An education system made up of multiple sectors, like Israel’s, is an acceptable model with potential for success, as long as all of those sectors are held to the same standards and the same level of accountability, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday.
“Different systems are fine,” said Klein, who sat down for the brief interview before addressing a conference on education reform, sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality and Hakol Hinuch – the Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyamei Ha’uma).
“But no matter what the system is, when a child graduates, he or she has to be college- or career-ready,” he said.
While Klein stressed that he was speaking only through the lens of his experience in America, the chancellor’s eight-year tenure as the head of the United States’ largest public school system – it has more than 1.1 million pupils in more than 1,420 schools – has seen the implementation of a number of highly successful, albeit controversial, reforms that have turned New York City’s educational institutions around.
Asked what steps the Israeli education system could take to mirror such success, Klein said that ensuring the equality of skills among pupils emerging from secondary school – regardless of whether they were modern Orthodox, secular, haredi or Arab – was among the most important.
“There are different ways to assess it, be it tests or portfolios,” Klein said of the necessary skill set. “But I would move toward a system where people are required to demonstrate those skills, because if they don’t have them, they won’t be able to compete – they won’t be protected from meaningful global competition.
“If you don’t have well-educated people in a country without great natural resources, [well-educated people] have to become your natural resource,” he said.
Klein described his warm relationship with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and said his trip to Israel was a “sharing opportunity for both parties.
“I’m learning from the mayor,” Klein said. “His ideas on how to use technology – he’s teaching me. He understands that good ideas alone are not going to lead to success, and he knows how to navigate challenges, which you’ll always have when you’re trying to change the system.
“Education reform requires big thinking and a willingness to challenge the status quo,” Kelin added. “And one of the things that impresses me about Mayor Barkat is that he understands that.”
Klein said that he and Barkat had agreed to begin a joint effort regarding the “Time to Know” program, which was started in Israel, and makes extensive use of technology – essentially turning the classroom to an “online zone” in which every pupil is given his or her own desktop or laptop computer and progress is monitored digitally.
“We’re starting our efforts in September in New York with ‘Time to Know,’ and we’ll learn from each other,” Klein said of the partnership.
“It could be very powerful because I think having the benefit of hearing about what’s working here, what the successes are, is the way to enrich the way we think about it [in the US].”
Klein elaborated on some of the methods that had proven successful for him in New York.
“The most important thing is what happens at an individual school,” he said.
“One of the things I believe is that without the right leadership, you won’t succeed. We started what’s called the New York Leadership Academy, where we train about 60 to 70 of what I call ‘transformative leaders’ – people who understand accountability, data, budgeting. We train them for a year and then send them to start a new school or to try and assist a school that’s failing.
“Focus relentlessly on leadership,” Klein continued. “If you don’t get that right, you won’t succeed.
“Recruit, retain and support great teachers, because no school system will be better than the quality of its teachers. I’ve talked to the mayor about a ‘Teach for Israel’ program, because it’s a way to draft new human capital – and then to think hard about how to keep them. A lot of my Teach for America teachers are now principals. Such a program could have a huge, huge impact.”
The chancellor also advocated “as much transparency to parents and the press as possible.
“Let them know how things are going,” he said. “In New York, we’ve
started putting a letter grade on each school, based on student
progress. It’s controversial, but with regards to failing schools, we
show them how to succeed, and if they continue to get F’s, we’ll close
“I’ve probably closed some 80 schools and opened up another 400,” Klein
said. “And I’ve done that to create a choice for the parents. In the
old days many parents only had one choice. Today, every incoming high
school student in New York City lists at least 12 choices for potential
But the most important thing was to “think big,” Klein said.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that too often we think small,” he
said. “We say, ‘You can only make small changes, incremental changes’ –
but education reform requires big thinking. It doesn’t mean that every
[idea] will succeed, but if you keep doing the same thing and expect
similar results, you’re doomed to fail.
“We have to challenge ourselves and the status quo,” Klein said. “And
that’s a noisy process. But in a lot of systems the status quo protects
interests but not the children, and therefore, it has to be addressed.”
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