The Next Chancellor: We Need a Leader That Principals and Teachers Can Respect

On Black Monday, the day after the last regular season National Football League (NFL) game teams traditionally fire coaches. This year seven coaches and three general managers were fired – you don’t win – you’re fired.

In sports leadership is defined by winning and winning requires building a team.

If you tracked downloaded news items over the last week I’m sure info about sports were many times greater than downloads about the fiscal cliff.

Coaches at the highest level, as well as in college and high schools lead with a laser focus.

A diverse group of athletes with different levels of skills and personalities are merged into an effective team; the sum is greater than the parts.

Coaches are leaders and teachers.

Effective superintendents and principals and union leaders must exhibit the same qualities.

The closing of a large high school was announced and the new superintendent called a meeting of the entire staff – it was going to be a tense meeting. The superintendent walked onto the auditorium and the buzz became a hushed silence. The superintendent pointed to a teacher sitting on the aisle wearing a jacket from a neighbor high school and arch rival.

The superintendent motioned to the woman and asked her to stand, “Miss, we don’t wear a Boys and Girls jacket in Thomas Jefferson High School.”

A silence, a touch of laughter, and the audience broke out in applause. The brand new superintendent had captured the audience. She was a leader.

Joel Klein paced across the stage laying out his personal narrative – growing up in a housing project, his Lincolnesque “log cabin” story. No matter how hard he tried, no matter the training and advice from the consultants Klein never gripped an audience. I remember in a packed auditorium when the department rolled out the Progress Reports Klein ended his speech by unfolding a piece of paper from his wallet and reading a Teddy Roosevelt quotation. It was forced, odd and the audience left wondering who was this strange aloof guy.

Students, parents, teachers and principals want a chancellor they respect, a chancellor they are proud of, who defends and fights for their school system.

Managers are not leaders.

In a self-serving article in Education Week  former NYC Accountability tsar Jim Leibman references a course he teaches, “I teach with talented and public-minded Columbia University, New York University, and Yale University students, many of them former teachers.” I suspect his “former teachers” are Teach for American alumna with two or three years of classroom experience.

Leibman creates a “straw man,” his view of educational bureaucracies,

The widely held view is that one-size-fits-all edicts from central administrators at a distance from schools and constrained by labyrinthine work rules and clunky textbooks cannot possibly satisfy diverse student needs. The search is on for ways to rescue schoolchildren from command-and-control bureaucracies and self-serving adult interests. The conflicts we’re seeing in our class and consulting projects are a series of skirmishes and shifting alliances between competitors for bureaucracy’s mantle.

And postulates there are two contending camps,

• “Managerialist” strategies call for school systems to run as successful corporations supposedly (but rarely) do, by giving educators outcome targets and leaving it to them to solve the mystery of how children learn. Clever school and classroom managers who hit their targets should be promoted; inept ones should be fired. Without needing to know how effective educators succeed, student results will improve.

• “Professionalism” or “craft” strategies replace chief executive officers with a vision that resembles how good family physicians supposedly (but rarely) work. Proponents of this approach urge school systems to abandon input and output mandates and let gifted, board-certified, and well-paid teachers work their magic with students whose unique needs and qualities they intuitively perceive. Here again, the secret to success is mysterious, but good results follow.

A bit overly boastful, from Leibman, “As Alvarado—and John Dewey before him—realized, success will not spring magically from the brow of master managers or teachers. Instead, it requires systematic and accountable inquiry into how empowered and incentivized leaders and educators succeed.”

Citing New York City as well as other cities Leibman capsulizes his team approach,

Institutional-learning strategies…. These strategies use test scores not just as “lagging” indicators of success, but diagnostically, to direct attention and resources to students a school or teacher has failed.


They use parent, student, and teacher surveys and qualitative peer review as “leading” indicators to delve inside the black box of management and teaching and distinguish real from lucky results. They use structured-inquiry teams to make professionals’ tacit knowledge explicit, spur innovation, and customize successful strategies to struggling classrooms and schools.

Institutional-learning approaches make teachers and principals into self-conscious, collaborative innovators who can steadily help children accelerate their learning by tailoring improvement strategies to each student, educator, and school, then carefully monitoring results and adjusting interventions based on what does and doesn’t work.

The network structure in New York City, the Progress Reports, the inquiry teams are trompe d’oeil, the illusion of allowing teachers and principals to “customize successful strategies” in schools.

In the actual world schools are driven by high stakes state tests and the soon to be adopted PARCC exams all measuring Common Core standards, without any curriculum. The climate created by a “bad” score is corrosive. Preparing for the “test” dominates instructional practice; teachers retreat into classrooms, angry, fearful, inexperienced supervisors are poor leaders, Tweed (aka Central Office) staff is looked upon with suspicion.

The Aspiring Principals Program (APP), commonly called the Leadership Academy, according to an NYU Study, has produced better results,

We find that APP principals were placed in schools that are demographically and academically distinct from schools led by other new principals. APP principals were more likely to be placed in schools that were low-performing and trending downward. Controlling for pre-existing differences in these schools, we find that APP schools improved apace with the city in English Language Arts, while comparison schools fell behind the city-wide average.

I have met highly competent as well as clueless Leadership Academy principals, if you ask teachers they are highly critical of APP graduates.

Leadership is crucial beginning with the chancellor and filtering down through the bureaucracy. Leadership is defined by those being lead.

We currently have a rudderless system adrift. In spite of the institutional message, the 2012-13 Instructional Expectations document,  a perfectly reasonable agenda, teachers remain suspicious.

We need a chancellor who will lead and we can be proud of.


6 responses to “The Next Chancellor: We Need a Leader That Principals and Teachers Can Respect

  1. Pingback: Peter Goodman: NYC Needs a Chancellor Who Can Lead « Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. YJosh Gutterman

    So true


    • Why not Diane Ravitch? How about Linda Darling-Hammond?
      Recruit where the expertise is and the source of knowledge and
      resources that they net with. They are Do No Harm educators who
      are courageous and children’s futures first but pragmatic thinkers and
      reality based, who can compromise but not at the expense of the
      the children they serve. Think about it!!!!!!!


  3. Leadership is fascinating. The literature is endless. One common thread in all the literature is the ability to “inspire”. I have heard may descriptions of our recent “leaders”- chancellors. I don’t remember seeing the description “inspiring”. N. Y. C. is unique. To be an educational leader in the Big Apple requires a vast, comprehensive, and at time contradictory skill set. Wouldn’t money better be spent to identify our successful and effective educational leaders in our city to find out what they have in common and what is replicable and what is situation specific. Maybe then we can have a “common core” of characteristics that could lead our future leaders help our students!


  4. Carole Silverstein.



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