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de Blasio / Fariña – not performing up to expectations

July 17, 2015 pm31 2:49 pm

I think those who are trashing them are wrong.

I think those who are defending them are wrong.

I’ll leave out the non-education stuff – that’s more complicated, and while de Blasio has chalked up some pretty big blunders, he’s miles better than the guy he replaced.

But on education, they’ve been in office for a year and a half. They only have two and a half left. I’m not so interested in what they’ve gotten right. Or in what they’ve gotten wrong. I am most concerned about how little they have actually done.

I wrote in December 2013:

I expect that teachers will not fall in love with the next Chancellor. I expect she will do a lot of things we don’t like. But I also expect she won’t be hated, and that she won’t pursue massively harmful reform strategies. And I hope that she will undo all of the Bloomberg destructive policies. And I expect that she will undo at least a few of them.

And even with my low expectations, I’ve been disappointed. Here are a few issues that could have been addressed January 1, 2014, and what’s happened with them in the last year and a half.

  1. Remove Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott cronies. Most of this has happened at the highest levels, but it took a long time, too long. There would have been symbolism in cleaning house in the first weeks, or months. Instead they quietly left, Brodsky just this spring, and there are a few hanging on.
  2. Get rid of the lawyers. Useless cash drain. Shameful.
  3. Control “empowered” incompetent principals. Get rid of true problem principals. I see two high profile removals, a handful of sex removals, and minor stuff. I’m looking at this from a teacher’s point of view – these are abusive administrators. But what about from a child’s point of view? These are largely incompetents. And there are literally hundreds in the system – perhaps 200-300 out of 1800 principals. Most are poorly trained, left-overs from Klein. And as far as I can tell, no one has ever looked to see if they are competent to run our schools, to educate children. Where is the hard look at them? Where is the retraining? Where are the removals?
  4. Progress Reports. Get rid of the stupid letter grades (done immediately when they took office). End the fake preparation for dog and pony Quality Reviews. Not done. End the reviews by strangers. Not done.
  5. Funding. End the system of “charging” salary against school budgets. This system distorts the transfer process by rewarding principals for appointing less experienced teachers, and rewards them most for making a new hire (which adds a new cost of $60k or so to the system) instead of taking a transfer, which adds no new costs. It hurts schools, and students, depriving them of seasoned educators, and adding instability to many schools in poorer neighborhoods. This system has been kept in place, with no hint (yet) that they are even looking.
  6. Return to districts, with superintendents responsible for their schools and their principals. Disband the networks. These borough support centers or whatever they are called are a half step. And they retain some of the “networky” feel. As far as superintendencies, high schools got screwed. The high school superintendencies when I started, in the 90s, provided some real support (including in content areas), and had a real sense of cohesion. Under the new structures, none of this is recreated.

Coming in, de Blasio was more sympathetic than Bloomberg, and Fariña was a real educator, unlike Klein or Black or Walcott. But being a real educator and being a good educator are different things. Fariña’s tenure as a principal was not one that recommended her to us – she pushed good teachers out of her school and brought in more pliant teachers. I do not expect that she will carry out the work that teachers believe needs to be done. But I think it is reasonable for us to expect some progress, more than we’ve seen.

The poster children for lack of progress are the scores of incompetent, abusive principals. And we should press to have more reviewed, retrained, removed. But the reality of the moment informs two other priorities:

  1. We should be pressing the unit costing issue. The technical piece (this wastes money) and the affective piece (this makes principals bring in less experienced teachers for their kids, and plays out most harshly with the schools with the neediest kids), stand in sharp contrast to the argument for keeping the current system (there is none). A lot of bang for the buck is available – teachers and the DoE working together to save money and bring the best possible teachers to the kids who need them most.
  2. We should work on cleaning house – particularly the middle level, now that Klein’s tops are gone. I think the swarm of Klein-folk collectively keep his policies in place, sometimes informally, sometimes through foot-dragging, sometimes just through attitude. This is not as easy a sell as unit costing, and one removal hardly would make a difference, but the cumulative effect of replacing dozens, scores, hundreds would be real. And the sell “new chancellor needs to have her own people at the level where policy is implemented” is not a bad one. It would be helpful if some idiot TFAer got caught, publicly, acting under expired Klein/Walcott directives that contradict what Fariña has asked for.

In any case, the lack of progress is frustrating. But it should not move us into denouncing the chancellor. Rather, we should continue to push for progress on issues that matter.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. chaz permalink
    July 17, 2015 pm31 5:00 pm 5:00 pm

    Jonathan:

    You don’t seem to include the union’s complicity in the present DOE policy and I noticed you danced around the ATR issue as well.

    • July 17, 2015 pm31 8:20 pm 8:20 pm

      Chaz, I think you’ve missed the point.

      You’ll notice that every item I listed was something that Tweed could have the motivation, incentive, and ability to change without negotiations. Something that Fariña could have reasonably done on her own. Right, this was a post about Fariña?

      I did not write about the union, because I wasn’t writing about the union. If I notice that you didn’t include “reducing testing” in your comment, I’m not going to imply some pro-testing intent on your part. And I’m not going to say you “danced around” opt out. That wouldn’t be fair, would it?

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