Urban school systems are complex organizations, in NYC almost fifteen hundreds schools, separate quasi-independent organizations that have had innumerable management systems imposed by superintendents and chancellors.
The current iteration, for lack of a better term let’s call them the “Klein Years” began with the folding of the thirty-two community districts and the high school districts into ten mega pre-k-12 regions. A few years later, strongly influenced by the writings of William Ouchi the Department recast itself into the current format. Klein has frequently referred to the influence of Professor Ouchi , a professor of management at UCLA and his 2003 book “Making Schools Work.”
His research finds that the schools that consistently performed best also had the most decentralized management systems, in which individual principals — and not administrators in a central office — controlled school budgets and personnel.
A problem with the Klein-Ouchi model is the chimera, the illusion of the “bad, old centralized” bureaucracy versus the sleek, new decentralized school system. By my calculation, under the “old” system, 85-90% of teachers were hired by principals or school-based SBO committees, not assigned by the bureaucracy or by the union transfer plan. The thirty-two school districts varied greatly as far as central office controls over curricula. As far as budgets are concerned principals have “controlled their budgets” for as long as I can remember. There aren’t too many choices!! Over 90% of a school’s budget is used to pay teachers.
In reality Ouchi has been used as “cover” for a school management system that is more controlling then any in memory. While principals can select from among 14 school support organizations the differences among the organizations are meager.
Teachers are collectors of student achievement data, consumers of periodic assessments and in most schools required to use the “workshop” model in classroom instruction. All is driven toward achieving higher standardized test scores, measured by the School Progress Report, and guided by the Quality Review. The system has stripped schools of art and music and physical education, and, teacher after teacher describes “joyless” classrooms, using proprietary packages all geared to “the test.”
The network leaders within the support organizations and the superintendents, actually drivers of the Inquiry Team process, work with principals to “support” a rigid, top-down management system, in reality antithetical to the essence of Ouchi.
Teachers have no “ownership” of their work, teacher collaboration is not encouraged or appreciated, in too many schools principals manage by edict trying to impose a set of core principals imposed by “on high.”
In the huge system that is NYC some principals manage to operate under the radar and involve staff in the myriad decisions that schools face. Chancellors invent, the few circumvent.
While principals generally bask in the illusion of power teachers sullenly plod under the yoke of a system, that unfortunately is not preparing students for post secondary education. By the Department’s own data only 57% of students with an 8th grade ELA score of 3.0 (proficient) graduate in four years. The college dropout rates in the NYC CUNY colleges among NYC public school graduates are appalling. The standards for entry into a four year CUNY school is the advanced diploma, earned, after excluding the entry-exam high schools, by students numbering in the single digits!!
Joel selected the wrong guru! Perhaps he would have been better served had he selected Peter Senge, author is the 1990 classic, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, followed by The Dance of Change: The Challenge to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, and Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Field Book for Educators, Parents and Everyone Who Cares About Education.
Our traditional views of leaders – as special people who set the direction, make key decisions, energize the troops – are deeply rooted in an individualistic and non systemic world view … great men (and occasionally women) who “rise to the fore” in the times of crises … they reinforce a focus on short-term events and charismatic heroes rather than on systemic forces and collective learning.
The new view of leadership in learning organizations centers on subtler and more important tasks. In a learning organization, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers. They are responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models – that is – they are responsible for learning. (5th Discipline, p. 340).
The just-announced Nobel Prize winners in Economics, again erodes the philosophical underpinning of the “Klein Years,” a school system that has created another parallel system of charter schools, in direct competition with public schools. A Milton Friedman model of the marketplace as the determiner of success or failure. Closing “failing” schools, opening new “small” schools with the threat of faux highly successful, unrestrained by the limitations of union contracts, charter schools haunting public schools.
The two Nobel Prize winners in Economics, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson provide an interesting counterpoint. Summarizing their findings the award announcement said:
Rules that are imposed from the outside or unilaterally dictated by powerful insiders have less legitimacy and are more likely to be violated. Likewise monitoring and enforcement work better when conducted by insiders than by outsiders. These principles are in stark contrast to the common view that monitoring and sanctions are the responsibility of the state and should be conducted by public employees.
Talking with an experienced teacher she told me,
Adults come up to me in the street, and recite a poem we learned in the fifth grade, or tell me I took them to art museum for the first time and they still go. I had them create a work of art, write essays reviewing other students work, our music teacher taught them to read music. Now our Leadership Academy principal has eliminated art and music and joy from classrooms. I don’t expect an adult to run up to me in the street and praise the McGraw-Hill test prep book. I’m optimistic that this too will pass … I just can’t wait to much longer and neither can my students.