Responding to the ridicule of teachers and the teaching profession by politicians and self proclaimed "experts"!
"Where is Albert Shanker now that we need him?" - Walt Sautter

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What a Suprise!!

Budget task force sees major fiscal challenges ahead for N.J.
Thursday, December 13, 2012 Last updated: Thursday December 13, 2012, 1:56 PM
BY JOHN REITMEYER
STATE HOUSE BUREAU
The Record


From The Political State blog on NorthJersey.com:\

No matter who wins the 2013 gubernatorial election, New Jersey will continue to face some steep fiscal challenges unless major budget reforms are enacted.
A new report on New Jersey’s finances released Thursday by the State Budget Task Force said heavy debt, a grossly underfunded pension system, looming federal spending cuts and an “eroding and volatile tax structure” are all among the “difficult choices” the state faces in the years ahead when it comes to budget policies.
The report, one of six the task force is compiling at the state level, spelled out each major issue in New Jersey in stark terms.
The state will need to come up with $133 billion over the next 10 years to meet infrastructure needs. New Jersey is also carrying $33.7 billion in debt, which is more than the current state budget and among the highest of all state’s per-capita.
The property tax burden in New Jersey has risen to $25 billion statewide.
The state’s annual obligation to the public employee pension system – a payment that has been skipped or only partially funded for the last several years – will sit at $5.5 billion in just five years, which is five times the amount Governor Christie put in the current state budget.
And since the state is relying on $12 billion in funds from the federal government, even a 10 percent cut that could result from the looming federal fiscal and spending policy changes generally referred to as the fiscal cliff could cost the state $1.2 billion.
“Balancing budgets, to say the least, is going to be a challenge,” said Richard Keevey, distinguished practitioner in residence at Rutgers University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration and an author of the report.
Christie, a Republican, has already said he’s running for re-election in 2013. And Democratic leaders are waiting to hear from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has expressed interest in challenging Christie but has yet to make a final decision. State Sen. Barbara, D-Middlesex, filed paperwork earlier this week to run for governor.
Other possible Democratic candidates include U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, state Sen. Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, and state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and state Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden.
No matter who wins in 2013, they will have to confront the significant budget issues spelled out in the report.  One major question is whether tax hikes would be needed, something Christie has resisted doing since taking office in early 2010.
The report said a complete review of the tax and spending structures at the state and local levels is long overdue.
The task force’s advisory board is co-chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch. They started the project in 2011, and issued an overview report in July 2012.
The in-depth report on New Jersey’s budget issues is one of six state-level studies. The other state reports cover budget issues in California, Illinois, New York, Texas and Virginia.
Both Volcker and Ravitch appeared with Keevey to go over the New Jersey report Thursday morning at a hotel in Trenton.
They were reluctant to cast blame for some of the major budget issues — such as the skipped pension payments or a reliance one-shot revenue gimmicks — on any one party or governor.
“It’s very, very tempting to respond to the inevitable questions about politics,” Ravitch said. “There were dumb things done on a bipartisan basis.”
And though the report made a series of recommendations — including more multi-year budget planning, regular funding of the pension system, and the tax and spending review – the men did not advocate for any specific solution, such as tax hikes or spending cuts. That is better left to the elected officials, they said.
They also said the response to superstorm Sandy only highlights the need for a sharp focus on the budget issues.
“It all comes back to the same question of priorities,” Volcker said.
 ******
From Media Matters

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/03/07/doesnt-anyone-remember-christine-whitman/177285
"The first thing Christine Todd Whitman did upon taking office as governor of New Jersey in January was to cut the state's income tax. Then in July, as she signed into law her first state budget, the Republican cut taxes again while simultaneously closing the huge deficit left by her predecessor.
This is what her supporters call the Whitman miracle, the fiscal accomplishment that has sent her stock soaring among
New Jersey's voters and transformed her on the national scene from a political unknown into one of the Republican Party's newest stars.
But the key to the Whitman miracle lies neither in her political philosophy nor in her spending cuts, but rather in the fine print of her budget. Contained there is a series of arcane fiscal changes that some experts say amount to this: Christine Todd Whitman has balanced New Jersey's books and paid for her tax cut by quietly diverting more than $1 billion from the state's pension fund.Whitman calls what she did a "reform" of the pension system that puts it on a more "sound actuarial footing." 
Others are less charitable. The one thing that even the actuarial consultants hired by the Whitman administration agree on, however, is that the chief effect of the changes will be to shift billions of dollars in pension obligations onto New Jersey taxpayers 15 to 20 years from now."
*****
My Comments-

And McGreevy and Corzine followed suit. All raided the pension fund or back doored it to allow increased spending and tax cuts so as to enhance their chances of reelection.
Essentially, then, the pension fund contributed to the political campaigns of all these past governors and is continuing to do so with Christie. He is not contributing nearly what is required.
I really thought the contributions were required by law but if you are the governor it seems the law doesn't apply.
And now there's a shortfall?
What a surprise!
It's all some sad BS perpetrated on retired workers, future retired workers and the New Jersey citizens.
And -
How about the federal government?
They spend trillions on "defense" (I don't know who we are defending against)
They spend billions on "The War of Drugs" and haven't won one battle yet!
They spend billions on Foreign Aid (much of which is used to arm foreign countries)
They spend billions keeping troops in countries such as Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc. Why do we have to have military outposts in these countries continually since WW II?
I think we all know why. 
So tens of thousands of patronage jobs are made available for politicians to dole out and so military contractors and arms manufacturers (who employ cadres of lobbyists) can reap huge profits from taxpayer dollars.
Maybe it's time for the feds to stop all this wanton spending and start spending on our own people by helping to balance state budgets and improving our infrastructure!
They say "A fish rots from the head down" but in this case I think the whole fish (state politics and federal politics) are rotted !

I ask again, "What do you think??"


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why We Should Expect Disrespect !




This memo was distributed to the staff at a local suburban high school was posted on the town's Internet message board.
******
Folks- oversight on my part - but an important piece from Mr. F as we move to the mid-point of the year.
Quoting Mr. F
"As many of you are aware we have had an inexcusable number of fights and events in our building over the last few weeks. As Dave and I work together to manage discipline I have been experiencing a number of extremely disrespectful students. This behavior is not acceptable on any level. If you confront a student who is disrespectful please send them down and they will be dealt with accordingly. To help alleviate discipline problems please aim to plan lessons and activities that begin and continue through the bell. Also, your presence in the hallway between periods is recognized by the students and so I ask that you assist us as much as possible. Thank you!"

I would like to add that you should not have to deal with consistent surliness in your classrooms--- Send them down-- we will send them out.

D W
Principal
High School
******
Some replies to this post, blamed the Governor amongst other things for the increase in disrespectful and aggressive behavior at the school.
Some other subsequent posts defended him.
I replied as follows:

"It disturbs me that you are finding a way to blame the Governor for this" (A quote from one of the posts)
Here's how the Governor and all those who constantly bash teachers are to blame.
Kids are not stupid!
When they see public officials and the public in general show little or no respect for teachers they figure, why should they?
How can you expect children to respect someone who is continually referred to as "greedy, lazy, poor performing, a leech, overpaid, under worked, in it strictly for the time off, etc."?
Additionally, teachers are frequently chided for not making it "interesting enough".
If only they did, all children would learn and flowers would bloom in every classroom.
In other words, we want teachers to be entertainers for forty two minutes every class period.
If the child doesn't pay attention, do the work and learn, then it must be the teacher's fault because he hasn't been entertaining enough.
If the child isn't entertained sufficiently, the teacher is doing a poor job and the student has the right to act up and be disruptive.
If the child is sent out of the class for poor behavior then the teacher is labeled as "not being able to control the class".
Trust me, Socrates couldn't teach a disruptive class!
If the student refuses to participate in learning, it is the teacher's fault because he hasn't "engaged" the student.
This mentality has been foisted on public education by politicians and educational "experts" many of whom haven't been in a classroom in decades (if ever) but continue to pontificate and dictate.
The saddest part of all is the public continues to believe it.

At a later point in the message board conversation I wrote:

Teachers and schools have little authority and what little they have is becoming less day after day.
If a child is given a poor grade, it is because the teacher is a poor teacher.
If a child is disciplined, he is being bullied.
If a coach requires a child to do an extra push up because of poor performance, he is the victim of corporal punishment. (Believe it or not asking a child to write "I will behave" fifty times is considered corporal punishment!)
If the child does poorly on a state test, it is because he hasn't been taught well.
If a child is disruptive, it is because the teacher hasn't made it "interesting" enough.
And to top it off, every one has an Uncle Joe who is a lawyer eager to pursue all these injustices!
Additionally, to address the fight issue.
If a teacher intercedes in a fight and a child claims injury, the teacher is punished.
If a teacher intercedes in a fight and a child claims any sexual infringement, the teacher is fired or worse.
If a teacher does not intercede in a fight and a child is injured, the teacher is neglectful.
If the teacher is injured - well tough luck for him (or her).
Talk about no win!

******
What are your thoughts on student behavior, how it affects classroom learning and manner in which discipline is handled at your school?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Do You Think??


I have received comments about my proposal to ask for your ideas regarding educational questions in my future posts.
I am including them below and also posing a question as I suggested I would.
Here is a prelude to the question.

In Jersee (as we like to call it), we have had over the past decades,  the following educational schemes, instituted and imposed by the State:

The Renaissance Act
The Urban Hope Act
No Child Left Behind  (NCLB)
The Race to the Top
The Quality Education Act  (QEA)
Thorough and Efficient   (T&E)
High School Proficiency   (HSPT),    (HSPT9), (HSTP11)
Grade Eight Proficiency  Assessment   (GEPA)
Quality Single Accountability  Continuum   (QSAC)
Comprehensive Education Improvement and Financing Act   (CEIFA)

The School Funding Reform Act

The New Jersey Assessment of    Skills and Knowledge  (NJ ASK)
NJ ASK 3, NJ ASK 4, NJ ASK 3-8
Minimum Basic Skills testing program  (MBS)
Early Warning Test (EWT)
Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA)
Elementary School Proficiency Assessment (ESPA)
The Open Classroom
Core Curriculum Content Standards
and
The Charter School craze!

I hope I haven't missed any. There's an allow lot to remember!  If I have, please remind me.

Question:

Which, if any of the aforementioned plans, have had any success in improving New Jersey education or education in general?

Which, if any, have proved negative for education and teaching?

And, if you could devise a plan to improve education, what would be its prime components?

Please your reply to: 


****

Here are some of the letters which I have received regarding my previous post:

Walt,
I stumbled upon your blog through High School Herd, through Pinterest, while looking for math ideas for my high school classroom in Ohio. I am at a career and technical center serving grades 11 and 12, teaching Intermediate Algebra/Geometry and Algebra 2. I am also the numeracy coach (for one period of the day).
Your comments and feelings are echoed here in Ohio. I assume the culture of the profession and unions is similar across the country. I think the site is a great idea and would be proud to contribute to the cause. At worst, I could occasionally share some perspective from my state.
It was surprising that your blog was only a few days old. I was expecting at least a few years worth of comments. I have been teaching since 1999 and my first full year started with an eight day strike. I have been at my current district since 2007 and have certainly noticed a shift in the mindset of communities as well as union members.
Back to teaching! Looking forward to hearing back from you.
Jeff E.

*****
Sounds great! I'm in.
Peg Nicholson
Missouri Information Coordinator



Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

Washington, D.C. & Nationwide | July 28-31, 2011

http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org

Follow SOS on Twitter: @SOSMarch
NEW! Connect With Other Supporters in the SOS Forums!

Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action
****
Thank you Jeff and Peg for your replies.




 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Past, The Present, and The Future of Teaching


A teenager was brought into the Principal's office to be disciplined. The Principal spoke.
"Your teacher has told me you are ignorant and  apathetic. What do you have to say for yourself?"
The teenager thought for a moment and then  replied.
"I don't know what that means and I don't care!"
Do today's teachers exhibit the same mentality?
Are they ignorant of how much effort was required of their predecessors so as to enable them to enjoy the benefits of today's teaching profession? (Benefits which are rapidly being eroded.)
Are they apathetic to the fight to maintain those benefits? Do they merely take them for granted?
I wonder!
Over the past two years I have posted close to a hundred items. They primarily dealt with my observations and experiences pertaining to education.
During my forty years of teaching, at both the secondary and college level, I witnessed tremendous improvement in the status of the profession.
When I started in 1965, bargaining and negotiations were non existent. It was pretty much we went "hat in hand" to the Board of Education and relied on their largess. 
In the years following, during the seventies, teachers worked hard to change those circumstances. Many engaged in political action, many walked picket lines and endured strikes and some even went to jail.
In the end, after much strife, the profession gained fair wages and benefits as well as renewed respect from the public, administrators and the politicians. 
It took a good twenty years of hard work but it was worth it. People gained pride in themselves and in their profession and were eager to say "Yes, I'm a teacher". It came to a point where teachers were actually invited to participate in decision making regarding education and their opinions were valued.
I retired in 2004 and since then I have seen a rapid decline in all that for which we worked so hard.
Today, when some say "Yes, I'm a teacher" he is perceived as greedy, lazy and possessing poor work ethics. All these negative stereotypes are constantly reinforced by the media and self serving politicos.
  Teachers are no longer asked to  participate or make suggestions as to the improvement of our schools. They are merely being held responsible for the poor outcomes of the plans and schemes implemented by "educational experts" and politicians.
All programs and regulations of the past, proposed and enacted by these "experts" have been abject failures as evidenced by the fact that they are continually replaced by new programs and schemes. Additionally, the State's two decade  takeover of the poorest city schools has resulted in no progress what so ever.
Now, since none of the aforementioned has worked, the only plan left seems to be, blame the teachers and then transfer the schools into private, for profit hands.
All this has occurred since 2004 and is accelerating.
You might ask me, "Why do you care? You're retired".
Here's why!
Teachers have become like abused children lacking self respect and fearful. They are constantly required to succumb to the dictates of arrogant, condescending supervisors. Rarely are they allowed to pursue their own worthwhile approaches in educating our children.  I find it depressing to see the profession in which I spent my entire life being reduced to that of an unappreciated, ridiculed field hand.
I would like to begin to use this blog as an outlet for teacher's daily frustration and anger and help the profession to regain the pride that once existed.
It pains me to see all that has been achieved over the past forty years being erased without some much as a whimper.
I've said this before. ( I am sure you know, as a teacher you say things over and over again in the classroom and the habit just follows you into your social conversation without your even realizing it.)
Ross Perot, when at Ford once said, and I paraphrase, "Unless a manager goes down to the factory floor and puts a wheel on a car once in a while, he can't be a good manager".
I would like to see the opinions and thoughts of those "on the factory floor" heeded and respected.  Those people are you who read this blog.
I am considering posing questions about education and teaching and asking for your comments and suggestions. I would then like to post them, with or without the author's name, and get a conversation going about the real problems and solutions in education.
This, hopefully, could be the start of an effective way to stem the tide of teacher bashing and disrespect. I think it could serve the cause better than just my constant diatribes and ranting.
 Having your voice heard, I believe,  will lead to greater self esteem and promote challenges to the forces that would destroy our profession.
What do you think?
A good idea or not?
Something in which you would be willing to participate?
Drop me a line and tell me what you think? Thanks.
Walt

Click here to Email

PS
I really see NJEA doing little to fight back. (I don't even see their sappy ads on TV any more!)
It is disheartening to say the least when a "powerful" union as they would like to call themselves, doing little or nothing for their members. (Members who send them tons of money each and every pay day!)

Monday, November 26, 2012

There's Gold In Them There Schools!

 
Public education is being bought and paid for, all under the guise of helping children. If my suspicions are correct, the welfare of children is being used to camouflage the takeover of the public schools by private interests. Access to the vast sums of money spent each year on educating our children is the golden goose they seek. 
    This article was published in Salon on November 17th. It makes clear much of the tactics and ploys that will be and are being used to ultimately transfer our schools into cooperate hands.
   It is lengthy but I have underlined what I think are some of the key points.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

My First Time!


I read about the Newark teacher's settlement today in the Ledger.

One of the statements made was "implementing a system known as merit pay for the first time in New Jersey".

 I beg to differ!

Way back in 1965 when I first began teaching I worked at New Providence High School in Union County as a chemistry teacher.

At that time there was a "merit pay" system in place. I was not part of it because it only applied to tenured staff and I was a first year teacher (just out of college) but I did see how it worked.

The highest possible "score" that could be obtained by a teacher was a five which of course yielded the largest "bonus".

All teachers were evaluated and scored by their department heads, the principal, the superintendent and I seem to remember the vice principal being involved too.

The evaluations were very subjective and to me seemed whimsical.

Those in the English department rarely if ever received a rating of five from their department head. When I asked why, I was told that it was her feeling that no one was a teacher as good as she and therefore no one could ever be rated superior. (I don't really know if that was the true reason but I do know fives were rare if ever for the English staff.)

The people in the math department by contrast, were consistently rated five by their supervisor. When I asked why, I was told that he often said that he would never have hired a less than superior teacher and therefore all were given fives.

As for the superintendent I am not sure what his rating were based on. I rarely saw him in the building and never saw or heard of him observing a class. When I asked how he could possibly rate teachers without actually seeing them perform, the answer was "he knows!"

I could never really understand that answer. I must surmise it was that he had  clairvoyance or ESP going for him.

The end result of all this was low morale (except for the people who routinely kissed up and got fives) and dissension.

 Additionally, I don't think that it improved instruction one iota. Most of the people I met were there doing the best possible job they could because of their professionalism and their concern for the kids, not for the "five".

This is my experience with the "merit pay" system. I realize it was a very limited experience and obtained many, many years ago but it has stuck with me and caused me to view any similar system with grave suspicion.

I certainly hope that which is implemented in Newark shows me that my suspicions are misplaced but I'm not so sure that will be true.

My honest opinion is that  the new Newark contract is just another step towards the privatization of public education. Again I hope I'm wrong!



PS



I don't know when the "merit pay" system was abandoned in New Providence or how long it lasted. I left the system in 1967.

However it must have been eliminated, otherwise its proponents surely would now be pointing to its success.

Monday, November 12, 2012

We Don't Need No Science Education




I was watching "Charlie Rose" the other night and the President of U. Penn was one of the guests. One of the things that she mentioned was the decline in the number of college graduated as a looming economic and societal problem. I immediately thought to myself,  the problem is more than just declining numbers. An even more important problem is the fields into which those that do graduate do not enter? I thought of the huge numbers of Communications Majors, Criminal Justice Majors, Social Studies Majors and so on, vastly outnumbering Engineering Majors, Chemistry Majors, Physics Majors, Bio Tech Majors etc. Do we need Communications people and Criminal Justice people? Of course we do but in such vast numbers at the expense of engineers, scientists, mathematicians and the like?  
Shortly after watching "Charlie Rose" a friend sent to me the photos below. The creativity of the American People, the direr need for more scientific education and a lot of funny stuff is obvious.  








 
























Friday, November 9, 2012

Passing The Blame But Not The Buck


It's all BS just like T&E, QEA, QSAC, NCLB, The Open Classroom. and list goes on.
The State has run Paterson, Jersey City,
Newark, and Camden for over a decade and they are still "failing".
I guess it's because they all have a sh*t load of "poor teachers" who can't be fired?
What other reason could there be with such "educational experts" from the NJDOE running things?
I think what the NJDOE is now saying is "our schemes didn't work so we want you to come up with your own schemes (and we won't pay for them) and if they don't work either, it's going to be your fault".

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Tall Tale of Mr. Me



 This article is long but certainly worth reading
I think it shows what really goes on in the heads of our
"Educational Experts"
I have included my comments at the end.
***********************************
This article originally appeared on The American Prospect.

Former school chancellor Joel Klein's dishonest new book reflects the corruption endemic in our school system
By Richard Rothstein, The American Prospect

This  is a story about a story, of how a fiction about impoverished children and public schools corrupts our education policy.

The fiction is the autobiography of Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Appointed in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein transformed the city’s public-school system by promoting privately managed charter schools to replace regular public schools, by increasing the consequences for principals and teachers of standardized tests, and by attacking union-sponsored due process and seniority provisions for teachers. From his perch as head of the nation’s largest school district, Klein wielded outsize influence, campaigning to persuade districts and states across the nation to adopt the testing and accountability policies he had established in New York. Deputies he trained when he was chancellor now lead school systems not only in New York but also in Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Newark, and elsewhere.

Klein resigned in 2010 to develop a new division at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to sell tablet-based curriculum to public schools. His prominence in national education policy, though, has not diminished. He is chair of the Broad Center, which is funded by Los Angeles billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad to train and place school superintendents who’ve been recruited not only from the education sector but also from leadership positions in government, the military, and corporations. The center’s graduates have included the Obama administration’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, state school superintendents in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Delaware, and district superintendents in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Seattle, and dozens of other cities. Earlier this year, Klein co-chaired, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Council on Foreign Relations commission that concluded that the country’s public schools are in such crisis that they threaten national security. Klein has also become a contributor to The Atlantic; his latest piece, in August, denounced “ideological foes of business’ contribution to the public good” who resist efforts of private firms to sell innovative products to public schools.

Klein and his allies hold teachers primarily responsible for the achievement gap between disadvantaged and middle-class children. In a 2010 “manifesto,” Klein and one of his protégés, Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor of Washington, D.C., summed up their campaign like this: “The single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income—it is the quality of their teacher.”

As proof, Klein—and others for him—cites his life story in what has become a stump speech for his brand of school reform. Again and again, Klein recounts his own deprived childhood and how it was a public-school teacher who plucked him from a path to mediocrity or worse. He offers his autobiography as evidence that poverty is no bar to success and that today’s disadvantaged children fail only because they are not rescued by inspiring teachers like those from whom Klein himself had benefitted.

This has become conventional wisdom in national education policy. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has declared, “Klein knows, as I do, that great teachers can transform a child’s life chances—and that poverty is not destiny. It’s a belief deeply rooted in his childhood, as a kid growing up in public housing. … Joel Klein never lost that sense of urgency about education as the great equalizer. He understands that education is the civil-rights issue of our generation, the force that lifts children from public-housing projects to first-generation college students. … In place of a culture of excuses, Klein sought [as chancellor] to build a culture of performance and accountability.”

Here is Klein’s autobiographical account in his own words, faithful to original context, culled from numerous speeches and interviews that Klein has given and continues to give:

I grew up in public housing in Queens and grew up in the streets of New York. I always like to think of myself as a kid from the streets, and education changed my life. … I stood on the shoulders of teachers to see a world that I couldn’t have seen growing up in the family that I grew up in.

My father had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade during the Great Depression. My mother graduated from high school and never went to college. No one in my family had attended college … or knew about college. I had no appreciation of reading or cultural activities. …

By most people’s lights, we were certainly working-class, poor. … I grew up in a pretty unhappy household. …

Teachers set expectations for me that were not commensurate with my background or my family’s income. …

Nobody in [my] school said to me, ‘Well, you grew up in public housing, your parents don’t read, you’ve never been to a museum, so we shouldn’t expect too much from you!’ … I wanted to play ball, I had a girlfriend at the time. I thought school was OK, a little overrated but I thought it was OK. … Mr. Harris, my physics teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School, saw something that I hadn’t seen in myself. … I realized, through him, that the potential of students in inner-city schools is too often untapped. We can fix that. Demography need not be destiny.

From the day I took the job as chancellor of the New York Public Schools, friends told me that I would never fix education in America until you fix the poverty in our society. … I’m convinced now more than ever that those people have it exactly backwards—because you’ll never fix poverty in America until you fix education.

I reject categorically the principle that poverty is an insurmountable impediment, because I see that we have surmounted it time and again.

I never forget and never will forget who I am, where I came from, and what public education did for me. I am still the old kid from Queens.

The lesson Klein, Duncan, and others draw from this autobiography is that poor children today fail because their teachers, unlike the 1950s Mr. Harris, are overprotected by union contracts, have low expectations for poor students, and so barely try to teach them. To correct this, Klein and others who call themselves “school reformers” hope to identify ineffective teachers and replace them with new ones who rest their security not on union rules but on an ability to rescue children from material and intellectual deprivation.

Unlike a politician’s biography, which gets vetted by the press, Klein’s account has never been questioned. That’s too bad, because in nearly every detail the story he tells is misleading or untrue. The misrepresentations call into question the reforms he and his acolytes promote.

As a policy analyst, I have often criticized those who dismiss the powerful influence of poverty on academic achievement and the belief that better teachers can systematically overcome that influence. In making this critique, autobiography influences me as well, because as it turns out, Klein and I grew up in similar circumstances—third-generation, educationally ambitious, Queens, New York, Jewish households, with parents who had nearly identical jobs and incomes. I’m just a few years older than Klein. We attended neighboring schools; I even had the same physics teacher, Mr. Sidney Harris, whom Klein credits with his rescue. We both attended Ivy League colleges (he went to Columbia, I to Harvard), but unlike Klein, I have always considered myself lucky to have come from an academically motivated family and would never dare suggest that I had material or intellectual hardships that were in any way comparable to those faced by poor minority children from housing projects today. Some of my teachers were superb, some not so, but with backgrounds like ours, Klein and I would probably have succeeded no matter what shortcomings our schools might have had.

Klein is right that “demography need not be destiny.” Human nature and environments are variable, children are complex, and so although disadvantaged children on average perform more poorly than typical middle-class children, some disadvantaged children do better and some do even worse than their circumstances would seem to predict. A few respond exceptionally well to teachers and schools. Some poor parents are literate, take education unusually seriously, seek the best out-of-school enrichment, and read to their children at home. These are the few low-income minority children whom some high-profile charter schools serve. It’s when poverty combines with chaos at home, adult illiteracy, neglect, unaddressed health issues, constant dislocation, and a neighborhood pervaded by addiction and crime that most children in these environments become, in sociologist William Julius Wilson’s phrase, “truly disadvantaged.” It’s these children whose academic performance we must help to improve and who are the target of most self-described school reformers.

* * *

For Klein’s life story to serve his argument, he can’t merely have grown up in a housing project but in a home that failed to support middle-class values of academic ambition and striving. To support his program, he’s had to suggest he had an “inner city” upbringing on “the streets” and was raised in a dysfunctional home we typically associate with the truly disadvantaged. This is where his misrepresentations and distortions come in. The discrepancies matter because they go to the heart of what’s wrong with his reform agenda.

Educational values were not absent from Klein’s family. His father, Charles Klein, like many of his generation, left high school during the Depression, but the notion that his parents couldn’t read or didn’t know about college is misleading. His mother, Claire Klein, was a bookkeeper. With fierce competition for scarce jobs, Charles did well enough on a civil-service exam to land work at the post office, remaining for 25 years in a secure job he hated to ensure he could send his children to college. This was not the commitment of semi-literate parents with little knowledge of higher education.

Indeed, while serving as assistant attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department, and before becoming schools chancellor, Klein recalled how he was inspired to become a lawyer: He sometimes skipped school, he told an interviewer, so his father could “take me to the federal courthouse in Manhattan, and we’d just watch cases.” This is not the typical father-son activity of public-housing residents with “no appreciation of reading or cultural activities.”

Klein graduated high school at 16, because, like me, he was placed in a New York City program that compressed three years of junior high school into two. These “special progress” classes, at Klein’s Junior High School 10 and my nearby Junior High School 74, were not for would-be truants and gang members but for academically advanced students with ambitious parents who were impatient with the regular curricular pace. Special-progress classes were even more racially and academically segregated from other students than their contemporary version, “gifted and talented” programs that retain middle-class parents in the public-school system by separating their children from most low-income and minority-group peers. Klein may recall that he was not academically engaged until inspired by his high-school physics teacher. But in the 1950s, you weren’t assigned to seventh-grade special-progress classes unless you were already performing well above grade level.

Klein excelled academically in high school before encountering Mr. Harris. The Bryant High School yearbook for the class of 1963 tells a very different story from the one Klein recounts. It describes him as a member of the National Honor Society in his junior as well as senior year. He was also a member of the math team, served as an editor of the school newspaper, and was elected student-government president. To top it all, the “Senior Celebrities”page of the yearbook named him class scholar.

Klein’s family was also not poor by any reasonable criteria. Charles Klein’s annual post-office salary in the 1950s was about equal to the national median household income. The median national salary for full-time female clerical workers was about three-fourths of the national median household income. Thus, so long as Claire Klein worked, the Klein family income would have been substantially in excess of the national median. Indeed, Charles Klein was well-off enough to take his family on an annual summer vacation to the Catskills. In 1971, Charles Klein saw his son Joel graduate from law school and obtain a prestigious clerkship at a federal appeals court. Charles then retired with a defined-benefit federal pension to a Florida apartment near the beach—an option unlikely for public-housing residents as we now know them.

The conventional definition of disadvantaged students today is eligibility for free lunch, because their household income (for a family of four) is about half the national median. These are the children about whose achievement we worry and by this definition, Klein was not poor. Even if his mother earned nothing, the family was not economically oppressed. Klein didn’t overcome demographic odds; he fulfilled them. He was a student who then, like now, enjoyed family resources and values that predict academic success.

Klein’s most egregious autobiographical distortion is that he grew up in public housing. That’s because, as Klein must know, the words “public housing” evoke an image of minority unemployment, welfare dependence, unwed motherhood, truancy, gangs, drug dealing, addiction, and violence. Klein, though, grew up in racial privilege, dramatically different from the segregated world of most youngsters in public housing today. (Click here to read Richard Rothstein’s related piece on the role of public housing in racially segregating communities.)

Klein did live in public housing after his family moved to Queens in 1955 when he was nine years old. But he fails to say—perhaps because he truly doesn’t realize—that some public housing in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Woodside Houses project where his family resided, was built for white, middle-class families. The poor and the problems poverty causes were unwelcome. This distinction is critical to understanding Klein’s history and why it undermines his current policy prescriptions.

Returning World War II veterans like Klein’s father confronted a housing shortage. To address it, New York erected projects like Woodside Houses, an attractive six-story development with trees, grassy areas, and park benches. Residents were not on the dole but paid rent that covered their housing costs; apartments were not subsidized and were not part of the national low-income housing program.

Rather, for prospective tenants in Woodside Houses and its sister projects, the New York City Housing Authority enforced 21 disqualifying factors. Excluded were single-parent families and those with irregular employment history, out-of-wedlock births, criminal records, narcotics addiction, or mental illness—in other words, any family with the qualities we now associate with public housing. Couples had to show marriage licenses to apply. To filter out undesirables, inspectors visited applicants’ previous homes to verify good housekeeping habits, sufficient furniture, and well-behaved children. Neighborhood public schools serving complexes like Woodside Houses thus didn’t have to contend with unruly adolescents; they had already been weeded out by the Housing Authority.

New York City claimed it did not segregate its projects, but Woodside and similar complexes in white neighborhoods accepted only a token few black tenants because Housing Authority policy was to respect “existing community patterns.” So when the Kleins moved to Woodside Houses in its predominantly white neighborhood, 87 percent of their fellow tenants were white. The few nonwhites were also middle-class, owing to the rigorous screening they endured. By contrast, South Jamaica Houses in a black Queens neighborhood was only 12 percent white, and its low-income tenants were subsidized.

So Klein’s entire autobiography is a sleight of hand.

He was not a child of the streets. He was not an academically unmotivated student. He did not come from a deprived family background. He did not grow up in public housing as we understand it today.

I sent Klein a detailed set of questions that focused on the discrepancies between the public record and the life story he has told. He responded by e-mail: “I appreciate the time and effort put into trying to reinterpret and recharacterize my family’s history and to construe the conditions of public housing, public education, and public-sector employment 50 years ago. I happened to be there, however, and it was as I’ve described it over the years—a humble, challenging environment, positively influenced by parents who set great examples through hard work and by many teachers including one who truly inspired me and changed my life. I do not compare my family’s situation to anyone or anything, nor do I view socioeconomic need as a downward contest for credibility in addressing the challenges in education today.”

* * *

In misrepresenting his childhood, Klein has distorted the world of both our fathers. Mine, already out of high school and at City College of New York when the Great Depression hit, was also fortunate to land a job in the post office, working second jobs at night. Permanently traumatized by the insecurity of the Depression, he remained unhappily in the federal civil service so he, like Charles Klein, could see his children through college, after which he was rewarded, also like the elder Klein, with a secure federal pension. My mother, like Klein’s, was a bookkeeper.

I never lived in public housing, but my parents’ small single-family home in a white Queens neighborhood not far from Woodside had monthly mortgage payments about the same as the rent Charles and Claire Klein paid to the Housing Authority. Our family income was similar to the Kleins’; both families were middle-class.

At Bayside High School, I also had Sidney Harris for physics. (After I graduated, he transferred to Bryant.) I don’t doubt that he was an excellent teacher and inspired Klein, but he did nothing similar for me. I was instead motivated by my Latin and journalism teachers. Like the 1963 yearbook at Bryant High School, my 1959 Bayside yearbook has few black faces. Klein and I both attended almost entirely segregated, white schools.

My family was not wealthy. But my parents supplied me with plenty of picture books to play with in my crib. My father didn’t take me to watch court cases, but one night we went to Brooklyn to retrieve a set of encyclopedias from a second cousin who was about to discard them. My mother and father took me to the Museum of Natural History and the Planetarium, and at the dinner table, my father frequently posed a counterfactual to explore the day’s events. “Let’s assume …” was his favorite phrase. Such unintended exercises in reasoning and critical thinking, and other similar activities, play an essential role in preparing students for success when they get to school.

My public-school education in the 1950s was OK but not as good as that received by many of my college peers who came from more affluent communities. What made my education complete was the academic support I received at home—support that Klein now takes for granted, discounting the enormous contribution his parents made to his cognitive strengths. Parents who have similarly sacrificed, keeping jobs they hated to ensure their children could attend college, might conclude that Klein’s parents raised an ingrate. Certainly it seems absurd for him to claim that his parents had less influence on his eventual academic success than Mr. Harris, who first encountered him only late in high school. Yet this is the position of Klein, Rhee, Duncan, and their allies: Teachers alone determine whether children succeed, and home environment is merely an obstacle for teachers to overcome. Maybe there’s a case for this approach, but Klein’s biography doesn’t prove it.

My high school initially refused to process my application to Harvard. When my father took a day off to make a holy fuss, the Bayside principal, Dr. Samuel Moskowitz, said that he wouldn’t waste his staff’s time, because “boys from here don’t go to Harvard.” So much for the high expectations of this supposedly golden, pre–teachers’ union era. Today, tenacious parenting still predicts success for students from middle-class or, less frequently, from impoverished households.

Children like Klein and me were privileged, not perhaps in money but in what sociologists term “social capital.” Nobody I know of from my special-progress class dropped out of school; my fellow students typically went on to become college professors, doctors, business executives, accountants, writers, and lawyers. Sure, we loved to play street stickball, but we were not “kids from the streets,” as Klein would have it. We were surrounded by peers with middle-class ambitions and goals.

It would be obscene for me to claim I overcame severe hardship and was rescued from deprivation by schoolteachers. It is more obscene for Klein to do so, because his claim supports attacks on contemporary teachers and a refusal to acknowledge impediments teachers face because of their students’ social and economic deprivation. It’s a deprivation that he never suffered but that many children from public housing do today.

A few superhuman teachers may lift a handful of children who come to school from barely literate homes, hungry, in poor health, and otherwise unprepared for academic instruction. But even the best teachers face impossible tasks when confronted with classrooms filled with truly disadvantaged students who are not in tracked special-progress classes and don’t arrive each morning from families as academically supportive as mine. Instead, they may come from segregated communities where concentrated and entrenched poverty, unemployment, and social alienation over many generations have been ravaging.

When Klein was appointed chancellor he did seek advice, not only from his friends as he reports in his autobiographical accounts but from analysts like me. I was one of those who told him, as he puts it, that we “would never fix education in America until we fix the poverty in our society.” I suggested that he might win more lasting achievement gains by establishing school clinics to ensure that all children had good health care and by directing resources to early-childhood literacy programs and after-school enrichment. I urged him to use his influence to protest government-created residential segregation that concentrates the most disadvantaged children in schools without middle-class peers and where the accumulation of impediments to learning is overwhelming.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that First Amendment free-speech rights protect a politician’s false claims to have earned military medals. Klein, too, has a constitutional right to fabricate a life story. But it is up to the rest of us to consider what light the fact of his misrepresentation sheds on the merits of policies he advocates.

Klein is not the sole author of current school-reform policies; many others share responsibility.

But his less-than-honest autobiography has been accepted unquestioningly by allies like Arne Duncan who use it, as he does, to support needless test obsession for millions of schoolchildren, on the theory that more accountability for teachers will cure our social ills. Klein’s story has contributed to the demoralization of tens of thousands of teachers who are now blamed for their low-income students’ poor test scores. Klein and Duncan’s conclusion that public schools must be failing because they don’t perform the miracles they allegedly performed in the past has helped justify a rapid expansion of charter schools. Most charter schools have done no better for disadvantaged children than the schools from which they came, while stripping regular schools of their most motivated students. Contemporary reforms have produced much turmoil in public education but little or no meaningful improvement. Meanwhile, social inequality has grown and with it, challenges to educators hoping to narrow the achievement gap.

Klein and Rhee have recently founded an organization called StudentsFirstNY to raise millions of dollars from New York City’s wealthiest. It will support candidates in the city’s upcoming mayoral race who adopt an agenda that puts “the interests of children” over “special interests” (read: teacher unions) and commits to expanding charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, and using student test scores to evaluate teachers. The group’s mission statement incorporates the fanciful Klein autobiographical tale, saying that “while there are many factors that influence a student’s opportunity to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential.”

Klein’s actual biography tells an important story, just not the one he imagines: It’s more evidence that student achievement mostly reflects the social and economic environment in which children are raised and that the best way to improve academic achievement is to address these conditions directly.

My Comment:
I just love these people with their fictitious, Mr. Me, "Horatio Alger" stories!
Here's a guy (among many others such a Rhee and Ducncan) who is now an "education expert"?
Just who grants these titles and where can I get one?
I wonder how much time any of these "experts" have actually worked in a classroom filled with unprivileged kids or any kids at all?
Not much I would bet!
Ross Perot said it best when he was at Ford and I paraphrase.
"If a manager doesn't regularly go down to the shop floor and put a wheel on a car now and then, he can't be doing a good job as manager?"
Getting back to Mr. Klien and his story portraying himself as a poor unprivileged child who succeeded. If he wants to get into an "out pooring" contest he should call me up.
I too, in spite of an extremely poor background (light years poorer than his) did OK.
 I, of course never soared to his heights but did OK (I was a chemistry and physics teacher for forty years - a job which I liked and think I did fairly well).
My modest success arose from my mother's continual support, urging and engagement which are things sorely lacking in many homes of American children today (both rich and poor - though mostly poor).
I would attribute a very small portion of my "success" to me. It mostly came from my mother, my teachers and my coaches. I was most fortunate to encounter these people during my childhood. Had it not been for them I am sure things would have been much different for me.
Maybe I feel this way because my mother also taught me some humility. After reading your article, I'm not so sure Mr. Klein's mother taught him any (or if she did he just failed to learn).
http://teachersdontsuck.blogspot.com/
PS
Based on this article, Klein appears to be another pompous  ass looking to lavishly feather his own nest and aggrandize himself rather than to truly seek solutions to the educational problems of urban schools.