Thursday, April 20, 2017

Because Brooklyn

It should be mentioned that every photo that has thus far been displayed on the login page of the DOE's new outlook service is of, or has been taken from, Brooklyn. I asked someone in the know why this was the case and he simply responded "Because. Brooklyn."

Well played, DOE. Well played. Keep those beautiful Brooklyn pictures coming.

Monday, April 10, 2017

When the System Breaks Down

On his worst day, when he yielded more post 9-11 power than any other police leader in the nation and knew how to use it,  Raymond Kelly, the long serving NYPD Commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, would never have allowed the head of one of his precincts to speak to members of a community in the way one principal spoke to parents at CPE1 on Thursday.

Finally, parent and SLT member K.A. Dilday read a letter signed by many other members of the SLT, asking her to resign. Garg said she refused to resign and that she answers only to her superiors, the Superintendent Alexander Estrella and Chancellor Farina.
There were so many people crowding the room that the meeting they had to move it to the auditorium. 

No city official who represents the City of New York should speak to any member of a community, let alone a school community, in this manner. I can't believe I had to write such a ridiculously obvious fact.  Each of the precinct heads under Ray Kelly knew this. How does a school leader not know this?

These are the school community members that came to
  support the chapter leader who had been thrown into a hearing
for disagreeing with the principal. No teacher has ever garnered
this much support at a hearing before and that should have been
flag flag for the DoE that this leader wasn't going to work
Anyone following the sordid tale of this school knows that the crisis has been growing there for months. But folks should probably understand that the tale itself changed on Thursday night.

That's when dozens of parents attended an SLT meeting, asked the principal to resign and received the response that she answers only to her superiors, to her superintendent and to the chancellor.

The response to the sit-in that followed the meeting (parents refused to leave until she resigned and spent the night in the auditorium) was the height of disappointment, not in a person who is leading school,  but in a system that is supposed to be run by the city yet remains answerable to stakeholders.

The school closed the lights and turned off the heat. Parents remained in the auditorium throughout the night as 'temperatures dropped into the 30s'. The police were waiting outside too. Whether you sympathize with the principal here (and I'm sure there are folks who do) or sympathize with the stakeholders who want her out, scenes like this are nothing short of outrageous.

It is best to understand the conflict in this school as one where a community of stakeholders who have clearly rejected the person who has been assigned to lead the school, as well as her policies and leadership style. This is an obvious rejection. For better or worse, the parents don't want the person leading this school because she pushes out beloved teachers and ignores parents concerns. Note to Tweed:  It's just not working.

Cops for parents. A screen grab from Norm Scott's Facebook account
And when parents take the extreme measures that were taken on Thursday, going so far as to call in the media,  present a petition demanding the leader leave then occupy a room in the school, things have to be seen as bad. Really bad. I mean probably beyond reparation bad. This isn't what schools are about.

It's almost normal for tensions within a school community to occur. But the system is set up in such a way for those tensions to be resolved within the school community. Outside of the city, when parents go to such extreme measures as to demand the removal of a principal, it is generally understood that the relationship isn't working and the principal is replaced.

But when the response from the principal is that he or she doesn't answer to parents, and when every onlooker knows that the DoE will come to the principal's defense over the parents and other members of the school community, then it's fair to say that we're looking at important parts of an entire system breaking down up there at 106th & Park. Any responsible person would see the need for action.

Now I admit, it isn't easy to follow the story of Central Park East 1. Not many people are interested in clicking yet another a link that talks about yet another school principal who has been up to no good. It gets boring after a while, doesn't it? If readers aren't reading about principals posing for saucy pictures or not buying basic school supplies and skipping out of work, they're reading about principals who use school resources to install their own private showers or  about principals who tear down the culture of a successful high achieving school.  Readers get bored and don't want to click anymore. The news media doesn't report it because, with no clicks,  they know it can't make a profit. And as a result, it becomes more and more difficult to follow the story. I get it. It's not difficult ot understand.

SO does Norm Scott:

There was some press there this morning - NBC, CBS, NY Times - Kate Taylor was there last night too. There was muttering by some over the disappointing reporting she has done on education in general and on her previous report on CPE1 - like having a link to the website of a principal supporter but not the savecpe1 site. So they don't expect much -- like if 20 people speak against Garg and 5 for she will include a quote from one on each side, thus inferring an equal split.

(He was right, by the way. I was only able to find a piece from Daily News' local outlet,  DNAInfo (not even enough interest for the main paper). The only person intrepid enough to document the whole thing is, once again, Norm (OK. And the WSJ ... )

The problem is that a free press is supposed to serve as an important safeguard against a system breaking down in this manner. So by not reporting that police were lined up down the street, ostensibly to arrest parents who were outraged at the leadership of their child's school, the press allowed further breakdown to occur. That's not difficult to understand either.

And that's why it's almost an entire system breaking down. Here is a city official saying something that not even Ray Kelly would allow to be said. Here is a media who just do not see the angle to sell a lot of papers by reporting it. And so city officials will continue to get away with this mistake much longer they should.

The next logical step is for these parents come to realize that no change will come by inviting the press to their events. They may well realize that there are no muckrakers left in the world.

But mayoral control is itself a political manifestation. It is gifted to NYC from Albany on a year by year basis. That's Albany's way of saying that Mayoral Control of the city schools is renewed based on BDB's good political behavior. Truth is, the Republicans in the NY Senate despise BDB for working hard to unseat them a few years back and a few phone calls by the members of this school community, will lead to some meetings with state legislatures, who will probably have enough ammunition to give the de Blasio administration a difficult back here in the city as a mayoral control extension is debated later this year. This is how politics work in the state.

The next logical step is for parents to realize that getting out from under the foot of a monster sometimes means aiming as high as the head. They'll see that mayoral control is an achilles heel of the same city that shut off the heat last Thursday. They'll reach out to pols in the upstate area who will give the city more headaches during the extension debate and they will, eventually, have their voices heard in spades.

Schools may be run by the city government. This much is true. But they belong to their communities. That's just the natural order of things. I think the city has hit a fault line here that it is going to come to regret sometime in the future.

Here's some stuff from Ednotes ...

"I come from a country where Democracy has failed ..."

Another picture of parents and teachers supporting. Again, this has never
happened before and that should be an obvious sign to ease back

Monday, April 3, 2017

Choice, Vampires, Swedish Fish, Jane Jacobs and Diane Ravitch

When I was a boy, my mother took me to the candy store to pick out a few Swedish Fish. Those candies used to be in a box that sat on the counters of delis and corner stores all over the place. For a penny, you could grab one out of the box and get a quick little sugar rush while you were waiting for the man  to finish ringing you up.  On this day, mom gave me two cents, enough for me to pick two from the box. She gave me specific instructions to pick out one for myself and one for her. When I asked which one she wanted, she said it was my choice. She didn't really care.

Image result for swedish fish boxWhile all Swedish Fish are the same, the question I asked her, 'which one', had a very specific reference in 1980s Long Island. You see, no one much liked grabbing the "Fish" from the top of the box.  Those were sort of hard and other people had probably touched them. We always liked the ones just under the surface. They were softer and tasted, I don't know, fresher than the ones on the top. They were better.

That said, it was considered rude to 'go digging' into the box. You know, you don't just go digging into someone's Swedish Fish box. That was a 'no no'. During the Regan Era, doing something that was considered, in polite company, to be a 'no no' meant only one thing: You had to be sneaky about it.

As a ten year old, I thought I had mastered this art of sneakiness. I proceeded to drop my two pennies on the counter and, while the clerk was pulling them both toward him to put in the cash register, I quickly picked out one for my mom from the top layer of the box, and then one just beneath, in the softer, fresher layer, for me. Pleased with myself, I held up my hand and offered mom her fish.

She immediately snatched both and gulped them down.

Astonished, I looked at her as if to ask what had just happened. She just shrugged and said, 'You made abad choice!'.

Whenever I read something about school choice vouchers, I am astonished about how popular they are. It's shocking to learn that roughly 40% of  voters support a process that essentially opts out from the one staple of community that has bee around since the Northwest Ordinance (namely a school for each community). It is difficult to understand why so many Americans don't see this as a threat to community until I realize that, sadly, too many Americans have lost faith in the idea of community.

But I wonder if these people have ever thought it through. I mean, do they understand the ramifications of an entire society left to the concepts of universal choice?

The best Vampire movie ever, Nosferatu, features this scene with a mischief of rats desperately trying to make their way through a hole just large enough for one or two. That's the vision I get with universal choice; desperate stakeholders, who have lost faith in their local school, clamoring to get a job, or their child or themselves in the 15 or 20 percent of schools that everyone considers 'good'. The only thing is, those schools only have so many seats available and those same parents would have to clamor for the second tier schools.

And then the third.

And for some, the fourth.

And, perhaps, the fifth.

Choice isn't choice for those parents and it isn't choice for the schools either. It certainly isn't choice for the teachers who would, of course, clamor to go teach at those top tier schools opting only to "settle" for school communities that weren't seen as top tier.

This is choice's dirty little secret. It's not that anyone wouldn't be concerned about the second or third or fourth (or fifth) tier schools or the children who learned there. It's that they would fail to care for them because all eyes, and I mean all of eyes in this system, would be on the top tier schools.

A failure to care is the very definition of neglect.  And, as one teacher once put it, a neglect in resources [always] follow the neglect of attention.  The fact that universal choice would create near universal neglect just isn't something that these 40 percent of folks have thought through. And yet, the sheer math behind an idea that will allow every single parent to just walk away from the American version of the Social Contract is impossible to ignore. We can't all fit through the hole when we're all trying to go through it.

And no. We're not rats. Not nearly. But we are people who can either simultaneously jump a ship because we've been told it is sinking or work to try to make it better.

In her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs wrote that, "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."

School communities are no different. They can only provide something for everybody in their community when they are created by everybody within that school community. That takes leadership, hard work and commitment, not an ticket to exit the community.

Ravitch made this same point almost 50 years later in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. "Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities, a steady presence that helps to cement the bond of community among neighbors".

Schools and communities share one important aspect: They both require an all-in commitment from their members or they will both fail. They are also two sides of the same coin: To walk away from a school is to walk away from a community.

This public school thing of ours isn't like a Swedish Fish box where you can pull out the nicer, tastier one below. That path destabilizes the entire system and parents, leaders and teachers would likely soon find themselves scrambling for the one or two openings that they can find.

It's just astounding how more than one third of Americans haven't thought that through.