Cuomo, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work.

Is something going on with Jim Malatras and Meryl Tisch? Another billet doux, not quite a Valentine Day greeting.

Back in December Malatras, Cuomo’s policy wonk authored an accusatory letter demanding that the chancellor respond to nineteen questions (“Fifty Shades of Grey” ??), the chancellor, meekly, provided a 20-page letter pretty much accepting the flailings of the governor. (Read an earlier blog here)

Cuomo rolled the Malatras letter and the Tisch response into his annual State of the State message, the governor, reminds me a little of Christian Grey displaying his whips and chains and threatening what he sees as a submissive teacher workforce. Well, hasn’t quite worked out that way as the teacher union and their allies fight back, thousands upon thousands of tweets, rallies, TV and radio, and the public increasingly wonders why the governor is bullying their kid’s teacher.

Malatras latest letter asks Tisch to respond to the governor’s vague “receivership” concept,

One of New York State’s greatest failures has been the persistent state of our failing schools. As you know there are 178 failing schools in New York State [note: there are 4400 schools in the state] and 77 have been failing for a decade…

That is why the Governor adopted your recommendation note: [the Regents have never discussed this issue] and proposed a law based on the Massachusetts receivership model with an added provision that these schools become community schools with wraparound and other services…

A broad section of education stakeholders have supported the Massachusetts approach [note: who are they?], including the AFT President Randi Weingarten, who supports the model in the Lawrence School District…

[the governor would] like SED to further research the Massachusetts model by performing a comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.

So, I asked Randi, is Malatras accurate? She replied,

I have been pretty clear – I don’t– we support what happened in Lawrence

This is what I said to Albany TU (Read entire article here)

“I’m not for receivership. The only place its working is in Lawrence, Mass., and that’s because there is collective bargaining and the leadership believes that teachers should have a voice, and, as such, collaboration among all partners exists. Instead of receivership, there’s the Chancellor’s District model that we rolled out in New York City, which provides a real strategy for turning around low-performing schools.”

Repeat: Weingarten does not support receivership, with the exception of Lawrence, which got off the a rocky start; however, the relationship between the receiver and the union in Lawrence has improved considerably, although the receivership route appear more based on the person selected as receiver than the model itself.

In 2010 Massachusetts won a Race to the Top grant and passed wide-ranging school reform legislation, (Read a description here). The law allowed the State Commissioner to place the lowest achieving school districts in the state into receivership, the state chooses a receiver who has wide ranging powers, including the right to abrogate collective bargaining agreements.

Since Malatras highlights Lawrence let’s take a look at the Lawrence model, called an “Open Architecture Model,”

In November 2011, the Lawrence Public Schools was placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary & Secondary Education. Under receivership, the Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education appoints a receiver, who is vested with the powers of the school district superintendent and the local school committee. In addition to consolidated governing authority, the receiver also has the power to amend or suspend aspects of collective bargaining agreements in the district. No end date has been specified for receivership, though the Commissioner has stated that he expects the turnaround will take at least five years.

The goal of the turnaround is to create high-performing schools using the following strategies: 1) shifting more resources and autonomy to the school level; 2) creating a leaner, more responsive central office; 3) ensuring all schools have great leaders and teachers; 4) harnessing the talents of partner organizations; 5) expanding the school day and adding learning time for students; and 6) increasing student engagement through enrichment opportunities.

Under the open architecture model, the role of the district is to establish “thin walls and foundations” for some common standards across the district, while providing maximum “white space” for school design. In other words, the district establishes basic policies and flexible supports for schools, enabling educators to design and run a variety of school types within the system. This is in contrast to traditional school districts, where centralized policies dictate the nuts and bolts structure of all schools, central office support is one-size-fits-all, and there is little room to innovate at the school level.

In an August, 2014 the receiver, in a letter to all staff, reviewed the district accomplishments, philosophy and path forward, worthwhile reading.

I am not calling for the imposition of the Lawrence Model or for the imposition of any specific model, Randi referenced the NYC Chancellor’s District; “successes” are not determined by which reading or math program you use, success comes from creating a new district/school culture. Success comes from staff buy-in, school communities working together creating a synergy, a collective energy. The union was a partner in the Chancellor’s District; for a couple of years I worked as the union guy on the education side, all meetings were open to the union. I sat in on principal’s meetings, on all types of planning sessions; the union was an equal partner, and, the “sounding board” for the district leadership. Virtually every school had a teacher center, prospective teaching candidates were pre-screened to assure quality, and the Chancellor’s District leadership was highly visible and available. The Chancellor’s District was a highly proscriptive model, the Lawrence Model is school-based with different schools designing difference approaches within a common philosophy, a very different model and both worked in highly collaborative settings.

The community school wrap around services component acknowledges the challenges of working within neighborhoods with economic, social and emotional issues, however, the community school concept is complex, aside from Cincinnati we have very little experience.

A serious constraint is the definition of accountability, currently test scores and graduation rates. We have to broaden the definitions: reducing chronic absenteeism, reducing suspensions, increasing parent participation, reducing teacher mobility and the intelligent use of parent, student and teacher surveys. We have to incorporate the realities, schools with students in shelters, in foster care, in the social service system, parental incarceration, neighborhood crime statistics, percentages of student with disabilities and English language learners, all impact the academic data, and, a wider and more nuanced view of accountability gives a more accurate picture of a school community.

The Massachusetts receiver model gives the receiver the right to change any or all staff: principals and teachers, and abrogate any sections of the collective bargaining agreement, without any evidence that the outcomes will improve teaching and learning.

Let’s not forget that the legislature allowed State Ed to take over the Roosevelt School District, they assigned the superintendent who ran the district for years, without any improvements. Receivership removes the school district from the local educational authority and hands it over to a receiver and other not-for-profit organizations, without any evidence that the model will show improvement or create chaos.

In spite of the apparent successes in Lawrence, before we jump on the train, the Regents should convene the stakeholders, primarily the unions and seek agreements on what is necessary to move forward, what impediments have to be removed and what supports have to be added.

A perhaps apocalyptical quote from Lyndon Johnson describes the complexities of change,

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”
―Lyndon B. Johnson

4 responses to “Cuomo, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work.

  1. The Chancellors District may have produced short term gains in 4th grade reading scores, but there were no gains in math, at the 8th grade level, nor in high school graduation rates. That’s hardly a recommendation for making it a district reform strategy.

    On the other hand, studies by MDRC are unequivocal in establishing the positive impact on student performance the new small schools have had in NYC.

    Nevertheless, this administration has made it clear that facts will not get in the way of district policies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eric

      Au contraire, the Chancellor’s District did show impressive gains (, unfortunately when the supports ended, the gains eroded.

      The Chancellor’s High School District was a phase-out model, Eastern District, George Washington, Taft and TRoosevelt, phased out and through a community-based model, new small schools were created … all the new small schools operated under the same structure, with strong, inclusive campus oversight. I believe the small schools created have outperformed the city as per graduation rates.

      I would agree, the lack of sustainable outcomes cast doubts on the short term increases in data in the K-8 schools. The high school model, on the other hand, was a sustainable model … the “lessons learned” were unlearned, and in my view the potential of small high schools seriously impaired.


  2. Just an aside: Eric is the one who taught me the power of collaboration in achieving success, as he well demonstrated at The International High School @ LaGuardia Community College.


  3. Pingback: Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB | Ed In The Apple

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