The old Board of Education was like a mass of silly putty, no matter how you jab it, stick in a finger here and there, it always returned to it’s original shape. It was impermeable to change.
On the edges a few radical principals created their own worlds based on the needs of kids rather than the bureaucratic needs of adults.
Ed Gottlieb was an elementary principal in District 3, a radical in his politics and in his educational philosophy, leader of the War Resisters League International, a poet, a prescient innovator. Breakfast programs, use of manipulatives, open classroom, Ed, under the radar, ran an exemplary school with a generation of followers.
Fred Koury was both on the UFT Executive Board and created City-As-School, an alternative high school in the West Village in which students earned credits through off-site internships.
I first met Eric Nadelstern at a UFT meeting, with the Chapter Leader and a group of teachers, they were asking the union to support a new way of hiring teachers. Instead of principal’s choice and the seniority transfer plan Eric and his staff wanted a committee, made up of a majority of teachers, to hire all teachers. The plan spread from one little school on La Guardia College campus to more than half of the schools in the City.
Eric and his teachers not only collaboratively chose their staff they developed a peer review system in which teachers evaluated other teachers.
A coalition of schools, with Eric, Peter Steinberg, (a UFT activist and founder of Fanny Hamer, a small high school) and other principals formed the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium, forty schools that won a waiver from the state commissioner, schools would create a portfolio/roundtable system in lieu of Regents and Regent Competency Tests. When a subsequent commissioner refused to renew the waiver Eric and the Consortium challenged the commissioner in court, and lost.
I admired Eric for his conviction, and was amazed that he survived and wasn’t fired by the bureaucrats who drove the seemingly unchanging beast, the Board of Education.
Eric’s recent career will be debated for years. Has the “small school revolution” created more effective schools? How dysfunctional are large high schools? Does autonomy lead to anarchy? Do networks build sustainability? Does the reliance on data improve classroom instruction? Does the cycle of school closings, new school creation create more effective education for kids? What is the impact of the alienation of classroom teachers and the “permanent revolution” with the teacher union?
Universities and foundations will host conferences, scholarly articles will be written, doctoral dissertations and lengthy tomes with dense statistical analysis will parse the “Nadelstern” years.
For the thousands of teacher who are or have been or fear they will be ATRs Eric is the “devil incarnate,” for the so-called reformers he is the carrier of the flag.
I’ve been enormously impressed and hugely disappointed in small high schools. I have wandered through too many “dropout mill” large high schools and wondered how Hillcrest and New Dorp recreated themselves into effective, student-centered large high schools, against the currents of Tweed.
Some small high schools do miracles with traditionally at-risk kids while others are completely dysfunctional.
The Klein regency is being replaced by the Black years (or, maybe months) and, followed by whomever.
I’m proud of my contributions to the world of education and teacher unionism and accept that each “new thing” overwhelms the last “not so new thing.” As the world speeds up new ideas are replaced by newer ideas at a dizzying rate.
Diane Ravitch should be a model for us all, her latest book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” documents her reflections on schools and schooling and the path that radically changed her views.
Will Eric defend his views, or, as the years pass, like Ravitch, have “second” (or, third) thoughts?”
The “Eric as ‘devil incarnate’ or savior” debate will fade as chancellors and mayors and initiatives rise and fall. Instead of long days and long nights and the triage of the moment he can write and teach and reflect.
I think Eric understands that years from now the name “Nadelstern” will evoke the creations of his artist wife Paula , education ideas are fleeting, art is forever.
Quilt by Paula Nadelstern