Is Commissioner King in Denial? Will the Commissioner/Regents Respond to Legislative Threats? A Case Study: How Politics Impacts Educational Policy.

“I understand Mr. Iannuzzi (President of the NYS Teacher Union) is under a lot of internal pressure; I understand that may lead to attacking me. But it strikes me that that the real dispute he has is with the governor and the Legislature.” – State Education Commissioner John King on NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi’s plan to ask for a vote of no confidence in King, via State of Politics.

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia,” said Winston Churchill, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same can be said of NYS Commissioner of Education John King.

Instead of working with parents and principals and teachers the commissioner has imposed an array of initiatives, alienating the very people whose job it is to implement the initiatives

I share the goals of the commissioner: to create an education system that will support students and staff, regardless of wealth or handicap or geography of the school district, to build the best school system possible.

We differ in the route and the message.

New York State was an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards, a dense Principal/Teacher Evaluation rubric (APPR) and participation in In Bloom, a vast data dashboard; three major initiatives that were burdensome, complex and viewed with suspicion.

California, on the other hand, is one of 19 states to join “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” with an emphasis on “creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication,” appears to have the full support of communities and teachers.

I have listened to the commissioner speak numerous times – he is a passionate and at times an eloquent speaker, yet he seems oblivious to the complexity of what social psychologists call “personal and organizational change.”

“Turning around” struggling schools or struggling school districts is based on changing the culture of the school and/or district, moving from “these kids are so poor and so far behind there’s little that we can do” to “these kids are poor and far behind and while we can’t change their economic circumstances we can improve their academic as well as their non-cognitive skills.” Teaching non-cognitive skills, difficult to measure, may be more accurate predictors of post school success than test scores.

Paul Tough, author of ‘How Children Succeed “, said,” We don’t teach the most important skills,” a list that includes “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.” We don’t teach them and we don’t know what to call these “soft skills.” David Conley, EPIC, thinks the non-cognitive skills could more accurately be called “meta-cognitive learning skills.”

Hopefully we are open to new ideas, open to exploring old ideas, and open to changing for the better. Leadership means also being open to change, and acknowledging the complexity of the change process.

There is a vast literature dealing with “personal and organization change,”

Do not ‘sell’ change to people as a way of accelerating ‘agreement’ and implementation. ‘Selling’ change to people is not a sustainable strategy for success. When people listen to a senior management person ‘selling’ them a change, decent diligent folk will generally smile and appear to accept what is being said, but quietly to themselves they are thinking, “I don’t like this. I’ve not been consulted or involved. I am being manipulated. This change will benefit the directors and owners, not me, so actually I won’t cooperate, and I might resist and obstruct this change, in every way that I can…”

The commissioner has been oblivious to the increasing “pushback” from parents in communities around the state. At the twenty community forums held around the state, some by the commissioner and others by elected officials the anger of parents exploded. (Watch U-Tube here)

As the criticism went viral, the U-Tube referenced above has had over 50,000 views the commissioner blamed unnamed “special interests,” as parents at meeting after meeting were not convinced by the commissioner his response was they failed to understand, and, he steers critics to the legislature and the governor, away from his office.

Back in my days of defending teachers it was commonplace for a teacher to “blame” the failure of buses to come on time as an excuse for frequent lateness, or, the failure of the printer as a reason why the teacher was unprepared, a kind of “the dog ate my homework” excuse, this behavior is referred to as denial: the refusal to engage or accept responsibility.

Denial is probably one of the best known defense mechanisms, used often to describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring.

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.

In many cases, there might be overwhelming evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny its existence or truth because it is too uncomfortable to face.

Denial can involve a flat out rejection of the existence of a fact or reality. In other cases, it might involve admitting that something is true, but minimizing its importance. Sometimes people will accept reality and the seriousness of the fact, but they will deny their own responsibility and instead blame other people or other outside forces.

In my opinion the commissioner is in denial.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has publicly asked the Regents, the state body governing education policy, to delay the implementation of the Common Core,

ALBANY—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday he expects the state Board of Regents to form a plan for improving and possibly delaying implementation of the rigorous Common Core curriculum standards.

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said.

I am a fan of the commissioner, his intentions are laudable, but we all know where the road to good intentions leads. The famous Lyndon Johnson anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, needs to be retold. Johnson appointed a sharp critic to serve on a policy committee, his aides demurred, why appoint this loud-mouth critic, Johnson replied, “Better inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in.” The opinions of superintendents, principals, teachers and parents were given short shrift, a cursory exercise to “touch bases,” viewed as without any intention to listen and incorporate their objections or questions. As the criticism has mounted the commissioner could have opened the doors and invited his critics into the room, instead, he blamed “special interests” or blamed internal union pressures, and directed his critics to look “across the street.” the offices of the legislature and the governor.

Both houses of the legislature and the governor are up for election, with primary elections perhaps as early as June. This is an issue with legs; it will not wane as public interest lags. Another set of state tests of only three months away, the issue of the Common Core is a juicy campaign issue – the 150 members of the Assembly, the 63 members of the Senate and the governor want this issue to be resolved. If the commissioner and the Regents fail to adequately respond to critics the commissioner will be correct – the legislature/governor will impose a solution, a “solution” that could have sweeping impact on the education bureaucracy.

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3 responses to “Is Commissioner King in Denial? Will the Commissioner/Regents Respond to Legislative Threats? A Case Study: How Politics Impacts Educational Policy.

  1. POLITICS FROM WITHIN THE BD oF ED HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN ART FORM.ALMOST GAMESMANSHIP IN TERMS OF WHO KNEW WHOM, AND COULD MAKE THAT WORK FOR THEIR SCHOOL. HISTORICALLY THE NYS REGENTS WHEN IT TRIED TO IMPOSE ITS WILL ON NYC SCHOOLS WAS MET WITH RESISTENCE AND DISREGARD.ONE OF THE EARLY INDICATORS YOU GET FROM THE NEW MAYOR, IS THAT HE UNDERSTANDS THAT A RETURN TO SOME DEGREE OF DAYS GONE BY, MAY BE JUST WHAT IS NEEDED TO KICK START BACK TO FORM SOMETHING THAT WORKED, ALBEIT NOT BY CONVENTIONAL MEANS.DO I ENDORCE CORRUPTION? NO..BUT RETURNING TO SOME SEMBLANCE OF THOSE DAYS WOULD AT THE VERY LEAST EMPOWER NYC WITH RUNNING ITS SCHOOLS THE WAY NYC SEES FIT. WE DID NOT HAVE THAT THESE RECENT YEARS, BLOOMBERG WAS NOT A NYER, AND NOT THE KIND OF MAN TO ALLOW THINGS TO GO ON W/O HIS DIRECT CONSENT AND APPROVAL…THAT CONSENT AND APPROVAL WAS GIVEN IN TERMS OF BD OF ED POLICY MAKING ONLY IF IT CONTRIBUTED TO HIS GOAL OF UNION BUSTING. THEREFORE THE QUICKER WE SEE COMM KING REMOVE HIMSELF FROM DECISION MAKING ATTEMPTS IN TERMS OF THE NYC DOE GOVERNANCE THE BETTER! IF INDEED WE EVER GO BACK TO SOME FACSIMILIE OF THOS DAYS, I WOULD INSIST THAT IN ANY SITUATION WHERE LOCAL COMMUNITIES ARE MAKING DECISIONS THAT PUT PRINCIPALS AND ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS IN PLACE BE SUBJECT TO OVERSIGHT BY THE MAYORS OFFICE. THE ASSIGMENT OF SCHOOL BOARD FRIENDLY SUPERVISORS IS WHERE IT ALL FALLS APART….CRONYISM, NEPOTISM AND ALL THE OTHER ISMS COME TO BARE AT THAT POINT. FINALLY, WITH COMMON CORE, DANIELSON, ALL THE RUBRICS, TEACHER GRADING, SCHOOL GRADING, AND ALL THE OTHER BLOOMBERG IMPRINTS, HAS ANYONE ASKED ANY OF OUR GREAT UNIVERSITIES HOW TYHEY NOW LOOK UPON NYC PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS? I HAVE, AND YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED AT WHAT I’VE HEARD.

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  2. The truth is that the commissioner has to remain in dnial or confront the legislature and the Regents (his bosses) himself. I don’t for a moment believe that John King thinks things are going well. He merely lacks the courage to say so publicly and risk offending his employers. It is really the legislature that created the box he is in by enacting top down reforms that had no buy in from front line staff.

    In my career when I wanted to “sell change” I got out in front and demonstrated that what I was trying to sell could be meaningful, make a difference, and was doable. No one has tried to do that in NY with the common core or the new teacher evaluation rubrics.

    We need to go back, as Ken suggests, and restart the discussion around standards (The Common Core is not different from other sets of standards) and how we want to develop curricula and what teaching methods we will use to help students master those standards. When I say we, I clearly mean teachers and administrators as colleagues who are going to work together to come to a consensus, not accept a dictum from outsiders who don’t have to implement their dicta and wouldn’t know how to if they did have to.

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  3. Leaders, elected and appointed need to be flexible or perish. They need to learn the lesson lost on the Captain of the Titanic: he refused to change course as advised by those worried about the speed and far north route. King needs to listen….. And learn. Or public education will continue to “sink.”

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