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Testing His Legacy: Klein Begins Tenure With Long List Of Reforms

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As longtime Schools Chancellor Joel Klein begins his last week on the job, NY1 is taking a closer look at his impact on the school system during the past eight years. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

September 5, 2002: the first day of a new school year, and the start of a new era for the city's public schools. Chancellor Joel Klein begins at PS 205 in Bensonhurst, the same place he began his own education. His message to students was simple.

"You're going to learn," Klein once said.

He's done a lot in the half century since kindergarten, including serving as Deputy White House counsel and assistant attorney general in the Clinton Administration. He broke up the Microsoft monopoly, but now the mayor wants him to break up the country's largest school system and build a better model. Klein is given unprecedented power as the first chancellor to report directly to the mayor, but there is also a lot of pressure. Bloomberg's campaign promise is to transform city schools, and he's charged Joel Klein with making it happen.

"Our new Schools Chancellor. And he's going to help you get a great education," Bloomberg once said.

Klein starts with a symbolic move: setting up shop in Tweed Courthouse, right behind City Hall. The old Board of Ed headquarters in Brooklyn is sold.

He centralizes the bureaucracy, closes school district offices, disbands community school boards, and cuts the number of superintendents. He institutes a city-wide reading and math curriculum and orders a parent coordinator for every school. But he also gives principals much greater authority -- and then publicly judges each school's progress.

"We must put in place systems, not just ideas but systems, that will lead to good educational outcomes," Klein once said.

Klein's focuses on systems, accountability, and statistics and becomes the face of a national school reform movement.

"He leaves a legacy of achievement that makes him one of the most important and transformational educational leaders of all time," Bloomberg said.

But others say he's set a dangerous agenda for education reform.

"Joel Klein came into the system and has basically created schools in which nothing else matters but standardized scores on English and math," said Leonie Hamison of Class Size Matters.

So what's the real legacy of Joel Klein? In this, his final week as chancellor, it's a question some of his strongest supporters and harshest critics are sure to answer.

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