Manager or Educator: Who Should Lead an Urban School System? Is Black-Suransky a Team or a Scheme?

  Since the November 8th announcement Cathie Black has been pilloried by the NY Times, parents, teachers, bloggers, school advocates, electeds and the public.  A November 23rd Quinnipiac poll cannot make the Mayor happy.

New York City voters say 64 – 26 percent that a schools chancellor needs education experience more than management experience,
Voters say 51 – 26 percent that Cathleen Black, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nominee to be schools chancellor, does not have the right kind of experience.
In spite of the public criticism Commissioner Steiner will grant Ms. Black a waiver after the agreement that Shael Polakow-Suransky, currently the deputy superintendent in charge of accountability will assume the new position of Chief Academic Officer.
The New York City school system, with 1.1 million students, a $23 billion budget and 130,000 employees is larger than many states and nations. Ms. Black will be the third consecutive chancellor without the requisite educational background, a trend we see around the country. Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman in Chicago, Alan Bursin in San Diego and Admiral David Brewer in Los Angeles. San Diego has just appointed another retired admiral as superintendent, although a retired admiral with recent school administrative experience.
The first iteration of Klein’s Children First plan was an instructional model, ten regions with experienced superintendents and local instructional superintendents responsible for a cluster schools. Diana Lamm, Klein’s educational deputy chose Balanced Literacy and “Everyday Mathematics” as the pedagogy du jour. His program choices were panned. Sol Stern, in City Journal  spanked the administration,
What Chancellor Klein and Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam have given us … is a relentless, closed-minded crusade to install in the overwhelming majority of city classrooms a “progressive” pedagogy and curriculum that have never been proven to work for inner-city children.
Children’s First moved rapidly from an educational model to a management model based on UCLA Management Professor William Ouchi’s Making School Work (2003),
Dr. Ouchi … contends that management and accountability are at the heart of the educational crisis – not class size, teacher training, or funding.
At the core of the Ouchi Model are the “Seven Keys to Success,” lead by Every Principal an Entrepreneur.
At Tweed the chancellor espoused management schemes: Open Market school staffing and the ATR pool, pay for performance, evaluation by student test scores, eliminating all vestiges of seniority based decisions, charter schools, and, freeing schools and the department from any inclination to involve parents or teachers in the decision-making process, a somewhat misguided application of the Ouchi “keys.”
The current iteration, the fourth or fifth change, but who’s counting, sixty network leaders and the Quality Review process which places primary emphasis on the use of data and structuring classrooms to account for student differences, especially differentiated instruction  through the workshop model, with the threat of school closings to drive instructional practice.
Teaching and learning, in the management model are the domain of the principal. Her/his, and the school’s success or failure, tied to Progress Report grades.
Would an educator plan differently, and will the Black-Suransky team move in the educator or management direction?

“Many officials in Joel Klein’s administration, including Klein himself, emphasize structural changes to improve the New York City schools. They favor policies such as closing down struggling schools, offering pay bonuses to educators whose students improve their performance on tests, and giving more power to principals to determine their own curricula and tests.

Suransky approaches improving education policy from the opposite direction.  Suransky looks through the lens of instruction — that is, the relationships between teachers and students — rather than starting with incentives or organizational structures.” Quoting Suransky,

[U]ltimately the reason for assessment is to motivate what happens in the classroom. If it doesn’t actually lead to good practice in the classroom then it’s undermining practice in the classroom. And so this is an opportunity. This is a moment where there’s an opportunity to shift the direction of practice in the classroom and to push on the level of rigor and to actually figure out what is it that kids and teachers need in order to engage in that type of practice.

Can Suransky, the educator, and Black the manager, act in a congruent fashion?  Will Suransky’s instructional concerns honor teachers?

Diane Senechal in a Gotham Schools comment asks core questions,

… caring about instruction can mean all sorts of things. Does Suransky believe teachers should follow a pedagogical model, such as Balanced Literacy? Or does he believe that they should plan lessons that suit the topic at hand? Does he believe in a set of “effective” teaching practices, or does he believe that those practices vary according to subject, grade, situation, and even teacher? Does he believe that national assessments should precede and drive curriculum, or does he believe that curricula should come first? …. Does he believe that teachers’ names and scores should be released to the press, or does he view such action as damaging and distracting? Does he believe that data should “drive” instruction, or that teachers should use their best judgment when interpreting data? Of course there are in-between positions as well; the point is that two educators may believe in improving instruction but see this in very different ways.

Rudy Crew (1995-1999) our last educator chancellor employed as Deputy Chancellor for Operations, Harry Spence, who was a Harvard education Boston  Brahman and a highly regarded management expert. The early gains in standardized tests scores claimed by Joel Klein were the result of work by the Crew-Spence team.

Suransky’s duties read very much like those of chancellor  “A job description prepared by the city said he would have ‘the broadest scope for the exercise of independent initiative and judgment’ and listed 25 duties, including many that would normally fall to the head of a school system. (read here)

Aaron Pallas in a Hechinger Report post muses about end product of distributing expertise among a number of individuals,

 Once we acknowledge the notion that expertise is distributed among individuals in a setting, why would we rely on credentials that emphasize individual accomplishment? Why would we seek to isolate the contributions of individual teachers to students’ learning when teaching is an activity distributed among the educators in a particular school? Why would we even assess students’ learning via methods that preclude students from using tools in concert with other students? If, as Mayor Bloomberg has asserted, Cathie Black’s appointment is justified because she’ll be learning in concert with others, why don’t schools assess students’ preparedness to do just this? In the spirit of the season, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

The “chicken or the egg,” aka the manager or educator, presupposes that one will be more effective than the other. The history of large city superintendents, be it manager or educator, over the past decade has been dismal, with one possible exception (Menino-Payzant in Boston). Whether mayoral control or school board selected they come and go, usually leaving for a “better” job or antagonizing the hiring authority, parents, teachers and the public.

“Black or an educator-type” or “Black and an educator,” in a climate of cataclysmic budget cuts and public cynicism, the “proof” will be in the remainder of the school year.

If Mayor Bloomberg has aspirations for 2013 and beyond the Black-Suransky team may be his surrogate, their success/failure will be his …


3 responses to “Manager or Educator: Who Should Lead an Urban School System? Is Black-Suransky a Team or a Scheme?

  1. All nice ideas – but do we really want to put the children on hold while we wait to see how this plays out as you suggest? If we have a model, such as Crew/Spence, that worked, why not try to replicate that? Because the one in charge, the one who was given control is an autocrat – he decrees, he doesn’t lead, or share, and is unwilling to open his mind to ideas other than his own. Acatually, not a good description of either a good teacher or good student! NO – there isn’t time to see how this arrangement will work. Put the right person in the job from the start.


  2. All the other debates aside, I’d say Steiner has proved to be a big disappointment. A shame, because he seemed promising. The biggest aspect of this disappointment is that it’s hard to understand why his caving was necessary; what would have happened to him if he’d done the principled thing?


  3. Hovering was the Rhee option, if Steiner turned down Black would Bloomberg have appointed Michelle Rhee … until Wiki-Leaks delves DOE secret documents we’ll never know but the seed ws planted, and, Black was a far better option.


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