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Joel I. Klein became New York City schools chancellor in July 2002 after serving in the highest levels of government and business. As Chancellor, he oversees more than 1,500 schools[…]

As a non-educator, why are you suited to run the New York City Public School system?

Question: As a non-educator, why are you suited to run the New York City Public School system?

Joel Klein: What I think is that, fundamentally, the system is a service delivery system and it’s broken.

It’s incentives are misaligned, it’s managed poorly, it basically tolerates mediocrity, rewards failure. And I think if you’re a change agent then some of the very same principles apply in the Justice Department. If you’re fundamentally a transformative leader, which I’ve considered myself to be, I thought this was as important an opportunity and, quite frankly, an opportunity I trained for, for much of my adult life.

I believe so deeply that education is the great leveler, and if you get that wrong in almost a Rawlsian sense, you get the preconditions to what it means to grow up in America, you get those wrong.

And so I had a sense that this was going to take a systems transformation. It’s always hard to speak for the mayor [Michael Bloomberg] on what motivated him. But I suppose a combination of his sense that somebody who is outside the system was beholden to the structures that existed, the players that existed, somebody who had a fair amount of managerial experience, which I had had in the Justice Department and at Bertelsmann, and somebody I hope this mattered to.

And I had my passion for making sure that education was equitable and that whether you were rich or poor, black or white, you got a fair shot at the American dream; something that’s not happening in our country. And I hope those are the things that resonated with the mayor.

Recorded on: March 30, 2008