Failed Thinking Leads to Failed Policies: Who Will Intervene? Who Will Save Us from Ignornant Arrogance?

In June, 2010, in a previous blog I quoted Justin Kruger and David Dunning,
When people are   incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction,   they suffer a dual burden: not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and   make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to   realize it.Unfortunately nothing has changed.

The heart and core of the  Department of Education is a school closing policy. The Office of Portfolio Development determines which schools to close based on performance and geography. Washington Irving is being closed because many new school   developers would rather start schools in Manhattan  than East New York or South Jamaica or the South Bronx.

The Department should be asking:   Why are schools stumbling?

If we overlap schools by performance with a map of poverty by zip, guess what, schools in high poverty neighborhoods are struggling academically, and, not surprisingly, the Department is closing schools in poor neighborhoods of color.

The Department should have learned from the lessons of the Chancellor’s District, some schools require targeted external support and guidance. Instead the Department blindly follows a “let a thousand flowers bloom,” the principal as CEO, no matter how ill-suited, no matter how inept, principals are abandoned. The message is clear – do what you have to do: a  “don’t ask, don’t   tell” message from Tweed- as long as   you stay off the pages of the media – improve scores. Period.

If you bother to talk with principals in Brownsville or East New York schools they will tell you it is difficult to attract and retain teachers.

How do you answer a teacher who asks: Is this neighborhood safe?

A principal announced that as of November 1 no teacher could remain in the building after 5 PM and as of December 1 no teacher could remain in the building after 4:30 PM.

The new, young teachers were outraged – they wanted to continue to tutor and work with kids and they accused the principal of caving in to the UFT.

The principal called a meeting: “You’re all totally dedicated, caring and white – when it’s   dark you become prey. In this community male unemployment is probably 50% or higher. Gangs control the streets; those popping sounds are not firecrackers.   I’m selfish – I need you. I don’t want to visit you in a hospital. I don’t   want to attend your funeral”

The Department allows any teacher to transfer to any other school. The result is that schools in “undesirable” neighborhoods have troubling attracting and retaining staff.

In Bayside or Midtown Manhattan or Brooklyn Heights teachers stay   and prosper – in high poverty, high crime neighborhoods teachers learn their craft and move on.

Yes, there are schools with staffs, school leaders and teachers who have the ability to innovate and create and succeed. For two all too brief years the Department supported an Autonomous Zone (25 schools in Year One and 50 in Year Two). Schools worked together, a collaborative network in which schools, school leaders and teachers had the space to create.

The Department loved the idea – and created Empowerment – with a ukase all schools were granted the authority to operate on a quasi independent status. Sixty networks support, but do not supervise schools. Principals can work closely with a network leader or do as they please – all that counts is the Progress Grade, and, we suspect, that scores may be inflated by “help.”

Credit recovery schemes are endemic – inflating graduation rates probably by significant numbers. Fred   Smith’s article in the NY Post points to odd abnormalities on the grade 3-8 State tests.

The Mayor is in his own world, oblivious to the real world. The next election is two years off. Who will stand up for the kids and families?

The Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and other Regents have been made some critical   statements in regard to Department of Education policies –   maybe, just maybe, the Regents will assert their authority and deny the school closing strategy and force the Department to confront the realities that school leaders and teachers face each and every day.


8 responses to “Failed Thinking Leads to Failed Policies: Who Will Intervene? Who Will Save Us from Ignornant Arrogance?

  1. Failed organizations never reinvent themselves. The Chancellor’s District you tout achieved short term gains in 4th grade reading scores, nothing in the eighth grade nor in high school. As a consequence of this and other past efforts to try to “fix” failed schools, the graduation rate in NYC was flat at 50% for more than half-a-century.

    Closing a low performing school isn’t a punishment. It’s an invitation and opportunity for others to do better for our kids.


    • Granted too few schools were closed in the distant past, but we can’t really talk percentages here apart from the relatively recent large-scale gentrification of NYC. And when one goes to extreme and abusive measures, one gets results. However, not only is the abuse immoral and wrongheaded in and of itself, there are countless unintended negative consequences. The results are superficial, because they are really manufactured, or forced. The consequences often run deep and are damning.


  2. Mao actually said “let a hundred flowers bloom.” But it was certainly thousands of “flowers” that lost their heads in this and the subsequent “great leap forward.” Seems similar to the DOE and its repeated “reform” efforts. Maybe the policy makers should be sent to re-education camps. Better, yet, let them teach in some of our “failing” schools.


  3. Sue Ruskin-Mayher

    I encourage everyone who has not yet to see The Inconvenient Truth about Waiting for Superman. It tells the story. It’s a grassroots effort, so you have to look for it.


  4. Does Eric Nadelstern really believe the trash he writes? That’s my big question. The only think Nadelstern and the other folks who worked under Klein can talk about is graduation rates. Why? Because none of the other data they so love supports their contention that they have improved schools. NAEP results are flat, NYS test scores are dismal, 70% of NYC parents disapprove of the handling of the schools. The only thing left to talk about is the silly graduation rates which everyone knows are meaningless. Seventy percent of the kids who graduate can’t read and write well enough to pass the CUNY remediation tests. So what exactly is the big difference that was made under 13 years of Nadelstern/Klein/Bloomberg? Isn’t Nadelstern embarrassed to even mention graduation rates? Sure they’re high and that has everything to do with credit recovery, cheating on Regents and putting pressure on teachers to pass kids. Most high schools have huge freshman classes and by senior year half of the kids have disappeared. So 90 percent of the 50 percent of the kids who are still in the system after 4 years graduate. If I do the math, the graduation rate hasn’t changed much in the last 13 years either.


  5. Bravo Paul Feingold! Let’s see some of the policy makers and education “reformers” in the classrooms of our “failing” schools; perhaps they can show us how it should be done.


  6. All these so called failing schools can be turned around with the right leadership. Closing schools should not be an option. The Mayor has failed our children. We really do know what works – but it has nothing to do with data. Go back to a curriculum that includes the arts, gym, shop and yes, cooking/home ec. These all embellish the academic subjects that should also include civics. That will attract teachers with passion about the subjects they teach. And passion is what drives learning – in everyone, and I mean everyone – even the kids we now call “lost.” It’s the DOE that is failing, not the schools!


  7. Schools rarely actually close, they are restructured. Mini-schools or charters often take the space. By placing a number of mini-schools in one building the BOE can remove the previous staff and assign individuals that the BOE has trained into the admin. positions. It also multiplies the number of Administrators. Each mini-school requires it’s own complete set of Administrators.
    Deans, resource room teachers, even reading and math coaches are being used as full time classroom teachers. Yet the Networks hold catered meetings to train the swelling ranks of new Administrators how to modify Danielson to fit the end of year rating sheets. Help us UFT!


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