Dave, We Hardly Knew Ya? Cuomo’s Secretary of Education Suddenly, and Quietly, Quits. Who Will Be Whispering in Andrew’s Ear?

The education cognoscenti can rattle off the names of the key players in the education game: Walcott, Suransky and Mulgrew in the city, Tisch and King in the state, Jackson on the City Council and Nolan and Flanagan in the legislature.

No one mentioned David Wakelyn.

On September 9, 2011 Governor Cuomo announced the appointment of Wakelyn as his Secretary for Education, a position that I never heard of, my bad.

He had a glowing resume on the policy side, a little light “in the trenches.”

From 1990 to 1993, he taught mathematics to 7th and 8th grade students in Crozier Middle School in Inglewood, CA, as part of Teach for America

I rolled my eyes, yet another dilettante with a “taste” of the classroom, no experience running a school, who is now advising the governor on the running of a state school system.

What is Wakelyn whispering into the ear of the governor?

So, the wonders of the net, I read his writings. I found myself nodding my head in agreement, occasionally, rolling my eyes in despair. too often, and wishing that Dave had more scars of practice.

In 2003 Wakelyn was one of authors of a report on the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that attempted to support failing schools, “External Support to Schools on Probation: Getting a Leg Up.” (Read report here)

CPS used “external partners” (universities and consultants) and “probation managers” (seasoned administrators assigned to one or two schools) to lead the intervention model.

Wakelyn and his co-authors trashed the program,

“Unfortunately, despite the millions of dollars put into assistance we conclude that the support component of the probation policy is simply too weak to make it through the many layers of implementation to significantly alter classroom instruction.”

I began to like this guy – the report sounds like it was written to assess the current NYC interventions.

His doctoral dissertation (Read full summary here) was an analysis of the Distinguished Education model in Kentucky.

Crises overwhelm organizations under threat and their members tend to respond rigidly. They retreat to what they know based on past experience and seek fewer sources of information. However, crises may spark flexibility and growth if the threat is buffered by an internal agent, and it is sufficiently distant in the future to allow for short-term adaptation and longer-term learning…. The DEs worked with teachers directly or brought in experts to help teachers align course content with the state standards and assessments. The investment in professional development gave teachers specific examples of how to employ the new instructional practices demanded by the state policy, thereby reducing their uncertainty. Finally, the DEs reconfigured the way classrooms and schedules were organized so that teachers would have more opportunities to collaborate around instruction. Teachers also took on added management responsibilities as the DEs asked them to monitor changes.

Have you heard Walcott, or for that matter King, talk about teachers taking on “… added management responsibilities” in struggling schools?

In his position at the National Governors Association (NGA) Wakelyn rethinks what we used to call vocational education, “Retooling Career Technical Education,”  is thoughtful approach to Career and Technical Education (CTE) and acknowledges that CTE is not an “easier” path to a diploma and makes concrete suggestions to states.

A year ago Wakelyn, in his position at the NGA authored an “Issue Brief” entitled “State Strategies for Fixing Failing Schools and Districts,” I strongly urge you to read it … the recommendations may be (or, are …) the agenda of the governor. See Report here.


* Build state capacity to support the turnaround of failing schools and districts

* Engage external partners to manage school and district turnarounds

* Set ambitious but realistic goals for school improvement that incorporate multiple measures

* Develop a human capital strategy to improve the quality of leadership and teaching, and

* Increase state authority to intervene in failing schools and districts, if other approaches prove insufficient.

Another strategy, school closure can be used. Too often, however, students from a closed school are placed in another weak school. This strategy should be pursued when state or district authority is certain it can send students to a better-performing campus.

Past turnaround efforts have been success only in 10 percent to 20 percent of the time.

I had some doubts …

State Ed has no current capacity to turnaround failing schools as evidenced by its current plan.

The March, 2012 “Strategic Plan for School Turnaround” is substantially weaker than the Chicago plan that Wakelyn trashed in his 2003 Report. The SED has no authority to directly intervene in schools – superintendents and principals work for school boards, not the SED.

Is there any evidence that “external partners” can produce sustainable change? The external partners that NYC chose have not exhibited any record of success – in fact – the opposite is true.

Using multiple measures is an excellent approach – however – doesn’t the USDOE require a narrow swath of measurements? And, in NYC, the DOE leadership keeps the metrics a well-guarded secret, or, more likely, changes them to meet their political needs.

How do you improve human capital? Is someone hiding a tribe of superior teachers? Fifty percent plus attrition rates are commonplace in the most fragile schools; do we have a researched-based formula for producing highly effective principals?

Increasing state authority to do what? The current state turnaround plan is aspirational but offers nothing we haven’t tried without success, for decades. Wakelyn tells us,

“States are no longer just appointing a new governing board but are moving toward direct control of operations by creating a special zone, or “super” district managed by the state.”

Wakelyn’s recommendations, suggestions, models, whatever you want to them, fail to mention or acknowledge that subversive term, “teacher unions.”

Unless there is buy-in on the ground floor, by unions and teachers in classrooms the Wakelyn Model will go the way of untold failed reform efforts.

To create a plan in the rear chamber of the governor’s office or at a think tank and ignore the worker bees, the women and men who have to execute the plan is more than fool hearty, it is reckless.

And, suddenly, just after the governor appoints his commission, with Wakelyn leading the staff, Dave is gone.

Typical of the close mouthed nature of the governor’s press office, no press release, Dave merely drifts off into the ether.

Is it something he said, or, since he said very little, something he didn’t say? Rumors abound.

The associate secretary of education is Katie Campos, a parent advocate, anti-union charter schooler from Buffalo. A year ago she tried to organize a boycott of Buffalo public schools and in a U-Tube (watch here) trashed the Buffalo Teachers Union.

To be perfectly honest Andrew, she’s an embarrassment.

So, as we are about to embark upon a commission with the charge of recommending sweeping changes in the way education is structured, funded and administrated, perhaps a top to bottom reshuffling, the key staffer leaves.

Why would someone flee from a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to reshape a state’s education system?

Perhaps, the ending of the report is already written?  Or. the purpose of the report is simply to reduce education dollars without regard to the impact on children?  Or, to grab power away from the Regents and invest in the office of the governor?

With Randi Weingarten and Mike Rebell on the commission I am sanguine that in spite of the aims of the governor teachers and children will be protected.


2 responses to “Dave, We Hardly Knew Ya? Cuomo’s Secretary of Education Suddenly, and Quietly, Quits. Who Will Be Whispering in Andrew’s Ear?

  1. True to the diletantte profile of “reformers” Campos has a B.A. in Political Science, zero classroom experience and strong ties to Sam Hoyt, another Cuomo lieutenant, and she is a former employee of Dumbocrats for WEd Reform. I guess in this climate those are stellar credentials. She also attempted to insert a “trigger law” into the mix in Buffalo but it didn’t fly. Triggers are a great way the “reformers” use parents to open the schools up to their corporate driven charters. Said parents who thought they were going to be involved are now shoved aside while the “experts” proceed to ruin yet another school.


  2. Pingback: Delayed report from Cuomo’s education commission due soon | GothamSchools

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s