The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
– Sun Tzu
– Sun Tzu
As a kid I’d race home from school, drop off my books and meet my friends, depending on the season, touch football, stickball, basketball, or maybe box ball or stoop ball, or, a macho game: standing on the curb, seeing who could pee furthest into the street.
Chancellor Klein is losing the “peeing” game. He should fire his political consultants.
Eight years ago a new chancellor really felt he could turnaround the largest urban school district in the nation. From mega-districts to autonomy to empowerment to networks, he began realize that “success” was not a number but a perception, it wasn’t the reading scores, it was the press releases, news stories and editorials about reading scores.
Why weren’t scores soaring? The chancellor needed, and created an obstacle, an enemy, he chose the teachers union.
The campaign, the war, is characterized by battle after battle, last year the battle was over closing schools, the chancellor lost. Thousands of parents and teachers gathered in a high school auditorium, over a hundred speakers opposed the plan to close nineteen schools. The mayoral appointed school board sat passively for hours, ignoring the pleas of black and Hispanic parents and at 3 am voted to close the schools. The teachers union and the NAACP challenged the decision in court and were sustained. A defeat for the chancellor, and the mayor.
This year, mirroring Los Angeles, the chancellor decided not to challenge Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from media and release Teacher Data Reports (See Teacher Data Report toolkit, a detailed explanation of the Report and methodology, here ) for the 12,000 teachers in grades 4-8 who teach students who take the State ELA/Math exams. The Reports measure student progress and “grades” teachers. The Department made it clear to all teachers that the “grades” would not be made public,
* A teacher’s permission is needed before his or her report can be shared with other teachers.
* Results should not be shared with students or parents.
The union opposed the release and skipped to court, the Department has agreed not to release the data pending a decision by the courts, a decision that will be some months down the road.
On Wednesday a thousand or so teacher leaders, elected union delegates, gathered at the first Delegate Assembly of the year. Have you ever attended a rally before the “big” game? Students wearing school colors, painted faces, burning an effigy of the opposing team, cheering wildly as their team is introduced, booing loudly at the foes?
The Delegate Assembly was a pep rally.
Demonizing the union has demonized the chancellor.
Attacking tenure and seniority and rubber rooms and ATRs, releasing flawed data reports, stuffing charter schools into public schools. To teachers Chancellor Klein is the paragon of evil. The leader of the school system is despised by the very employees who work in schools: teachers.
The chancellor has become the symbol of all that is wrong in schools. He has alienated the constituencies that are most responsible for success in schools, teachers and parents.
Leaders, of teams, of schools, of school districts, of school systems should be admired and respected. I’ve seen the toughest street smart kids come to tears because they disappointed their coach. Principals who walk the halls each and every day greeting kids at the door in the morning, and sometimes teaching a class. Superintendents who observed every probationary teacher, deputy chancellors who observed every probationary principal. We want to see the chancellor on the lobbying trip to Albany with parents and teachers. We want a mature relationship, we can “agree to disagree” on some issues, but fight together like hell for others.
In unheralded schools around the city teachers and school leaders collaborate, work together, teachers assume leadership roles, supervisors listen and respect practitioners, a synergy creates effective environments.
In too many schools principals emulate the chancellor, teachers are sullen, joyless, they plod through mountains of data, instruction is ritualized, uninspiring, the goal is test scores and Progress Report grades.
Alan Webber, a journalist reminds us,
” … for big companies to change, we need to stop thinking like mechanics and to start acting like gardeners.”
Intimidating and demeaning the people you lead is befouling the garden you tend.