“This was always about an arm-wrestle between the Department of Education and City Hall on one side and the UFT on the other,” said Eric Nadelstern, a former top department official who retired last year and said he thinks the schools should be closed. “The only thing worse than the original plan was the decision at this juncture for reversing the original plan. This throws everything into chaos.” from Gotham Schools
Arbitrator Buchheit’s decision sustaining the union in the court-ordered “turnaround school” arbitration was not a surprise. For a decade Gracie Mansion has interfered in the education decision-making process seeking to burnish the reputation and legacy of the mayor. The “turnaround” strategy, a ruse to collect 50 million in federal dollars simply did not pass the “smell” test. Changing the name of a school does not a new school make.
The Mayor and the Department have continually refused to confront the core question.
How do you intervene before stumbling schools fail?
John Balfanz, John Hopkins, and Pedro Noguera, New York University, two of the leading scholars in the country agree that there is a “tipping point;” some schools are so dysfunctional that school closings are required.
There are a range of strategies that have been successful in “turning around” stumbling, not yet dysfunctional schools. Unfortunately the Department management system does not intervene until a school is at the abyss.
I served on numerous New York State Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams. Jefferson and Taft and T. Roosevelt and Canarsie were dysfunctional and dangerous. The decision to close the schools was correct; the larger question of why the schools were allowed to deteriorate was never explored at the city level.
The answer would be unpleasant. The old Board of Education and the current Department of Education supported a triage strategy. Schools would be “saved” at the expense of schools that would be sacrificed.
Low achieving, dangerous, “undesirable” kids were assigned to the triage model schools, sometimes along with ineffective teachers, to “save” the remainder of the schools.
It was a cruel and desperate strategy.
Park West and Wingate should not have been closed. Park West was redesigning using the John Hopkins Talent Development Model and Wingate had an exemplary caring staff. The politics du jour was school closing, not a balanced look at school effectiveness.
The NYS SURR reports were aggregated every year. The major reason for a poor performing school was always “a lack of leadership at the school and district level.” The reports also cited the lack of a coherent curriculum and mediocre instructional practices.
The “turnaround” model that city selected, in my view, had little chance of success. To decide that schools should be managed/supervised by a superintendent, a network leader and an external not-for-profit almost guarantees the schools will continue to stumble.
Gershwin (IS 167), one of the 24 turnaround schools, is across the street from one of the most violent housing projects in the city. The neighborhood is ruled by gangs and the school requires a talented leader and is a prime candidate for a community school model with wraparound services. Changing the name of the school, the school leader and half the staff is a farce.
Sheepshead Bay has been plagued with one inept principal after another. John Dewey High School was a highly innovative model high school that has become a neighborhood high school attracting students was major educational deficits.
What is the evidence that the new principals will be any more effective than their predecessors?
New Dorp and Hillcrest High Schools redesigned into small learning communities are prospering. Both schools had the key ingredient – highly effective, experienced principals.
Eric Nadelstern avers that the twenty-four “turnaround” schools should have been closed.
Simply closing schools and replacing them with small schools is not an answer. While graduation rates have risen college readiness metrics are depressing, and, one wonders if the increases in graduation rates are credit recovery driven.
While they may appear to be better than the schools they replaced I fear they are beginning to replicate the schools they replaced.
The ill-conceived trompe l’oeil strategy was rejected by the arbitrator.
The staffs in the twenty-four schools are exultant. After months of uncertainty it appears that they will be returning, at least for a year.
The cheering should be short-lived.
Staffs in the revived “turnaround” school must avoid blaming “difficult” kids, absence of adequate funding, poor management; these are not excuses, they are realities that must be overcome.
The just-released Education Trust report, “Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning,” offers concrete suggestions. Randi Weingarten summarizes the findings of the report,
Building a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among teachers, principals, and administrators; focusing on continuous professional development for teachers; and ensuring teachers have the time, tools, and trust they need to improve teaching and learning are essential ingredients to building strong public schools and a quality teaching force.
The bottom line according to Education Trust co-author and director of teacher quality Sarah Almy said is “… we have to be intentional about creating the kinds of supportive working environments in our high-poverty and low-performing schools that will make them more attractive to our strongest teachers.”
The teachers and supervisors in the twenty-four turnaround schools cannot simply return to blaming each other, the kids or the neighborhood. They must strive to “build a culture of collaboration.”
If teachers believe that “status quo ante bellum” has returned they are sorely mistaken. The decision of the arbitrator is a reprieve, they have an opportunity to turnaround their own school, they must seize the day, or, the arbitrator’s decision will only delay the inevitable.