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Klein hails fundamental changes in schools, with more to come

August 1, 2006

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz,

When NYC Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein addressed the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Atlanta last night, it marked the first time the venerable 70-year-old organization had invited a keynote speaker from outside the corporate realm.

And the members got an earful.

The management professors' invitation to the chancellor was a reflection of the profound impact one of their own, UCLA Prof. William G. Ouchi, has had on public-education reform (usually not a high-priority subject among management professors) from New York to Chicago to Oakland to Hawaii. It was Prof. Ouchi who introduced the chancellor to the Atlanta assembly last night.

And the professors were not disappointed. Looking ahead to the beginning of the new school year next month, the chancellor outlined a strategy for reform to excite any management guru.

The strategy seeks to achieve, he said, a threefold culture shift in NYC's public schools that he described as "fundamental" -- a shift that will entail a great increase in the city's ability to monitor performance in the schools along with a substantial increase of the power of principals over their budgets and staffing.

The chancellor described forthcoming changes as follows:

-- "Moving from a culture of excuses to a culture of accountability.

-- "Moving from a culture of compliance to a culture of performance.

-- "Moving from a culture of uniformity to a culture of differentiation."

Accountability, he said, would entail all schools' "receiv[ing] an annual progress report with a grade of A, B, C, D, or F based on student progress as well as absolute achievement...Based on how well a school does...we will make tough-minded decisions about both replacing principals and closing schools.

"This is about a lot more than test scores," he said. "Our goal in the next three years is to create tools to track individual student performance to enable real data-driven decision-making, in the classroom and out."

As a key element in the second culture shift -- from compliance to performance -- 321 principals, more than 20% of the  principals in the system, have "signed performance agreements taking responsibility for student performance outcomes," the chancellor said. "They could be terminated or their schools closed. But, unlike in the past, when we tried to hold principals accountable without giving them the flexibility to achieve the results on their own terms, this agreement also specifically spells out the ways we will leave them alone to do their work."

Each of the 321 empowerment schools, he said will "receive, on average, $250,000 more in discretionary spending than it did under the traditional system [so that principals can] decide precisely where they need support to get the job done for the kids." This change, the chancellor said, will give the principals an unprecedented opportunity to "get the best bang for the buck...Whether it is for fixing up the school or for buying professional-development services, these decisions will not longer be made in a cubicle at the central or regional office, but at the site where our students will benefit...This is an extremely powerful change with tremendous potential in terms of shifting the culture of our school system."

An earlier study by Prof. Ouchi found that NYC principals have had control over only about 6% of their schools' budgets.

"We have got to give the people at the schools the power," the chancellor said. "I can't emphasize it enough: the schools need to be where the action is, not the central office."

Further, Klein told the management professors, "[b]y acting as consumers of schools-system services, our principals will be shining a light on which services provided by the system are considered valuable and which one are not. In other words, we're establishing a real market mechanism. Service-providers within the bureaucracy shouldn't decide whether schools retain their services. Rather, consumer-minded principals should get to make that call by voting with their school budget allocations."

With regard to the third culture shift -- from uniformity to differentiation -- "we are beginning to change the culture of teacher uniformity in New York City," Klein said. "Our most recent agreements with the teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers, puts an end to the unfortunate practice of teachers' being able to insist on transferring from one school to another based on their seniority," something now done, he said, by over 2,500 teachers a year. "We're eliminating that now," he said. "The principals may not control firing yet, but at least they will control hiring."

The speech opened the annual meeting of the academy, the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. It has close to 17,000 members in 90 countries, including some 10,000 in the United States. This year's meeting has drawn about 7,500 scholars and practitioners to Atlanta from August 13th to 16th for nearly 1,500 sessions on a host of subjects relating to corporate organization and investment, the workplace, technology development, and other management-related topics.

Media Coverage:
New York Post. No more excuses for school failure. (Tuesday, August 15, 2006).

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