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Foiled Again:
An Inside Look At Joel Klein’s War
Against Public Schools And Teacher Unions

Over a year ago, the UFT submitted a Freedom of Information request for emails between Joel Klein and other top DoE brass, on the one hand, and the leaders of the New York City Charter School Center, the New York Charter School Association, Democrats for Education Reform and other leading supporters of corporate education reform. As it does with FOIL requests that do not suit their purposes, the DoE stonewalled the request. (Take note of the contrast with the DoE’s eagerness to release the Teacher Data Reports.) Last month, the UFT went to court, arguing that the DoE’s continual delays amounted to constructive denial of the FOIL law. Facing the inevitable, last Friday the DoE began to release the emails, sending several hundred to the UFT and the news media. Another 15,000 emails are still to come, so keep your eyes peeled on this one.

Here are some of the highlights of the emails just released.

  • NYC DoE Chancellor Joel Klein takes a personal interest in UFT charter organizing work. When the UFT announced that it had organized the NYC Charter School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries in the South Bronx, Klein emails Charter School Center CEO James Merriman, “U know what this is abt?” Merriman replies, “Nope. But not surprising.”
  • When the UFT publishes a report, Separate and Unequal: The Failure of NYC’s Charter Schools to Serve the City’s Neediest Students, Merriman is sending out a response within hours of its release — not surprising given his role as spokesperson for charter school management in NYC. But two days later, the then head of the DoE’s Charter School Office, Michael Duffy, is sending out another critique, using DoE data which is not in the public realm — somewhat strange for an office charged with charter oversight. (The DoE redacted the names of a number of recipients of Duffy’s critique.) Attached to Duffy’s email is an email from Nelson Smith, then President of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, who is looking for help in bashing the UFT report after a speechwriter of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaches out to him.
  • Roland Fryer, a Harvard professor who assumed the title of Chief Equality Officer at the DoE for a period of time, emails Joel Klein that he is having problems getting charter school principals to participate in a research project. “The basic idea is to understand what makes charters effective,” he writes. “It can’t just be lack of unions, because none of them have unions and some have amazing gains in achievement while others do not.” (What is remarkable is that Fryer is doing this research on charter schools, and does not know the most basic information, such as the fact that approximately 10% of charter schools nationally are unionized, including a number of the best performing schools.) Fryer wants to offer a $100,000 lottery prize to get charter schools to participate.
  • James Merriman writes to Joel Klein, explaining that the briefing paper the Center had provided Mayor Bloomberg on the public financial support for charter schools and for district schools had understated the financial benefits charters garnered from being co-located in a DoE building to the tune of 4 to 5%. (For a synopsis of the funding issue, see this Edwize post.) Klein replies: “Spoke to him (Bloomberg). He’s looking forward but wasn’t happy.”
  • Yet Merriman is infuriated when the Independent Budget Office’s analysis of the levels of public support for charter schools and district schools supports the arguments of the UFT on this subject. After revealing that he had been given an earlier draft of the report, where the numbers were actually more unfavorable to the charter school argument, he complains that the final report, which went from charters getting more money than district schools to less money, “was an advocacy brief, including quoting the UFT report. Shame on them.” So much for IBO efforts to satisfy him.
  • Merriman and Duffy have a dust-up over the DoE’s initiative to create a common charter school application. “When the law says charter schools are independent and autonomous, it means something,” Merriman writes. “When you high-handedly try to superintend them, they will push back…”
  • National Heritage Academies, one of two major for-profit charter chains in New York, was very upset about the provision in the law raising the charter school cap which prohibited new charter schools from contracting with for-profit charter management companies. So, too, apparently was Tom Carroll, head of the Brighter Choice charter schools in Albany and a leading figure in the New York Charter School Association.
  • There is a major division in charter forces over the passage of the bill increasing the cap on charter schools. Klein emails DFER’s Joe Williams, with regard to New York Charter School Association leader Peter Murphy, who had gone public in the New York Times with severe criticisms. Klein asks, “Any way to walk him off the ledge?” Williams replies, “We have been trying. This is a mess within our coalition.” As the exchange goes on, Williams writes “I think the issue is one of control.” Klein comes back, “You mean we took it over and have a different agenda?” Williams agrees.  Klein finishes: “Bad for him to be in Times pissing on…”
  • Merriman insists that the law must not require charter school buildings to meet public school code: “there is no way private developers can afford public school code.” Of course, public school code is specifically designed to protect the health and safety of students.
  • Worried about the bill and opposition from Murphy and NYCSA, consultant Bradley Tusk tells Klein it “may be good for you to call Murdoch.” In another email, Tusk also suggests how to manipulate Arne Duncan: “Joel presumably will get to talk to Arne before the event and want to make sure he plants the right thoughts in Arne’s head and make sure we plant the right questions with reporters so Arne’s comments help take some of the poison pills off the table.” (Poison pills refer to the provisions in the law which require charter schools to educate more high needs students — especially English Language Learners and students with special needs.)
  • Klein and Merriman go ballistic when Regents Chancellor Tisch is quoted in Gotham Schools saying that any law increasing the charter school cap needs to also address issues of co-location and saturation. “Unbelievable; gobsmacked and so angry I could spit,” Merriman writes. At another point, Williams says that Tisch (and UFT President Michael Mulgrew) “are going apeshit.”
  • Democrats for Education Reform head Joe Williams gets very nervous every time hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a major charter school backer and DFER funder, is on his own with important political players. When Tilson receives a phone call from Regents Chancellor Tisch, Williams admonishes him to not “commit to anything” and worriedly forwards the email to Klein, wondering what Tisch “is up to.” When Tilson meets with the Daily News editorial board, Williams tells him to “keep it general” and not “get into specifics on NY’s cap lift legislation.”
  • Joe Williams writes to Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz, suggesting that someone ask Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM, to defund the NAACP because of its willingness to work with the UFT and take on Bloomberg and Klein.
  • There are a number of email exchanges between Klein and Merriman on a conflict between Opportunity Charter School and Eva Moskowitz over one of her Harlem Success Academies.  The DoE co-located the Moskowitz school in the same building as Opportunity, and with insufficient space in the building for Harlem Success to grow, Moskowitz sets her sites on Opportunity. Merriman emails Klein asking to talk about “Opportunity Charter School siting issue (issue is Eva).” In a subsequent email, Merriman follows up. “Anything on Opportunity. The natives are restless and war council’s brewing. Charter v. Charter. Ugh.” Klein replies; “Keep confi but I think this will work out.” Later Merriman writes that Lenny Goldberg, CEO of Opportunity, has “stood down.” But Eva’s knives were soon out again, and this school year the DoE inexplicably put Opportunity on a list of charter schools that it was considering for closure, despite the fact that over half of the students attending the school are students with special needs and Opportunity graduates them at twice the rate the DoE graduates its students with special needs. In its successful battle to remain open, Opportunity had the support of the UFT and local Community Education Council, while the Charter School Center and the Charter School Association remained on the sidelines.
  • Concerned about the debate over Race To The Top, Klein writes to Merriman, “How many parents can we get Tuesday morn midtown to protest — we’ve been too silent.” In an email asking Merriman and the Charter School Center to take the lead in planning this astro-turf rally, Klein’s subordinate, Michael Duffy, notes the antipathy of other charter school networks to Eva Moskowitz: “I think that there are schools that would do it if the Center leads, that won’t if Eva does… Eva will be bringing the most bodies to be sure, but it will hurt us if this is just seen as ‘her’ rally.” There are a series of emails between Merriman and DoE School Safety, asking them to facilitate the rally in a DoE building.
  • After an angry Panel for Educational Policy meeting over school closures in January 2010, Merriman emails Joel Klein to commiserate. “Fully aware the anger will move toward us (charter schools),” he says. Then, without the slightest hint of irony, he concludes “Interesting that beeps (borough presidents) instructed their reps (on the PEP) how to vote. What happened to independence.” Of course, the school closures passed the PEP because the Mayor had told his appointees, which are a majority of the PEP, that they had to support them. Klein replies: “Predictible if sad. Almost all UFT, lot of charter anger.”
  • Writing on a scheme by Eddie Melendez, the recently indicted CEO of Believe High Schools Network, to pay his students $100 a head to recruit new students to the school, Merriman says “it is sleazy but shrewd all at the same time.”
  • Not even the conservative Fordham Foundation gets the Klein-Merriman seal of approval. Unhappy with a Fordham report on inequality in school demographics, Klein writes to Merriman “Why not whack them on their charters — low ieps and ells…”
  • These four men — Klein, Merriman, Williams and Tilson — are obsessed with women who oppose their agenda. There are numerous email exchanges centered on Diane Ravitch and Debbie Meier, discussing their writings and public appearances in the most insulting terms. Of Ravitch, Klein writes: “She’s so dishonest and platitudinous, it’s scary.” Tilson writes that Ravitch is a “dangerous crackpot” and “deranged,” and proclaims “I really, REALLY hate Ravitch.” Merriman joins in that Ravitch is a “slippery one.” In response to an inquiry from Klein, asking why New York Charter Parents Association head Mona Davids was opposing co-locations, Merriman trashes her as “unstable,” saying that “she is now in the pocket of the union.” And they discuss plans of how to ambush AFT President Randi Weingarten when she appears on the Morning Joe show and at a Houston event.
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8 Comments:

  • 1 Remainders: Mulgrew critic says concessions real, blackmail not | GothamSchools
    · May 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    […] Leo Casey bullets some of the contents of the Joel Klein charter school emails the UFT sought. (Edwize) […]

  • 2 janet Mayer
    · May 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Joel,Klein, as a graduate of an elite publicNYC high school,should be forever grateful to NYC public schools for the opportunity he received here. It boggles the mind that he would deny and impede and destroy public education in every way he could.While he is no longer our chancellor, his vicious attack on NYC public schools and promotion of charter schools ,continues unabated. We must continue to fight back and save our schools- SOS!

  • 3 jandh
    · May 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

    this shouldn’t surprise any of us – but still startling. does make sense that such petty people came up with such superficial and confrontational strategies.

  • 4 nuff said
    · May 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    at what point will there be enough evidence to show Klein was double dealing public schools for his own enrichment. His contacts with Murdoch and Duncan seem clear and their association with the media. The ethical violations appear to link Klein and the Mayor over an extended period of time so when will they both be indicted??????

  • 5 limpia
    · May 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wow- how common and base they are. I almost suspect that these men resent their own mothers, hence…

  • 6 Psychologizing Female Critics « Diane Ravitch's blog
    · May 29, 2012 at 6:31 am

    […] http://www.edwize.org/foiled-again-an-inside-look-at-joel-kleins-war-against-public-schools-and-teac… Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:Like2 bloggers like this post. Categories Arne Duncan, Klein, NYC, Ravitch […]

  • 7 fleur
    · Jun 2, 2012 at 6:43 am

    When is the UFT going to submit FOIL requests for the Chancellor’s Committee reports concerning the administrative hearings that are held at the Office of Appeals and Reviews? Some of those are going to be quite interesting!

  • 8 Jmac97
    · Jun 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

    @ fleur…nice comment I would like the answer to that question.