Ouchi, Escher and School Governance: The CEO versus the School Leader Model …How do We Create an Accountable School system?


(Professor Ouchi is the Sanford and Betty Sigoloff Professor of Corporate Renewal at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the author of Making Schools Work (2003) and the intellectual driver of the current mayoral control governance system in New York City, spoke at the Harvard Club on Wednesday, September 15th).


Dear Professor Ouchi:

 Listening to your remarks and reading the first chapter of your upcoming book reminded me of the M. C. Escher “Angels and Devils,” drawing: you see angels and I see devils.

 As a career teacher and teacher union activist I have been involved in the range of reforms that have ebbed and flowed in New York City. In the mid nineties our school district team (superintendent, school board member, principal rep and moi) embarked upon our pilgrimage to Edmonton. We created a school-based budgeting system (the precursor of the current NYC Galaxy system), SBM teams at the school level and an SBM team at the district level with a dispute resolution process. An outside evaluation  gave our efforts high grades, yet, as far as the current NYC administration is concerned, all that preceded 2003 is erased from history.  



 I would agree that giving schools power over budget is essential – you argue principals must be given “real, meaningful accountability.”  This summer the Empowerment Network Leaders spent three days training under Peter Senge – I see a significant difference between management and leadership. Distributive leadership, the ability to create schools that are learning organizations, that are nimble and collaborative is a key to school success. We have a basic disagreement: you see the principal as the CEO, who may “consult” with constituencies. I see a team, lead by a principal, in which the entire school community is vested in the school improvement process..


 You establish a “straw man,” the evil, top-down, district office versus 1476 autonomous principals. The Chancellor’s District, the Rudy Crew creation, bundled the fifty or so lowest achieving schools in the City, originally elementary and middle schools, into a tightly supervised rigid model, with excellent results. Norm Fruchter’s  research, an in depth look at highly successful school districts reaches a different conclusion, he avers “…new forms of collaborative leadership in efforts to make the reform a collective responsibility rather than a leadership initiative.”  1476 “islands,” schools with “light touch” relationships with “support organizations” are adrift. District offices, schools, teachers, teacher unions, parents, advocacy organizations create a synergy, that, if properly lead, creates sustainable effective schools.


 You proffer that budget control in the pre-Tweed days was 6.1 % in New York City and changed to 85 % in the Tweed era. Nonsense!!!  In 2003 over 60% of the schools in NYC participated in the School Based Option Personnel and Transfer plan, giving schools total control over staffing, The union contract seniority transfer plan impacted the remaining 40%, but, the plan defined vacancies very narrowly.  For example, in my former district – 1500 teachers – each year between 15-20 positions were posted for seniority transfer, and about half of the those were in “exotic” areas (ex., Bilingual Mandarin Science). Yes, some districts were totally controlling, however to “paint” the entire City as top-down and oppressive is simply wrong.


 I had to smile when you extolled the Autonomy Zone. Most of the  schools in the AZ were dancing under the radar for years, many had worked closely with the Coalition of Essential Schools, had waivers from NYS Regents requirements (“portfolios and roundtable student evaluations”), and, under the leadership of Eric Nadelstern had fought both the City and the State to keep their waiver. The Performance Based Assessment Coalition was the antithesis of the administration. When Eric created the AZ schools flocked to escape Tweed.


 Unfortunately in the third and fourth year the AZ morphed into Empowerment and scaled up to 300 plus then 500 plus schools … and, in my view, lost their “unique” quality.


 You seem to see Total Student Load (TSL), that emerged from the Ted Sizer driven Coalition of Essential Schools, as a “magic bullet.” Schools have utilized block scheduling, in one iteration or another for decades. The Chancellor’s High School District, created cohorts of students, the Literacy Teacher, within each cohort, taught a double period of English, the advisory, and team taught in Social Studies and Science classes – a 30: 1 TSL for the “key” teacher. Thoughtful teams of supervisors and teachers create models that work best for the kids they teach. By the way, most school have abandoned the “humanities” (English/Social Studies)  and Math/Science blocks … content matters and student results were poor – asking a math teacher to teach math and science, in most schools, simply doesn’t work.


 Weighted Student Funding, what you call “weighted-student-formula budgeting” makes perfect sense, and the Edmonton model is simple and straightforward. The complex NYC model has a Robin Hood impact – some schools lose substantial sums while others gain. The teacher union strongly opposed the implementation and the plan is currently on hold. The core of the Tweed plan is “charging” teachers at “actual” rather than “average” salaries. A huge disincentive to hire senior teachers.


 Does school choice matter?


 We don’t know … the proliferation of hundreds and hundreds of small secondary schools, with “exotic” titles is certainly not “user friendly.” The curriculum in New York is established by the State – and while themes can be embeded within courses all students must complete the same Regents examinations. Is school “success,” or lack thereof  tied to the ability of the entering classes and the number of Special Education and English Language Learners?  A number of studies are under way …


 Are small schools “the answer”?


 The Gates dollars during the “grow out” of the small schools has created impressvie data, can it be sustained? In the first years small schools clearly did not accept appropriate numbers of Special Education and ELL youngsters … as small schools “scale up” to accepting these populations will the data erode?  Many small schools have “credit recovery” programs geared to students who have failed subjects. Are these defensible? SAT scores are dropping  and college drop-outs rates among NYC high school graduates are appalling.


 What is most distressing about the current “devils” leading the NYC school system is the lack of transparency. Controlling information and controlling data is self-aggrandizing and harmful to students. Much of the criticism of Tweed stems from this attitude. One would think that Sol Stern, a conservative observer of the education scene, a resident scholar at the Manhattan Insitute, would be a supporter of Tweed, alas, he is sharp and thoughtful critic.


 Every week some organization or other holds a forum and/or issues a report, all of which, to some extent, are critical of the current governance structure. Among the harshest critics are the legislators who will decide its future.


 I have faith in the legislative process, and in Madison

  Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

 I support a “synergistic system,” a governance system that supports building strong school cultures: school leaders, teachers, all stakeholders, a true learning organization, and I shy away from the corporate, CEO principal model.


 Your talk was thoughtful and I look forward to reading, and commenting on your writings.


One response to “Ouchi, Escher and School Governance: The CEO versus the School Leader Model …How do We Create an Accountable School system?

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "new york city"

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