Chancellor Joel Klein Reflects on His Tenure

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Chancellor Joel Klein visiting a G.E.D. class in Manhattan

City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is packing up after eight years running the nation's largest school district. Klein led the system through dramatic overhauls and the creation of hundreds of new schools and privately-managed charters. But there were also controversies over school closings and the use of high-stakes testing during his tenure.

Klein was the first chancellor appointed under a 2002 law giving the mayor control of the school system. His successor, Cathie Black, takes over on January 3 and Klein is moving on to a new job at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

WNYC's Beth Fertig recently interviewed Klein about his tenure and asked the Queens native what he thought when he first took over as Chancellor.

You went to public schools in Queens and you taught briefly in the 1960s. When you took over as Chancellor in 2002, what surprised you the most when you began touring schools?

Touring the schools, what surprised me the most was how many kids in high school couldn't read. It was just breathtaking to me. When I went to Bryant High School in 1960, students at Bryant High School could read. Here I was going out to places in the Bronx and going out to Evander Childs and talking to kids who could not read. Kids who were obviously capable of reading, but had been in the school system a decade or more and couldn't read. That was the thing that most surprised me about the schools.

The other thing that surprised me was, if you hadn't been around in a long time, was how many magnetometers there were. When I went to school there were no magnetometers. So that was a kind of different cultural world. There were things that surprised me about Tweed and all of that. But that's different from the schools.

When you say couldn't read, you mean couldn't read at all?

Yeah. I mean some of the kids could barely read the words on the page, much less understand what they were reading. I was astonished. I would ask kids -- just give them a book -- it wasn't like spot hit dog or dog hit spot or something. It was basically read a page in a high school textbook and they couldn't read the words on the page. And these weren't complex multisyllabic words, basically eminently readable stuff.

Some kids could read it and you'd ask them what it meant and they had no clue. Now I know you did a whole book on all of this so you're on to a big thing, but that was, certainly in 2002, one of the things that is indelibly etched in my mind. I couldn't understand what had happened. How could a kid be there ten years in a public school system, be a sophomore in high school and unable to read? What do you do in high school if you can't read?

So how did that inform you with the changes you began to make?

Well, it informed me in the sense I realized starting with Pre-K, we had to set different expectations, we had to hold people accountable. How do you let a kid go through the system and nobody's accountable, right? The kid is here in high school, nobody's accountable. So, you know, my own sense was that the problems were deep, pervasive and it wasn't just a couple of kids it was a lot of kids at the schools.

After that, as time went on, you know I went into classrooms, I went into schools, I would observe. Some of the teaching was very good. Some of it, quite frankly, I didn't think was good at all. Certainly not what I had become accustomed to at Bryant High School or Junior High School 10 in Astoria. So, you know, those were all things that began to concern me. And then the other thing that began to concern me -- and this is something I've talked about -- is the number of people who said to me that they were burned out but they weren't going to leave until they got their pension or something like that and that was a kind of lock, in that I thought made no real sense in the system but I understood the economics of it.

So is that why you, when you mentioned the reading issue, is that why you went about introducing a new curriculum which then became widely criticized? Balanced literacy, people thought it didn't offer enough structure and phonics, other people thought it offered too much.

No, I offered the same thing in math. I mean, I thought we had basically 40 different school districts. We had the 32 and then the five high schools and then you had District 75 [the neediest special education students] and District 79 [alternative programs] and everybody was doing their own thing, it was nuts. You know, there was no coherence. So -- and each district was kind of and island unto themselves. So, at first it seemed to me that in order to build capacity, you want to focus on math and reading, which I still believe are the two core building blocks.

Second of all, we put coaches in each school. I was trying to get people on the same page as much as possible.

On the reading program, you know, I will say I was not an expert in curriculum. Obviously at the time, I relied on my then deputy and I think the critics who said there wasn't enough structure early on were right. Subsequently, I think that we added the structure in, we moved away from "Month-by-Month Phonics" which, almost by its name, now sounds to me quite loosey goosey if you will, to a mix of what I think is really critical. Both the whole phonics, phonemic awareness but also focusing on the comprehension and the writing part. Some schools did this better than others but don't kid yourself, you know.

We have gotten in the early grades some big results. Including significant results on the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] in Reading. So when people say the program wasn't working, it worked. But it should have been originally tighter on the points that you're talking about.

Since you're talking about the curriculum, one of the complaints from critics over these past eight years has been that the school system is too focused on standardized tests. That there isn't enough time for real learning, for the arts. Schools get A's and B's depending mostly on how their students perform on tests. Do you think there's something to that? Especially now that we see that the pass rate on state exams fell tremendously this year when the state required kids to get more questions right.

No I don't. I think this is one of the greatest miscomprehensions I've ever seen. First of all, let's put the pass rate aside. First of all, let's look at what they test on these tests. We have lots of kids who couldn't read a basic paragraph. And I don't understand how people think reading a basic paragraph isn't important. We had lots of kids who couldn't do elementary math, so, when you say 'real learning,' if you can't do algebra or multiplication, or geometry, then you're not going to be a higher order thinker. I mean, I think this is a little bit of gobbly gook, to be very candid, where people say now that you're teaching to the test. Now I want you to teach the things that we test. If we don't test the right things, then we need to change it.

But I -- sure I want you to teach art.  And good schools do teach art and they do do music and other things. While on the other hand, a student in today's world who isn't a strong and engaged reader, who cannot write in persuasive paragraphs and who can't do mathematics is not going to succeed. So the idea that we somehow should skip over those parts makes no sense to me, and this whole notion of teaching to the test. If that means teaching to the content, the knowledge, the skills that the child needs I support it. If it means doing test prep all day, I don't. I don't think that's a winning strategy, I've said that a million times.

But we've seen it, I'm sure you've seen it yourself. I've seen it in classrooms where teachers are teaching test prep and we know that for years you didn't even have to answer half of the questions right in order to be able to advance to the next grade on some of those tests.

Different point though. I don't think you should do test prep, you should do a little bit of test prep just like anybody rehearses before they do something. But you should teach kids the knowledge.

In terms of what you need to pass, I was the one who said this years ago. I said 'We need to raise standards.' But we have raised our performance. I mean, Jim Kemple [Executive Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools and Research Professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University] did an independent study and showed that New York City on the state tests, even after they made the adjustments, was doing better than anybody else.

That's confirmed by the federal tests, it's confirmed by a whole bunch of stuff. But I think we've got to be very careful about confusing the standards may not be high enough, which I support higher standards, with the fact that a child's got to be able to read. If she can't tell you what a paragraph says and answer some questions about it, I don't understand what she should be doing. I mean, you want me to try to teach her calculus if she can't do multiplication tables? I don't understand it. So you've got to build a capacity in kids to learn. And a lot of that is tough and hard work. And it's not drilling them. But it's tough and hard work of saying to a kid, '8 times 7 is 56.' You know, pi-r squared, all of the formulas that you need to know and understand to move to the next level. How you figure out what the circumference of a circle is, how you figure out algebra equations that have two unknown variables. So if you have 'x plus 11 is 4' and 'y plus 6 is 14' and you can't solve for that, there's something wrong.

So you don't ever wonder if many of these kids got ahead simply by guessing their way through the tests?

No, because I don't think you can, over the years, guess your way year-in and year-out. I do think we would have all been better off if we had higher standards. No question. But the kids today are way ahead of where they were. There's not -- again, independent analysis has shown that. So I would much prefer you had many more written answers so it's not all multiple choice answers, but it's hard year-in and year-out to do well. You go through the system, ask teachers the difference between a Level 3 - whether it was before or after the tests - and a lower Level 2 or a Level 1. It was big. I hear people talk and they say to me that student, that's low Level 2 student. They say that now, they say that before.

That connotes that the student is not performing well. Students who are at Level 4, we all know, and they're Level 4 on these tests, we all know that they're doing very, very well. I've heard parents tell me, teachers telling me, principals telling me, brag to me about Level 4s. So I'm all for what you're saying, or at least what I read into what you're saying, which is we need to make the tests more demanding, more rigorous, the standards higher. But that's not an excuse for not testing students' knowledge and knowing how well they're doing against meaningful standardized norms, so that I know whether you're doing well and whether he's doing well.

I'll give you an example. When I came here, I did an analysis and I found an '80' in some schools was the same as like a '60' in others. So, it's meaningless. So, am I going to rely on that? Or am I going to rely on teacher comments without some way to anchor them to meaningful standards? So, I continue to believe that that's very powerful.

But I don't want to be misunderstood as saying that we shouldn't have better and more comprehensive tests. That's why I supported what Arne Duncan and the Department did, and they're now spending $350 million on two different groups to develop better tests. But kids in the last 8 years did better on our tests and those kids that got a high Level 3 did a whole lot better than kids with a low Level 3, kids with a low Level 3 did a whole lot better than kids with a low Level 2. Even on the old tests. Everybody knew that. So when those people who debunk 'em debunk 'em for their own agenda and other reasons.

You're talking about raising standards. And you've talked a lot over the years about creating more choices for all children and families. You opened hundreds of new schools, closed at least close to a 100 by now. So what I'm wondering is you've created more new schools, charters, gifted and talented programs. And yet there are still very few blacks and Hispanics in the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Have you really created more equity? Or do we still have a situation where the savviest kids and parents are the ones who can figure their way around a system of almost 1,700 schools?

No, no -- there's no question we've created more equity. I mean for example, we say there are not a lot of African American and Latino kids in Stuyvesant, that's true. But there are quite a few at Brooklyn Latin, which was a specialized school that we opened. An increasing number at Bronx, uh, Brooklyn Tech. But the charter schools and the new high schools are high schools of choice, charter schools of choice, overwhelmingly African American and Latino kids. I mean, those are families that didn't have any choice.

I was at a school today on a school we closed, Middle School 72 in Brooklyn -- I mean a K-8 school. We broke it up, phased it out and put in a new K-5 and a middle school. And I met with one of the parents who said it changed her kid's life because she left the zoned school which was a couple of miles away to come to that school. So look at it this way, everybody we know -- middle class families -- insists on choice. None of them would say give you only one school.

On the other hand high poverty kids, often in this city which equates typically with children who live in high poverty communities, children of color, they get one choice. And they can't move if they don't like it and they can't go to private school if they don't like it. Why should they have a single choice? Most people I know would not simply accept a neighborhood school.

And also we should stop pretending. These schools which are the subject of the closures, I don't know people who want to send their kids there. I just don't. I mean I've talked to people on the City Council, I've talked to people in the union and I've said to them 'Would you send your children to these schools?' and they've said no. So whose school, whose kids do you think go to those schools?

The kids who go to those schools are the kids who have no choices, the kids who need education desperately. And so I have a simple rule: if that's not a school people would send their own kids to, I don't think we should continue it and we should give parents choice so that they don't get conscripted into a single school. That's a core of what the charter thing was all about. And it's worked.

You know, independent studies -- people point to national studies -- the woman who did a national study on charters used the exact same methodology in New York City and found that we're getting better results. The MDRC, one of the most respected research groups in the country, found that our new small schools were outperforming -- in a very rigorous study -- other schools by a 7 percent graduation rate which was about a third of the achievement gap, and those schools are all schools of choice that families want to go to.

But yet there have also been studies and data showing that some of those schools didn't take a proportionate share of special education students and English Language Learners and the same has been found in some of the charters. What do you do about that when it comes to increasing opportunities?

So there were initial studies showing that, but that was all changed. The charters schools -- we supported legislation that would require -- I think equity is really powerful. But when you see that these are all schools that are serving high needs, high poverty children overwhelmingly African American and Latino children in a city that has long shortchanged those kids. And when you see a closing the graduation rate. Sure you want to do more. But let's focus on some of the good things we did and build on it. And I was the one who supported on the charters schools in terms of special ed and English Language Learners that they be required to take a fair [number] of those students and I think that's the right way to go. But there's no question that creating options for families in the city has changed the world.

I was up in Harlem a couple of weeks ago, they gave me a goodbye party. And, I mean, parents came up to me and told me that it changed their children's lives because they had no choices up in Harlem before I got there and their first kid went to school there and didn't work, and their second kid's in a charter that's working incredibly well for them. And that just seems to me the lesson of the middle class. We all insist on choice.

Do you think you created some unnecessary tensions, though, because by moving so many new schools, charters and other schools into the same buildings there were a lot of cases where parents felt like there was something happening and they were very scared of the change. And then you lost a lawsuit over whether the city had done enough to inform communities about the closing of schools. Do you think that you could have chose maybe a different option here when it came to involving communities?

No. We certainly could have done a better job in that respect, if that's what you're saying, yes. But I think we should have closed those schools. I think it's unfortunate that the UFT, because it's a job-protecting organization, would oppose that. And so I regret that that happened. But we obviously didn't do our work right, as the court found. I hope and suspect this year we will have done our work right. But the answer is not to keep open failing schools that people don't want to send their children to.

Again, these are schools today that have 45 percent graduation rate. How can anybody say -- and they've had it for years, it's not just like it arrived yesterday -- and I think we've got to do, always got to do a better job of community engagement. Always got to do a better job of getting the message out. But in the end, perpetuating schools of failure because they're job protection programs I think is a losing thing for our children. And I think it's wrong and I'm really sad that the UFT continues to follow that path in which it says, basically, 'Let's leave them over even though they're schools of failure.'

Many people would argue, though, that the principals should be held accountable for that. And that the DOE should have maybe changed the leadership sooner. One thing you've talked about often is that you want to see these principals as CEO's. As the managers of their buildings. You've given them much more power than they used to have before. I'm wondering, some tell me that's been great, especially when they're very good principals. But you've also brought in a lot of new principals from other fields -- many of whom are no longer here, they didn't last very long. Do you think you gave the principals enough support over the years to really improve their schools?

I do and I've gotten literally hundreds and hundreds of emails from principals who, as I left, wrote to me about precisely that. You can always provide more support. But the money to provide more support can come from the ability to hire more teachers to do a Saturday program. You know, resources are not infinite in this system. The principals chose the support organizations they want, they self-affiliated and obviously --

Just to be clear: you got rid of local districts and regions for the most part and now there are these networks principals can work with. That's what you're talking about.

Sure. But these networks are things that the principals choose themselves. And no question, I shifted power to the schools and to the principals and some of it didn't work. But if you don't have a principal who knows how to lead a school, then you need a new principal. And in the meantime, I think there's no question, I was talking to Ernie Logan the other day, and I think there's no question that the quality of principals have gone up dramatically in the last several years. Not every single one of them when that happens.

But when you say the principals should be held accountable, remember in our school system, a principal had very little power to be able to change teachers. I mean, you can hire someone but you can't get rid of people, so they is very little -- and you have a very powerful organization.

I'll give you an example. Just the other day, I was with a young teacher and I was asking him what it was like. You know what he said to me? He said it was really great. I said, 'What was your biggest problem?' Here's what he said. He and another teacher over lunch they were...tutoring a couple of struggling kids in their class. And he said the UFT came to him and said 'You don't tutor kids over lunch.' Now that's the kind of thing that's very hard to change in a system, so principals don't have the capacity sometimes to do things like that. I had a young teacher who's a friend of somebody I knew who came to the city unbeknownst to me, teaching in a school and was told by her union chapter leader not to assign homework because we don't get paid to grade it. 

So, you know, we gotta be realistic about what the impediments are. I hold principals accountable, but sometimes a culture in a school becomes dysfunctional. And when it does, it's time to change it, particularly in these large failing high schools.

This is now national policy, I mean this is President Obama and Secretary Duncan who have supported what they call these persistently lowest performing schools being shut down, restructured, transformed and so forth. And I think we've got to get real about this, this is not just about where we send other people's children. It's also about the future of this country. And these kids are not going  to be ready to compete in the 21st century they're going to be wholly unprepared. And if we keep thinking we can do the soft and easy and the warm and fuzzy things and get results, it's quite clear to me it's not going to happen.

How do you measure success when it comes to student achievement and teaching? These are soft and fuzzy as you may put it types of terms. It's not like corporate bottom line profits. So, I'm wondering is data really the ultimate arbiter. You're using data now to measure schools, whether they should get A's or B's or D's on their report cards. You want to use data to show which teachers are most effective, which again comes back to test scores. The teaches union is saying that this data -- which is based on the student achievement tests that are given to their students -- is flawed. And that it shouldn't be shared with the public because it's going to end up ruining a lot of reputations. Is that the best use of data?

Of course. It's just part of a larger system but of course it is. And look, any parent I know would rather see a teacher getting substantial value add than negative value add --

Value-add meaning?

Value added means gains with their students. Wherever they start we want to see them move forward. But let's back up a second, look. What's the ultimate measure? The ultimate measure is first and foremost, children have to graduate high school.

When I came here in 2002, about 45 percent of kids were getting a Regents or a local diploma. Today that's 20 points higher [63 percent graduate in four years including August grads]. You know, there are about 20,000 from 31,000 from 50,000 kids who we've taken it up over the last eight years. In other words, from it started there were about 31,000 kids graduating now it's about 50,000. Ten thousand of those kids are going to the City University. Those are changes in people's lives that really matters. Now, the data we don't want it to be the only factor, I understand there are other factors. Peer review matters and so forth. But when I've looked at this data, time and time again and I see some teachers getting substantial gains and others not getting any other gains.

Now on the other hand, what I haven't seen the union come forth and say here's a real way, this is the way we would like to measure effectiveness. So their, their view of accountability is no one's accountable for anything. And we'll just keep on the path we're on and there will be zero accountability. I haven't heard one thing from them about okay you tell me how to define a teacher who's not doing well. You show me how we ought to reward excellence for our greatest teachers cause our greatest teachers are the heroes in this system. So I understand, their job is to protect job security, that's what it's about. That's what they've always been about and I respect that. And that's their job. But we shouldn't kid ourselves. Their job is not to differentiate excellence and so, if they don't like the methods we use, why don't they come up with methods that say, for example, like Randi Weingarten and Michelle Rhee said in DC, 'Here's a three-part evaluation.' Randi Weingarten signed onto this. Fifty percent on value-added test scores, the other portions on teacher evaluation by peer review and by supervisory review. 

And why doesn't the UFT here in New York come up with a system like that rather than constantly debunking every other system and basically knowingly saying it's almost impossible to remove a teacher in the city. And everybody knows it. They use -- it's a canard to say it's about due process. I was a lawyer for much of my life, I know what due process is about. The question is what process this is due. There was an article in the paper just this weekend about New Jersey, said it was harder to get rid of a teacher than it was to successfully prosecute a criminal case. And I think that's a standard that reflects much, much, too much deference to keeping teachers who are not qualified to do the work in the classroom and we've got to change that.

And yet you've sat across them from the negotiating table for these eight years and teachers got the total of a 43 percent increase. Do you think you could have driven a harder bargain, maybe, do you think you could have gotten some of these concessions out of them?

I certainly tried. I remember, we're the ones who changed the fact that there used to be 3,000 teachers who were bumping other teachers, getting seniority transfers. We eliminated that. I restored Circular Six period which used to be a dead period, I restored that back into schools, eliminated a lot of grievances. I sure wish we could have done more. But in every negotiation you get what you can get. We went to an arbitration, I was looking to eliminate,these ATRs [Absent Teacher Reserve, the teachers who don't have permanent assignments]. The arbitrator didn't agree with me, but they did agree with me that you shouldn't be bumping and doing seniority placements. You know, I sure wish we had gotten more and unfortunately the real question is not what we got, the real question is what's right for children? And if the union wants to do what's right for children, I think they should come forward with meaningful accountability standards so that we can say 'these teachers are doing a great job, these teachers are not doing as well we need to help them or else if they don't improve we need to make sure they don't continue teaching.' That's the only way we're going to change that thing.

What was the most difficult moment for you as Chancellor?

You know particular moments. I mean there were the, the period around changing the bus routes was very, very difficult because obviously we didn't do that right and day-in and day-out we were having to deal with it. There were some pretty tough negotiations, just the question you're asking, 'did we get enough?' that I thought long and hard about.  Um, but, you know, a job like this has difficult moments, exhilarating moments and every kind of moment in between.

You've also said this was the greatest job you ever had. And you're someone who vetted Supreme Court appointees for President Clinton and led government's lawsuit to break up Microsoft. Why is being Chancellor of New York City schools your favorite job?

Because I don't think there's anything more important than waking up in the morning and fighting for kids, particularly kids who grow up in the most challenging communities that if they don't get an education they won't succeed in the 21st Century. This is my passion, I believe deeply that we're not educating our children to the levels we need. And we have got to get serious about that and I think we have measurably improved the results in this city. I think Bob Schwartz [a professor of educational policy and administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education] recently said it's the most far reaching successful set of school reforms in the United States. I believe that.

So to me, to be part of something that changes the world for young kids, that goes to what I believe is the core of America, that is creating the American Dream for kids, those kids without a great education there's no American Dream.  When I think about there are 10,000 kids in CUNY and then more kids as well in the private schools, private colleges since I've started, those are lives that I changed. So that at the most personal level is really what I find so rewarding about this job. And the willingness to take on the fights. You know everybody else wants to talk about the fights. But I think taking them on, being willing to challenge the status quo that's not working for children, I think that's as great an honor as one can serve and I'm enormously thankful to the mayor for giving me my shot.

What do you think education's going to look like in 10 or 20 years?

It's going to look very different. I think it's going to be much more based on a kind of thing like our School One [a pilot program in middle schools] where it's going to be highly individualized, there's going to be much, much more technology being used to help the learning experience. Much, much more data in terms of the data platforms that are now out there. But the key thing, it goes to a simple little notion, there's so much high quality instruction that we can bring into the school through technology. And a friend of mine at a great university said to me, recently, 'You know I learned something big. I sat down with 20 kids and I asked them 'Would you rather take Michael Sandel's justice course online,'' a brilliant jurisprudential thinker, Michael Sandel at Harvard, 'Would they rather take his course online or the course we teach at the university with a teacher?' Twenty out of 20 said they'd rather take Sandel online. That's a big revelation.

And what we're going to see in the future is teachers being aided by online content and learning platforms that help students engage, and I'm talking about highly interactive things that are very dynamic. And it's going to be much more individualized. Why should the entire class move at the same pace? Why should you, if you're doing really well, why should you be accelerated and if I'm struggling then I need to get the interventions and remediation I need. But why should one teacher try to sit there and figure out what 28 kids -- how to find the sweet spot -- rather than use technology, learning assistance, to even tutors to be able to differentiate and move students to different levels. That's what the future will be.

I know you, in your new job at Rupert's News Corp, you plan to be working more on technology in education and you've talked about how there can be a whole different delivery system for education. Can you talk about that a little bit? Do you see teachers as being as important to the delivery of instruction in the future? Or how new technology is going to affect the developing world, which you seem particularly interested in?

I think both things. I think teachers will always be critical to teaching. But I think we need to use teachers in the most effective way and we need to support them. And one of the most effective things technology can do is to do that. There are platforms now we're piloting in New York City, three different platforms, and they're rich and robust I've talked to teachers who are using them and they find them helpful.

In some parts of the world, in the developing world, they don't have teachers. So we've got to figure out strategies to help their children learn online. There will be adults who can help them and who will be mentors for them, guidance counselors and advisors, but there's not a whole lot of people in large parts of the developing world that know how to teach math or teach science. So I think we're going to see an evolution throughout the world, but certainly in the United States, teachers will continue to play a key role. It will be a different role and a much stronger role because I think they'll get online and other supports they need to do the work. And again, there's no reason why shouldn't I be able to have some kids working online with a couple of tutors who are in college now and can really individualize and help them as I've got going on at the School of One as I speak.

This is all doable and one of the things that's been great about the city is we're way out front on these sets of issues. So I hope when I go to News Corp I hope that we will be able to move the discussion forward by making strategic decisions and investments that will help bring better content in a more individualized way, better data to our school systems whether it's here or elsewhere.

And when you talk about instruction being for kids online, you don't mean necessarily on a computer you mean on their cell phones, on pads, iPads, things like that right? You see education devolving into something that's more of a hand-held experience, don't you?

That will be part of it, although I think cell phones may not have the visual capacity, but certainly iPads and other things like that. These devices that we're seeing. You know there's a consumer electronics show coming up in January, if you want to see a whole bunch of new and exciting devices go out to Las Vegas, sure.

But, you know, I see it happen throughout the world. I see kids, I was talking to Nick Negroponte, he created a $140 [computer] that these kids are using and they carry around all the time and it becomes a vehicle to help them learn. What you've got to do is adapt the situation to the world you're in. 

Technology has done that in every place else. I just got an email from the Harvard School of Ed today who said to me the next technological breakthrough will happen in education throughout the world. I think it will, I think it has to happen, and I'm excited about it.

Do you have any departing words of advice for your successor, Cathie Black?

Just be bold. That's my advice. That's the advice I've gotten from others. And I'm thrilled that she's willing to do the job, I have every confidence she will do it well.

She's taking over at a very hard time, though, what are the challenges going to be?

The challenges for her -- I think the biggest challenge for her is going to be to deal with the budget issue. She's taking over a system very different from the system I took over. I think she can build on it and move it forward but I would advise her just like my friend Michael Barber [education advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair] advised me, he did this work for Tony Blair, "just be bold." For too long, all the adults wanted to sit around and say 'Well, we all agree.' And the kids paid a price.

Now we've got to do it and continue to do it in a way that says the kids can't pay a price. America's future, our competitiveness, the employability of our children depend on very, very different outcomes and we have to accelerate the change in the system.

Is there a quote you'd like to share with us before you go? You have some favorite quotes.

There are two or three favorite quotes that I use, my favorite quote all along from when I got here was people told me we wouldn't fix education in America until we fixed poverty in America. Now that discussion is completely turned around, we won't fix poverty in America until we fix education.

And my favorite of all is the heroes to me in the system are the people who give voice to the voiceless. You asked me before about people who know how to navigate the system and know how to work the system. What I'm really interested in is the people who will protect those kids who don't know how or who have families who can't or families who may be undocumented and they're afraid to get involved. I want the people here at Tweed and in the schools to be voices for the voiceless because those are the people who fall through the cracks.

(This is the full transcript of a half-hour interview conducted with Chancellor Klein on December 20, 2010. The audio version has been edited.)