Chaos Theory: Can Millions of Incoherent Acts Improve Teaching and Learning? Will the “Wings of a Butterfly” Crash a School System?

The Department is in the midst of the most sweeping reorganization that has ever taken place … without public hearings, without any oversight and very little public discussion.

* The ten Regions that supervised schools and provided instructional support services are gone … replaced by a range of School Support Organizations , namely, four citywide theme-based instructional support entities, 450 schools in Empowerment Networks of 20-25 schools each and a number of Partnership Support Organizations, not-for-profits who have been involved in schools for many years

* 32 Community Superintendents and 10 High School Superintendents will supervise and evaluate schools … the division of which schools are being supervised by which superintendent continues to be fluid.

These superintendents will also serve as Senior Accountability Facilitators for a cohort of schools that they do not supervise.

* From District Offices, to ROC/SPYFSS to ROC/OYD to ISC … the school operations support model continues to shrink in size and change in delivery mode.

* ARIS, the data warehouse that will encompass all the current systems (Galaxy, ATS, HSST, CAPS, NY START) is being “rolled out,” in theory it will enable school personnel to analyze a vast range of student data … and some say will be the platform for pay for performance for schools, principals and teachers.

* School Progress Reports (SPR) will “rate” each and every school – a metric based on student progress data, student performance data and school climate data (including the School Quality Review) – the rating generates a letter grade from A to F and the new Principal’s Collective Bargaining Agreement ties the grade to the principal evaluation.

* Inquiry Teams, made up of teachers and supervisors, are mandated in every school will deeply explore 15-30 low achieving students and their findings, in theory, will be shared and used to drive instructional models.

All of these changes, occurring at the same time are a prime example of Chaos Theory.

   complex and unpredictable results can and will occur in systems that are sensitive to their initial conditions … a very small occurrence can produce unpredictable and sometimes drastic results in triggering a series of increasingly significant events.

The crew at Tweed is looks like the folks in Jurassic Park, planning to use advanced science to create theme park: that crashes and burns.

The only saving grace is the insular nature of teaching. As David Herszenhorn so poignantly points out in his NY Times article  teachers are special people. They are consumed with their students. Each and every day locked in a room with twenty-five or thirty thinking, evolving, vibrant, frustrating little beings.  

   The daily work in schools is so hard that most educators in the system do not distinguish between the     chancellor’s office and the mayor, the labor unions and state government, the teachers’ contract and the federal No Child Left Behind law when they complain, frequently, that the “system” is against them.

In spite of the impending chaos the strength of teachers, their dedication, their caring and their resilience will enable them to weather the storm and prepare for the next cast of “characters,” hopefully not lawyers and MBAs who will impose the next set of “reforms.”

Maybe, just maybe, they will pay attention to some more interesting looks at urban education . Building coherent models from the bottom up … a school system designed to support and truly empower the classroom teacher.

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