Education Policy as Warfare: Can We Improve the Lives of Children By Battling with their Custodians, their Teachers,? Should We Be Battling Each Other, or the Enemies of Public Education?

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
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.

5 responses to “Education Policy as Warfare: Can We Improve the Lives of Children By Battling with their Custodians, their Teachers,? Should We Be Battling Each Other, or the Enemies of Public Education?

  1. So true, Ed, every word. General Klein has turned his privates, us teachers, into enemies. That’s enough to fire him. A school system divided against itself, cannot succeed.


  2. The Mayor’s and the Chancellor’s approach to education has been warped from the beginning. They didn’t, and still don’t ask the right people for guidance – and there are many “right people” who would love to help. But the Mayor and Chancellor still prefer to isolate themselves – at the expense of the kids and therefore at the expense of our communities. Teaching is an art, schools are not factories, children are works in progress – a good school is in fact a creative endeavor.


  3. it is interesting to me that chancellor klein, as the head of the department of education (not a professional educator),knows how to reform schools and manage personnel. as a former teacher of 35 years in nyc (a relic not attuned to the current fashion) i do know that superior teachers would motivate students to learn; not malign them and their peers.the chancellor klein, resorts to attack the teacher’s uft making it the bogey man. now that is very motivating to make for a better teacher. mr. chancellor, the uft has done more good in the nyc schools than the ill will and your neophyte assisstants have done to reform education. few of your top people have had experience in education. yet they are now senior klein, the next time you need a doctor to diagnose a medical problem call your guru from general electric,”chainsaw “,jack welch,to diagnose your medical issues. also as the lead prosecutor of microsoft, you are now very cozy with bill gates. mr . chancellor, you have thousands of wonderful teachers waiting to be motivated by a leader they can trust. the uft is here to stay and help reform the schools; you are destined to the happy hunting grounds of your so many predecessors. however ,amongst the most reviled by teachers over the past 50 years you win by acclimation.


  4. The assumption that Klein had legitimate and lofty goals in New York’s educational world is fallacious and very presumptuous! Wake up, America! The business of education has become just that – a business! As hindsight is 20/20, consider Klein’s and the “Education Mayor’s” results, the bottom line that these business monkeys promulgate. Nearly a decade, approachiong 200 billion dollars and four reorganizations later – and the only success they can declare is the disgusting decimation of the experienced teachers ranks as well as the liquidation of the UFT! There has been nothing but failure in closing the achievement gaps and black and latino students and their communities have only achieved a setback that will reverberate with repercussions for the next generation to come! And they want to replicate and emulate this failure out of Obama’s, Oprah’s and Duncan’s land of serpentine promises to deceive the entire nation? Please!
    Waiting for Stupidman is more like it! Put DUNCE caps on them all!


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