Chancellor Carranza, “There is no fat to cut … we’re at the bone,” Is he correct? Does the NYC School Management Model support schools effectively, or, Should we design a bottom-up model?

Susan Edelman, in then May 16th edition of the NY Post wrote,

“Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza says students will suffer next school year because he can’t find anything more to cut in the Department of Education’s $34 billion budget. Insiders say he’s lying.(no, not lying, committed to a model)

‘There is no fat to cut, there is no meat to cut — we are at the bone,’ Carranza testified Tuesday at a City Council budget hearing.”

How do you measure “fat”?

Let’s take a look at the Department of Education Organization Chart; the Chancellor added another layer, nine Executive Superintendents (and staff) each supervising a number of superintendents,

The current leadership includes the Chancellor, First Deputy Chancellor, Chief Academic, Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Chancellors for School Climate and Wellness, School Planning and Development, Early Education and Student Enrollment and Community Development, Partnerships and Communications. See here, and, click on the links to see the departments that fall under each of the Deputy Chancellors and other leadership staff.

Interestingly a number of the leaders are not career educators, and a few have de Blasio connections.

Let’s go down one level to the Executive Superintendent level and select one of the Executive Superintendencies – Brooklyn North.

I counted about fifty staff members with education titles and wondered about their day-to-day school engagement.

The next level down: the superintendents, in 32 school districts (pre-K to 8 schools) and high school superintendents and others with staffs of about a dozen in each superintendent’s office.

We’re talking about many hundreds of folks with pedagogical title: how much of their time is in schools? in classrooms?

A basic question: do the these folks working out of superintendent’s office, in theory supporting schools, add to the effectiveness of schools and how do we know it?

Do we ask principals and teachers to assess the “value added” of the superintendent and executive superintendents and their staffs?

How often are they in schools interacting with staff and students?

Do they model instruction?

Over the years educational management and leadership has been the subject of a great deal of research and college leadership programs espouse the results of the research, and, sadly one of the few places it doesn’t resonate is in the aeries of the NYC Department of Education.

Large urban school districts tend to be paramilitary organizations, the general orders and down the line everyone is expected to salute and carry out the orders. In the real world it’s more like a game kids play: telephone. One kid whispers in another kid’s ear and so forth, the message at the end doesn’t resemble the original message. Sound familiar.

The 1800 schools in New York City are tribes, Deal and Peterson in “Shaping School Culture: Pitfalls, Paradoxes and Promises” argue,

Every school has underlying assumptions about what staff members will discuss at meetings, which teaching techniques work well, how amenable the staff is to change, and how critical staff development is, adds Peterson. ‘That core set of beliefs underlies the school’s overall culture.’

In a school with a positive culture, Peterson says, ‘There’s an informal network of heroes and heroines and an informal grapevine that passes along information about what’s going on in the school … a set of values that supports professional development of teachers, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere’ exist.

On the other hand, in a toxic school environment, ‘teacher relations are often conflictual, the staff doesn’t believe in the ability of the students to succeed, and a generally negative attitude prevails.’”

In theory, the school community, guided by the change agent, the school leader guides the staff and the supporting entity, the superintendent supports the school.

Michael Fullan, sees principals as “leaders in a culture of change.” and reminds us, to quote a few ideas from Fullan

.. redefine resistance as a potential positive force. Naysayers sometimes have good points, and they are crucial concerning the politics of implementation. This doesn’t mean that you listen to naysayers endlessly, but that you look for ways to address their concerns;

… reculturing is the name of the game. Much change is structural, and superficial. The change required is in the culture of what people value and how they work together to accomplish it;

… never a checklist, always complexity.

What is so sad is that the teacher union contract includes a “school-based option” clause allowing schools to make changes in contract provisions in their schools as well as a Union-Board initiative called PROSE (See description here)  supports over 100 schools in “designing” educational models in their schools; an ownership of instruction.

The Affinity District is a “carve-out,” of schools working with a range of not-for-profits, support organizations, many of which are PROSE schools (See more detailed description here and here).

In the education nirvana, for example, a School Leadership Team identifies kids who have scored Level 1 for two consecutive years, the interventions the school tried have not shown results, a teacher suggests one-on-one tutoring. A call to the district office: can you provide someone who can assist us?  Who can help use design the model within our budget and steer us to other schools that might have tried the same intervention?

In most schools today principals buy a reading and/or math program because the superintendent likes the program. The next principal may like another program, if scores don’t increase the fault is the principal or/and the teachers. We used to call that philosophy: “the beatings will continue until the scores increase.”

How many superintendents run an interactive Faculty Conference in every school in their district?  How many superintendents convene Think Tanks, one teacher from each school who meets with the superintendent each month to discuss an educational article relevant to their schools?

Our last chancellor created a category called Renewal Schools, the lowest achieving 100 or so schools in the city and poured in a huge amount of dollars, without too much impact. Read two excellent assessments of why the Renewal experiment stumbled here and here.

I interviewed teachers in a Renewal School,

  • We were “meeting-ed” to death …
  • The “helpers” came and went, they seemed to be competing with each other
  • No one ever paid attention to us, they’d ask us and ignored what we said

So, let me go back to the original question,

How do you measure “fat”?

To what extent does the current management structure support building strong school cultures?  Very little, except in the Affinity District, the PROSE schools, and, what I call “under the radar” schools.

In the last few years of the Bloomberg era the school system was divided into forty or so Affinity Networks, principals choose a Network leader. I was consulting in a Network, a principal was not happy with the Danielson Frameworks, the Network leader told the school, “design your own ‘principles of effective teaching,” and use them as the rubric for teacher observations. I asked the Network leader whether he’s distributing the rubric, he shrugged, and “It’s not about the rubric, it about a school spending months discussing the principles of effective teaching.”

The needs of the schools should drive the support services, not fitting schools into a pre-determined model.

Yes, we need a leaner management structure.

One response to “Chancellor Carranza, “There is no fat to cut … we’re at the bone,” Is he correct? Does the NYC School Management Model support schools effectively, or, Should we design a bottom-up model?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    Caranza’s top down approach to school management prevents him from envisioning a different school support structure. However, the existence proof you mention of self-selected, self-governing networks of schools as an alternative to superintendencies suggests that schools can be more effectively nurtured by shifting the locus of control away from central to the schools themselves.

    It’s an added bonus that such central office structures cost less.


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