The following transcript is from an interview with former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on Saturday's edition of the Journal Editorial Report. Klein, who will never be described as right of anything, nonetheless is damning in his indictment of teachers' unions and their horrendous impact on the quality of education in America.
GIGOT: Well, perhaps nobody knows more about the failure of public education in this country and the challenges that teachers unions pose, than former New York City chancellor, Joel Klein. He now works for News Corp, the parent company of Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal. But for eight and a half years, he oversaw the largest school system in the United States.
I spoke with him recently and asked what lessons he took away from that tough assignment.
JOEL KLEIN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY CHANCELLOR: I think the most important lesson is that despite the fact that public education is not really working for our country right now, the resistance to change is enormous. You would think that a system that was getting the outcomes, domestically and globally that we are getting, you would think it would be eager to think differently about the challenges, to innovate, to try to figure out how to be more effective, particularly for kids who grew up in poverty, but for all kids. And the resistance to change, the sort of constant status quo-ism in the system has really the most important lesson. And how we're going to change that is the key take away.
GIGOT: OK, first, the resistance, that's rooted in the bureaucracy in the current system and the unions and the politicians who support the unions.
KLEIN: You've got it. It works for those three groups.
KLEIN: It's good for the bureaucrats, good for the union and good for the politicians. Why do they want to change? They want more money. I get that.
GIGOT: Right. You hear that all the time, smaller classrooms, more money, and we've got to spend more on our children.
KLEIN: Let me give you the most troubling statistic. From 1983, when our nation announced it was at risk in education to 2010, in that time frame, we doubled in dollars our expenditure, and I think it's pretty clear we're more at risk today than we were in 1983. So money is not going to buy us out of this, Paul.
GIGOT: OK, so eight and a half years is a long time to spend knocking your head against the wall. Did you think that you succeeded in moving the schools in the right direction or do you think we need more radical change?
KLEIN: I think the answer is yes and yes.
I think we did succeed and I think we need more radical change. When we started, for a decade, the graduation rate was flat. For the eight and a half years, we took it up about 2.5 points or 20 points over that time frame. Having said that, it's also clear to me that way too many kids graduate high school who are not prepared for college. And far, too many kids don't graduate high school. In the 21st century, kids who don't graduated high school, what's their plan B.
GIGOT: One of your strategies for reform was to put charter schools in clusters, particularly in Harlem you did, and you had some success there, because then you get a kind of community that looks at it, all schools get lifted up by that kind of cluster strategy. But the critique of charters is that they never anywhere have gone up to scale. The kind of scale you need. Even though some individual schools are very successful, you need scale if you're going to reform the whole system. How do you respond to?
KLEIN: You're absolutely right. But I think Harlem is as close to scale, and in New Orleans now. Because Post-Katrina, they really created a new system. And in New Orleans, you have a real choice system. And Harlem today, 40 percent of the kids who start school go to charter schools. So that the concentration there and that's why you've got the enormous push back from the unions and others. The unions like a monopoly operated school system. It works well for the adults.
You have a guaranteed client base whether you're good, bad or what have you. On the other hand, in Harlem, nobody can take those kids for granted anymore.
GIGOT: Parents have choice.
GIGOT: Some of the Harlem school -- charter school operators are trying to run into the west side of Manhattan and they're running into enormous resistance, notwithstanding the positive results they got in Harlem.
KLEIN: Predictably so, Paul. People who have monopolies and a guaranteed client base don't like competition. The parents on the west side are demanding that this school be opened. They're lining up to get in it. There's probably going to be 100, 120 kids admitted. And you'll have 500, 600, 1,000, 1,200 in the first year. So parents are going to vote with their feet.
This story has to change because the parents are not going to tolerate the results. But that's not going to change without a lot of political pushback. And the powers that be in K to 12 education had this thing working just the way they like it -- more money each year, lower class sizes, more raises, lifetime job security, pensions for life. And why would you want to change that?
GIGOT: I've talked to a prominent Republican politician this week who said he may run for president -- this is on background. He said, look, we can't wait long enough for this system to change from within. It takes 30, 40 years, and with China competing against us, we can't wait. We've got to basically blow up the system with a multiplicity of options -- vouchers, home schooling, online education, new kinds of schools. Do you agree with that kind of radical idea?
KLEIN: I am crazy and I'm a Democrat.
So I think this is bipartisan. Well, no, look, Paul, we're looking at a time when our country is massively under-educating our children. And the 21st century won't be forgiving. It's not just China, but throughout the world, people understand that the demands on our work force are simply different. The manufacturing base is largely gone, obviously, the agricultural base is gone. In 1950, 60 percent of America's work force were high school graduates. Today, about six percent are high school graduates.
GIGOT: What's the technological answer? Because that's how we got around the post office, with Federal Express and e-mail. How can we do that in education?
KLEIN: Create competition, the kind of thing you and I we are talking about. People have to earn their client base. The kids that go to those schools, they will compete. That school on the west side, for all the noise you're hearing, watch when the parents line up around the block. And the ones that don't get in, they'll want a second, a third and a fourth. And once that happens, the school on the west side will have to compete and innovate. Technology can do a lot of things in school systems that adults now do. But because it's a monopoly operated school system, the adults don't want to change the way they do business. The incentive to innovate is not there. And as a result, we're using a 19th century classroom model in the 21st century. That's going to change.
GIGOT: All right, Joel Klein thanks for being here.
KLEIN: Thank you, Paul.
Remember all of that the next time you here some utterly scurrilous teachers union head claim that they need collective bargaining rights "for the children."