encounter.

Mulgrew said that he ran into Black in mid-October just as he was arriving for a breakfast meeting with the mayor and she was leaving.

“He just introduced her as the woman who runs the Hearst Magazine chain,” Mulgrew said. “That was cute,” he said with sarcasm.

Though Mayor Bloomberg said that he had known that Klein “was ready to move on,” and had publicly searched for a replacement, it seems that most of Klein’s staff did not. A DOE official said that in meetings where the chancellor and his aides discussed the mayor’s third term, whether Klein would still be leading the department was never in doubt.

“As we looked into the third term, this was the trajectory we were on and Joel was going to be able to see it through,” the official said. “So it’s definitely a surprise.”

For those who have become Klein’s acolytes and grown personally attached to him, the change may be especially jarring.

“Joel is incredibly inspiring and has inspired a ton of people to make lots of sacrifices in lots of different ways to follow his mission, follow his lead,” said a DOE official. “When that goes, it’s obviously a blow.”

A former official forecasted a small wave of retirements as the chancellor’s more senior staff consider whether they want to spend three years working for a boss they met this afternoon.

And as the news spread around Tweed Courthouse and City Hall, officials began to debate whether Klein was leaving of his own volition. Though some declared the chancellor’s move to be well-timed, given the city’s financial troubles and his already-established legacy, other suspected he’d been asked to resign.

One reason for the suspicion is that Klein’s resignation has caught everyone by surprise. After the news conference today, the chancellor told a New York Times reporter that he’d talked with the mayor about his decision to leave “three or four months ago,” and Bloomberg had asked him to stay.

Some said that the secrecy was necessary.

“I don’t know what else one would do,” said a current DOE employee. “Once you tell one person everybody knows, and once you start a public process you lose a year.”

Yet the shock of the announcement has fueled disbelief that it had been planned by Klein.

Looking back, several DOE insiders wondered whether the restructuring that followed an intensive internal report on the department’s day-to-day operations, done by Chief Operating Officer Sharon Greenberger, led to Klein’s departure.

“She was the mayor’s political appointee and a trusted comrade of the mayor, and was really there to help the mayor’s office,” said a source with knowledge of the situation.

Some said they saw signs that the mayor had lost faith in the chancellor, with whom he sometimes differed when it came to relations with the teachers union. The possible tension between the two men became pronounced last summer when the mayor held a press conference to triumphantly announce a deal with the union that would end the city’s infamous rubber rooms. The agreement did nothing to make it easier for principals to fire poorly performing teachers and Klein appeared visibly unenthusiastic.

“It is clear there was a lot more distance between the mayor and the chancellor than there used to be,” said a former DOE official.

Officials also questioned Klein’s next move. At the end of this year, he will move to News Corporation, where he will be an executive vice president. Though the chancellor is close with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch (when New York Magazine asked Murdoch to name the most important New Yorker, he named Klein), current and former employees see the job as an odd choice and far from the national education platform Klein has now.

“I think the fact that he’s going to Rupert has got the fingerprints of Bloomberg making a soft landing,” said a former DOE official.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.