Incremental and Sustainable: Why Do We Never Learn the Lessons of History? Revolutionary Change Imposed from the Top Creates Vigorous Opposition, Shared Change Creates Buy-In and Real, Sustainable Results, Does the “New” Tweed Get It?

The NY Times reports,

At what was supposed to be a diplomatic introductory lunch with
Ms. Weingarten, the head of the city’s teachers union, he [Joel Klein] asked
her how she believed change should be accomplished within the schools.

“Incremental and sustainable,” she replied.

Mr. Klein scoffed. “We need a revolution,” he demanded.

The Klein years were certainly revolutionary if you see revolutionary as bringing
about dramatic, politically driven change. Initiative after initiative challenged
existing policies: school closings and small school creation, rigorous
data-driven accountability for teachers, principals and schools, the ATR pool
concept, attacks on seniority and the influence of the teacher union, charter
schools and media attacks on the union and adulation from the Murdoch media.

Change is frequently viewed as punishment.

The process of change must include those you are asking to change.

Change imposed by edict is ofttimes met with vigorous resistance, regardless of the quality of the change concept.

Revolutions, radical changes, are frequently followed by a Thermodorian reaction.

For historians of revolutionary movements, the term
“Thermidor” has come to mean the phase in some revolutions when power
slips from the hands of the original revolutionary leadership and a radical
regime is replaced by a more conservative regime, sometimes to the point where the political pendulum may swing back towards something resembling a
pre-revolutionary state.

Klein created the image of a market-driven approach to pupil choice and assignment.

In reality the department created scores of “screened” schools
allowing principals to choose students based upon test scores and
“talents.” In neighborhood after neighborhood a few schools are
filled with “3s” and “4s,” top of the heap by test score
and the remainder filled with “1s” and “2s,” students at
the bottom of the achievement ladder. Schools with few Special Education and
English Language Learners and schools with many.

Teachers and principals struggle to work with poorer, lower achieving kids, and
frequently receive high evaluations on the Quality Review, a review by a site
reviewer yet a poor grade on their Progress Report.

Michael Winerip in the NY Times
follows a few students, who in spite of the efforts of involved parents, find
themselves assigned to the lowest achieving school.

In an irony in the larger world the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen just as the gap in schools mirrors that larger world.

The new round of state test results are about to be released and the guessing is
that the results will be distressing.

In the world of Joel Klein, the remnants of which still exist at the department
the response will be to spin, to defend, to point to rising graduation rates as
“proof” of success and ignore staggering college “unreadiness” rates and blame the tests, or whomever.

As the Klein “revolution” falters we must take care to avoid the evils
of Thermador. What preceded Klein was not nirvana. Scores of failing high
schools, district offices packed with political appointees and many, not all,
school boards tied to patronage not to the kids.

How do we select the elements that we know work, the elements that will improve student success, and incrementally make them sustainable?

We could return to neighborhood schools.

Each and every school would have a zone and students living in that zone would have the right to attend that school, or, apply outside of their zone.

We could eliminate, or drastically reduce the number of screened schools, schools with the ability to select students.

This year will be the year of Common Core and the year of the Danielson Frameworks.

In most schools staffs will hear about these “changes” on the Tuesday
after Labor Day, the first day back for staff and be expected to integrate the
Common Core and a new teaching framework after two days of sitting in meetings being “talked to,” via webinars and the “sage on the
stage,” the principal.

I fear the era of the “change du jour (or annee) is continuing, Common Core,
defined as delving deeply into topics and moving away from the “inch deep
and a mile wide” approach that has characterized our system will be
embraced by teachers, if they are exposed to it!

Participation reduces resistance.

Involving the stakeholders, teacher and principals and parents in the change process, incremental and sustainable change, will move the behemoth, the massive school system forward, one step at a time.

Revolutionary change, the guillotine, is bloody, creates a guerilla opposition and ultimately a return to the past, no matter how flawed the past.

Why do we never learn from the lessons of the past?


5 responses to “Incremental and Sustainable: Why Do We Never Learn the Lessons of History? Revolutionary Change Imposed from the Top Creates Vigorous Opposition, Shared Change Creates Buy-In and Real, Sustainable Results, Does the “New” Tweed Get It?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    Peter: You may not have noticed, but the only thing that hasn’t changed is the way the UFT functions.

    Then again, why tinker with perfectionw


  2. The so named reformers need to understand that change is always incremental and healthy changes needs time to develop. There are no quick fixes, there is never one answer to a problem and no one person or one group of people hold the key to the truth. True education reform will filter up , like a spring. From the depths of the classroom where teachers and their students explore the world around them, examine the problems they are confronted with, use there imagination to find solutions and create the things they need that will enable them to move onto the next step in the ongoing process of growth and development.
    In America we like to think that problems must be solved and solved quickly. We don’t like loose ends especially when it comes to our children or atlas the children we think have the gifts and talents we covet as a society.
    The vast majority of our schools are fast becoming learning farms where curriculum is being aligned to high stake tests and students are held accountable to only what they need to know to pass them. This is not the revolution we need in fact it is not, by definition a revolution at all, it is in fact a devolution a delimiting of mind and spirit that will produce nothing more then the desired effect of children who will become nothing more then “good” productive workers (reminds me of Mao Tse Tung) and his Great leaps Forward).
    Those who are fortunate enough to go to the elite schools, whose talents and gifts are detectable at an early enough stage of development will, like children were in Communist Russia, be identified and gleaned out from the masses and sent to those schools where they will receive the very best training we are willing to provide. Meanwhile those other children who amy or may not be the next Madame Curie, Jonas Salk, James Baldwin or Byonce will be condemned to struggle and fight for their right togged the best of all possible eductations. And you know what. they might have a better shot at the prize then ethos students we prized above all the others


  3. Eric,

    One form of corruption does not remotely excuse another.


  4. Michael Winerip’s article made me sad. After working in the Bronx for 3 years I see how difficult it is for kids who really want to succeed. Day after day they are in class with kids who totally disrupt the learning environment. In the school I worked in, one science teacher left in November because she couldn’t take the behavior issues and the kids were left without a science teacher for the entire year. Then in the middle of the year a math teacher left for the same reason — he couldn’t control the class. Kids were throwing stuff at him and when he finally got beaned with a stapler to the head in left in disgust. For many teachers, in an hour class, at least 20 minutes is devoted to calming kids down enough to get through a lesson. I felt so bad for the kids who wanted to learn because time after time they were shunted to the side while we as a staff spent all our time dealing with kids with huge behavioral issues. The good kids come to school every day, on time, prepared, ready to learn only to find themselves in a room with disruptive kids who refuse to respect the teacher, their classmates, or their principal and for whom their are no consequences for their bad behavior. For these kids, Mr. Nadelstern, it’s not the UFT who let them down — it’s you and your cronies at Tweed who segregated them and offered them few options other than a lottery for a charter school. You shouldn’t get to comment on anything.


  5. The real cause is that the Chancellor’s Regulations made it difficult for teachers to discipline students without facing a 3020-a termination hearing. Moreover, the lack of Administrative enforcement of misbehaving students has resulted in a chaotic classroom and the blame lies squarely on Tweed and you Eric.


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