DOE School Reform: From Brave New World to 1984 to Lord of the Flies

A friend called from across the country and asked, “What’s going on with education in NYC?” An intriguing question: I described it a Brave New World to 1984 leading to The Lord of the Flies.

Someone is clearing putting “soma” in the water fountain at Tweed, leading to “newspeak” and a cannibalization among the survivors.

We are about to embark on third major reorganization in less than five years. First, moving from 32 community school districts with elected boards and an appointed central board that selected a system leader to, second, the conversion in 2003 to a Mayoral lead system: the school leader selected by the mayor, no central board or local boards and ten K-12 regions with a rigid, topdown management style. Last year the creation of empowerment schools, networks of twenty-five self selected schools with budget power at the school level with very little supervision, and, next week, the announcement of educational management organizations, “outside” school managers who will “manage” clusters of schools under  performance contracts.

Is this a business model? a carry over form the sixties? a cynical plan to distance the mayor from school failures? A Maoist approach (“Let a thousand flowers bloom!”)?

The January 15th edition of New Yorker contains an excellent article about an inner city high school in Denver and the efforts of the new business side school superintendent. Michael Bennet, a lawyer and managing director of a major investment company who jumped to the superintendent of schools. The New Yorker reports that Bennet likes to tell teachers, “You’ll never hear me say  I want to run a school like a business, I made my living off of bankrupt ones.”

The seemingly drug inducted 1984 style system, were “failure” is defined as success, is bankrupt.

Nationwide about half of all teachers leave within five years: it’s a really hard job! The “retention rate” is lower among the teachers selected through the more rigorous Chancellor’s Fellows program and Teacher For America. Hundreds of school leaders have no previous supervsory experience and limited teaching experience.

The latest iteration of reform will displace hundreds of middle management folk … creating months of organizational uncertainly and chaos.

The Augean Stables  are filling up … maybe that “foul odor” that drifted over the city wasn’t from New Jersey.


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