Moving from Compliance to Collaboration to Performance: Can the Realities of Politics Overcome Flawed Ideology?

It’s easy. Pretend to know what you don’t, and pretend not to know what you do. Hear what you don’t understand and don’t hear what you do. Promise what you cannot deliver, what you have no intention of delivering …. Hide the ineptitude of your goals by speaking of them glowingly – that’s all there is to politics – I swear.

Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro.

I was sloughing my way through Steve Brill’s Class Warfare, a strange book, an episodic trashing of teacher unions, senior teachers and an homage to Rhee, Klein and the charterers. A succession of roughly chronological brief accounts of how unions obstruct progress and Brill’s heroes are saving education, until page 437.

Brill has an apotheosis.

He nominates Randi Weingarten to be the chancellor of the New York City school system and spends the last dozen pages calling for collaboration with unions. Now I wouldn’t teach him the secret union handshake just yet; however, he has learned what Duncan will never learn, without teachers and their union on board, change, no matter how you define it, will never be accepted.

Education is built on a myriad world of compliance documents. From the feds the complexities of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, the specific requirements of the Race to the Top competition, State Incentive Grants (transformation, turnaround, restart models), all posturing that “this is the path, the only path” to create successful schools. For Duncan the Holy Grail is a teacher-principal evaluation system based to the largest extent possible on student achievement data, charter schools and warehouses of student data resulting in tests to measure student achievement tied to individual teachers.

Duncan has not only not convinced the three million American teachers he has aliened them and jeopardizes the election of his president.

At the state level fifty sets of regulations creating funding formulas and directing school districts and schools how to specifically allocate dollars with strict regulations and measuring outcomes; in New York State through a School Report Card tied to NCLB requirements.

At the school district level an additional set of compliance standards – this is the way you should teach – embedding Danielson, the Common Core, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge into each and every lesson, and, not to forget, a Progress Report, separate and apart from the state Report Card that can determine the fate of the school, the principal and the teachers.

You must do it this way and we will stringently measure the outcomes.

I’m sure Eric Nadelstern wouldn’t mind if I agree with his simple, but enormously difficult goal.

1. Move from compliance to performance.

2. Hold schools accountable for performance, but let the principal, in consultation with teachers and parents, decide how to get there.

The role of the feds, the state and local school districts should be to provide schools and teachers with the tools. Adequate funding is a given, although defining adequate is not easy. It is not surprising that the lowest class size is found in high tuition private schools and the highest performing suburban school districts. Targeted low class size in the early childhood grades would appear to be obvious. UnfortunatelyNew York State is among the leaders in the disparity in funding between the poorest and the richest school districts and the two percent property tax cap will exacerbate an already unconscionable situation.

The feds, the states and the school districts should be researching what works.

Do extended school days, after school and Saturday tutoring programs work?

Which one’s work and, most importantly, why do they work?

The governmental agencies at all levels tend to throw dollars with a myriad of rules at problems: do it this way because we tell you too, and woe to those who don’t toe the line.

Those same agencies at all levels should be cataloging the programs that work in specific situations and why they are successful. Pick one of them, or, design one of your own.

Eric proffers, “let the principal, in consultation with teachers and parents, and decide how to get there.”

Do principals, teachers and parents have the skills to work together?

Not without consistent support from on high, from school districts and unions.  Eric uses the term “consultation” and I would use the term “collaboration.” William Ouchi in “Making Schools Work” uses the term consultation and goes on to argue the principal is in essence the Chief Operating Officer and must be the final determinant of the decisions and be held responsible; however. the entire school community is responsible. If a school fails it is the entire school community that is punished, not simply the principal.

In the 90’s the School-Based Management/School-Based Decision-Making movement stumbled because principals were not committed, external support was absent and the emphasis was creating bylaws and documents that described the process rather than making the process work. Both school districts and unions were not comfortable and, except for a few districts, the movement was doomed from the onset.

Unions are highly suspicious, they feel more comfortable fighting than collaborating;  there is a lack of trust built on years of experience. In New York City Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott have chosen to confront the union and the union has responded by organizing it’s members, parents and communities; hundreds of member rallies, demonstrations, actions and grassroots political organizing characterize the teacher response to management threats.

On islets around the city principals and teachers consult and/or collaborate and create schools that work for kids and families. They are too few and way below the radar.

The most controversial part of Eric’s jeremiad is, “hold schools accountable for performance.”

How do we measure performance and how do we define accountable?

Performance measured by growth – kids moving from A to B within a reasonable time frame.

How do we define accountable?

Does the failure to reach performance targets trigger an intervention? Who intervenes? Currently schools write Comprehensive Education Plans that no one reads or follows; SINI and SURR (Schools in Need of Improvement and Schools under Registration Review) track poverty and are more Scarlet Letters than guides to improvement.

Chicago hired a deeply flawed superintendent and a bully-as-mayor is trying to stuff “reform” down teachers’ craws. Los Angeles is in a never ending death spiral as funding shrinks annually, New York has a mayor who still has visions of a presidential run dancing in his brain.

Baltimore and New Haven and a few other districts have embarked on a collaborative path.

Will State Commissioner John King, or Chancellor Shael Suransky have the foresight to create a labor-management model district in an urban environment? Will they try moving from compliance to collaboration?


2 responses to “Moving from Compliance to Collaboration to Performance: Can the Realities of Politics Overcome Flawed Ideology?

  1. I refuse to worship at the altar of Eric Nadelstern. He spent years destroying the NYC public school system. You act like he’s not responsible for the closing of schools and the trashing of teachers. He is no friend to unions or teachers. You can erase my comment as you’ve done before when I speak out against Eric Nadelstern but it doesn’t change the facts.


  2. Retired- no more Pubiic Enemy Number 1.

    Consult TEACHERS? Are you kidding? It would never be allowed by the “Rhee, Klein, and the charterers” cabal.

    Teachers? What could they possibly know, practicing education day after day in the same room with the students? In an daring experimental role reversal, I modestly suggest that the teachers ought to be placed in charge, and the educational “experts” be stuffed into the classrooms.

    Here’s an open-ended essay question for “authentic assessment” fans.

    What would happen after a week of this experiment? A month?


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