Joel Klein leaves New York City’s 1,600 public schools and 1.1 million students better than he found them. A Democrat without education experience when he became schools chancellor in 2002, Mr. Klein began as a mainstream reformer. But as he was mugged by the reality of the K-12 public school establishment, he began to appreciate that real improvement requires more than change at the margin.
Thus he led the fight for far more school choice by creating charter school clusters, as in Harlem, that are changing the local culture of failure. Mr. Klein helped to expose the “rubber rooms” that let bad teachers live for years on the taxpayer dime while doing no work.
Mr. Klein leaves with much of that work uncompleted, but with reformers on offense and the public more engaged. The unions believe they can prevail simply by waiting out the reformers. They’ll be right if others don’t continue the fight as tenaciously as Mr. Klein and Ms. Rhee.