Thursday, December 21, 2017

Is The DOE in for a Massive Overhaul After Fariña's Departure?

They were destined to be dismantled. You must understand this.

By the end of his third term,  Mike Bloomberg was so unpopular with  activists, working class families and teachers that many of the structural changes he made to the DOE were destined to be taken apart just because. Whereas Bloomberg was tone deaf to how unpopular some of his education initiatives were, BDB and Fariña have been over sensitive to concerns of public scrutiny and are known to respond to criticism, and to public outcries, very quickly and in manner that satisfies whichever 'squeaky wheel' activists who are speaking out at any given moment. So many policies were just destined to be ended not because the ideas were bad but because of the natural ebb and flow of politics.

That's right. Politics. This dismantling didn't come from any study and wasn't based on much merit. What really happened was this: The political pendulum -which for twelve years in this city had swung in the favor of highly skilled technocrats and away from stakeholding community groups- had swung, in 2013, back the other way. It is just that simple.

Put more specifically: Each of the following Bloomberg initiatives were reversed under de Blasio and Fariña in 2014 and were reversed because the politics of that time demanded that they be reversed.

  • Full rating on all 22 Danielson Components 
  • City-wide Networks not grounded in any geographic based communities
  • Full court press on classroom teachers
  • Mass "School Closings"based on state and city metrics
  • A war against the teachers' union (which eventually turned into a war against teachers)
  • Strict marriage to clear accountability
  • Blank checks for prinicpals
  • A "plan-pilot-institute" process for new initiatives that, though successful, was always very costly
  • More (a lot more) standardized tests for city students

(In addition to this,  it's important to remember that Carmen Fariña was "retired" by Joel Klein and his henchmen (many of whom went on to create the superstructure that was the DOE in by the beginning of 2014). So her return was a clear signal that a few things were going to change back to the way they were. )

And none of this is indictivate of whether these initiatives were gone forever. City-wide Networks were controversial because they had just as many advocates as they did detractors. The full 22 Danielson Component ratings were indicative of a mentality of putting the most amount of pressure on teachers as humanly possible. Even school closings and strict, clear standards of accountability for teachers, staff and whole schools have many advocates, even today.  And, don't forget, the war against teachers was very popular in many circles.

These policies are gone. They are not, however, dead. So after Fariña goes, we should all expect a fresh look at some old ideas. This too is destined to happen.


So now that the mayor has no more election hopes in the city and now that Fariña will be on her way, will the pendulum swing back toward the technocrats? Or will communities and political groups continue to influence the makeup of the city schools. Here are a few earmarks:

If the technocrats take over again, look for the DOE to:

  • Move away from its current superintendent structure. Technocrats aren't a big fan of geographic communities and prefer city wide edifices. Look for some type of return to the city-wide Support Networks of yore.
  • Give greater freedom for principals.  Believe it or not, principals have been on something of a leash as of late. Look for a return of the time when principals were free to create their own, unique amazing school-based programs and were also free to use whatever means necessary to push a teacher out the door for whichever capricious reason there was. 
  • Put greater pressure on ATRs.  That small amount of money (several million out of an annual  budget worth tens of billions) has been a sticking point for technocrats intent on getting the most value from every dollar. If ATRs weren't hired by an empowered principal, then the 'new' DoE would want them gone. 
  • Increase the amount of standardized tests. I don't know what it is with technocrats and tests but these assessments are used as measuring sticks by Educrats and those measuring sticks are important. And if you haven't been keeping up, assessments have greatly changed over the past four years and now require many more teacher hours of assessing and record keeping. 
  • Close more schools. This approach is a human resource thing, as much as a rebranding approach. The simple fact of the matter is, "closing" (the term we give for changing the name, organization and identification markings of a New York City school) a school allows the department to dump up to half of the teachers and bring in some new blood. It also give the DoE a chance to present something new and undamaged to the community. Closing schools is  a tried and true Educrat approach.
  • Embrace the goods and the bads behind School Choice. For folks on the community spectrum, social justice occurs when a school or district improves its practices to address concerns. For technocrats, school is the vehicle for social justice. Nowhere is this more obvious than in school choice. Choice, of course, as its dark sides. The only thing that happens when 500 children apply for a terrific school that is offering only 50 seats is that the school in question winds up with the best performing students. This process cascades down until we have a system with whole schools or top performers and whole schools of struggling students. Technocrats have never learned the lessons of the dangers of school choice in an urban landscape. Look for a return of this and an abandonment of any idea efforts toward bringing both high and low performers together in a school and for ameliorating the disease of school segregation. Look for all that to go away and look for us to go back to the good old days on that one.
  • More writing from this blog.

If the members of several communities continue to influence City Hall look Tweed to:

  • Present an alternative to the Fair Student Funding policy This has always been a thorn in the sides of underserved communities. 
  • An increase in the staffing and influence of superintendents and a reduction in the borough support centers. The pendulum will continue to swing toward communities and that means it will continue to swing toward superintendents. 
  • Replace many current superintendents and Deputy Chancellors. According to her own description in 2014, many of the DCs and Supes were appointed by the chancellor as the chancellor's agents. If the chancellor is changing, the agents will change. (Full disclosure: I have met and had discussions with at least two Fariña's Deputy Chancellors and she picked those well. So those departures will represent a net loss for the city).
  • A UFT with continued greater influence. The UFT is like an octopus. It's everywhere; in every community, behind every effort it can get behind and in every cocktail party. An embrace of communities and political groups means a continued embrace of the UFT. (Pro tip: Look for a crappy contract. As the union prefers greater influence over policy than greater raises for its members, it will try to influence the next both the next chancellor and that chancellor's decisions).
  • Less writing from this blog.  I like democracy. I like community based democracy. I like activists. I like all this voice. I won't need to be here at this keyboard and can continue playing this amazing XBox I bought after de Blasio was elected.