Imagine 200,000 Former Opt-Out Parents Opting In to Support a Regents/Commissioner Initiative? Participation Reduces Resistance, Ownership Builds Trust

I was serving on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team; the state designated the lowest performing schools in the state that were getting worse. A decade earlier the school had been praised because of achievement working with immigrant students; a former principal had written a book about the achievements of the school. A decade later the school was stumbling. The SURR team pointed out a number of practices that clearly were not working. We asked the school why these practices existed; the answer: because we’ve always done it that way. The core education philosophy was Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia. (An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

Organizations resist change – external efforts to change long embedded policies and practices are viewed with suspicion, are viewed as punishment regardless of the efficacy of the new idea.

In fact, the larger the organization the more adept they are at deflecting change; whether externally imposed or the result of a new leader.

The organization is like a lump of silly putty, they can stick your finger into the putty and make a deep indentation, slowly but surely the lump returns to its former configuration.

I was sitting at a School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting. The teachers and parents had a suggestion (I forget the actual suggestion), the principal demurred, “It’ll never work,” after a while the principal agreed to go along, “I’ll go along if you we can agree on a way of assessing whether this idea works.”

Later I asked the principal whether he actually thought the staff could make the idea work, “Of course they will, they own the idea.”

Two rules of personal and organizational change:

* Change is perceived as punishment
* Participation reduces resistance

For the John King years teachers were told again and again that they had to change the way they were teaching, that the state was going to change the way teachers were assessed, one change after another imposed on teachers and teachers pushed back. A classic example of change perceived as punishment.

The governor, the Regents and the new commissioner are scrambling to win back teachers and parents. Three-quarters of the school districts in the state have been granted waivers from meeting the 11/15 deadline for negotiating a new teacher evaluation plan; the commissioner and the governor agree that the Common Core needs some changes, the tests will be shorter, more test items will be released, a number of small changes, an attempt to mollify alienated parents and teachers.

These will not be successful unless the Regents and the commissioner make changes in their procedures.

Virtually every school board meeting around the state offers the public an opportunity to walk up to a microphone and speak for a few minutes. School board meetings can routinely be viewed on local TV stations: except the Board of Regents meetings.

The opening session is webcast – the committee meetings, while open to the public are not webcast. There is no provision at any meeting for the public to make comments. After a policy is adopted it is sent out for public comment, and, at its discretion, the commissioner/Regents can alter the policy reflecting the public comment. The process is clunky and drags out over months.

The entire Regents meeting, the full meetings of the Board and the committee meetings should be webcast and archived.

Transparency is essential. The debates that take place in the committee meetings are the heart and core of the meetings, the members engage in a back-and-forth dialogue about the issue at hand. The public must have the opportunity to observe the creating of policy, not just the result of the deliberations.

The public must be given an opportunity to speak at Regents Meetings.

The Regents must devise a mechanism for members of the public both at the meeting and around the state to have an opportunity to participate in the meeting. At the special meeting to debate and eventually hire the new commissioner the Regent members participated through video conference. Questions can be emailed or tweeted; the public can view the meeting from designated sites around the state.

The Regents meeting must address problems/solutions not fluff and self-adulation.

At a typical Regent meeting a panel from a highly successful school and/or program will describe a program with the usual Power Point. A principal from a school that served English language learners proudly displayed wonderful data – why was this particular school successful when the vast majority of schools are not successful in meeting the needs of English language learners? I have no idea. The Department showed a Power Point, a Roadmap to College for ELLs, was there anything in the Roadmap new?

The Regents agenda is set by the commissioner and the chancellor – should the public have input into the agenda?

Participation reduces resistance: if the public, parents, teachers and voters across the state felt that the Regents reflected their concerns the agenda of the Regents would become the agenda of parents and teachers.

Imagine the impact of the 200,000 Opt-Out parents opting in to support a policy imitative of the Regents?

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