Two Popes: Will the Incumbent and the Winner of the Democratic Primary Collaborate to Build a New Department of Education or Vie for Power?

In the fourteenth century two popes vied for control of the Catholic Church, one in Rome and the other in Avignon, called the Great Schism, the popes battled for decades. Will we face the same warfare? Days or weeks after the June primary election a winner will be declared and the city will have two mayors, the lame duck mayor filling out days his/her days until the end of the year and the incoming mayor, hanging out in the wings.

The candidates are running against each other and against the incumbent; the attacks are becoming more and more personal.

In a mayoral control city the school board, appointed by the mayor, selects the superintendent, educational decisions and political decisions intersect. Will ending the selection process for Gifted and Talented classes alienate White and Asian voters, or attract Voters of Color? Integrate or further segregate schools?

De Blasio, the lame duck mayor and the interim acting chancellor are currently re-designing education for an almost post COVID world and they’re planning how to expend the billions of American Rescue Act dollars under the direction of a mayor who will be gone four months after schools re-open in September. The new mayor will step into a Department of Education already re-redesigned by the predecessor.

Everyone has plans.

Kim Sweet, the highly respected leader at Advocates for Children has her priorities, Jim Kemple at the Research Alliance for NYC Schools recommends a set equity-based solutions and David Kirkland at the NYU Metro Center with other priorities.

Will de Blasio simply say I’m the mayor until December 31st, the scepter and orb is mine, I will make the decisions until the clock chimes at midnight?

Will the primary winner be given a seat at the table, working with the incumbent in a smooth transition?

Will the incumbent and the mayor-in-waiting resort to 14th century actions, threats of excommunication, assassination attempts and the hundred year’s war, in other words, standing outside the tent peeing in?

Will the mayor-in-waiting choose a chancellor-in-waiting as soon as his/her primary win is assured?

I suggested in a previous post that the incumbent and the mayor-in-waiting should jointly select, let’s call it an advisory panel, to recommend a restructuring of the Department of Education, to wait until January 1st, the formal start of the term of the new mayor is beyond awkward.  A few key questions:

  • Should the membership of the Panel for Education Priorities be changed? Should the members serve fixed terms?
  • Should we create a “thinner“ bureaucracy?
  • How do we devolve decision-making to schools/clusters of schools?
  • How should we redefine accountability?

And many other questions ….

The key people are Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew, the teacher union leaders.

Unless your “reform” has teacher buy-in reforms will stumble. The education landscape is cluttered with corpses of failed reforms.

Tyyack and Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia:  A Century of Public School Reform (1997) tell us reformers must “… understand the political nature of school reform; involve teachers; understand how complex the process is and how much thought and patience it takes; learn from the past. When we try to use radical school reform to solve whatever public problem seems most urgent—that endless cycle of educational crisis, utopian demand and disillusionment—we fail both our schools and our society.”

A decade ago I sat in a roomful of school leaders and watched David Coleman’s kickoff of the Common Core, he was explaining how to teach Martin Luther King’s “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” and began by telling us how we’ve been teaching the lesson was incorrect; effectively alienating his audience; I knew we were in trouble.

The billionaire school reformers, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and others have followed the same pathway: exclude teacher union leaders from the process, dooming their initiatives.

Personal and organizational begins with two statements:

  • Change is perceived as punishment, “whatever you’ve been doing is wrong,” and
  • Participation reduces resistance, asking how we can do better is crucial.

The literature on school change is vast, we know change includes initial pushback, struggle and fatigues (see the stages of change here).

I had the good fortune to work in a school district committed to school-based management/decision-making, and, as the district union rep I participated in the process.

Our greatest enemy was the school system leadership, who pushed back; we were rocking the cart, threatening the existence of the bureaucracy, whose major goal was to protect the bureaucracy.

Eric Nadelstern, former # 2 at the Department of Education in the Bloomberg years described the Department as, “most intransigent bureaucracy since the fall of the Kremlin,” not exactly high praise. A management guide, “The very word bureaucracy conjures images of sloth, inefficiency and status quo-ist mindset. To associate bureaucracy with change would thus be looked as an oxymoron.”

The new mayor’s greatest ally is the teacher union leaders.

As soon as the Board of Election declares a winner, and with Rank Choice Voting it might take a while; s/he should pick up the phone and say, “Randi/Michael, lets talk.”

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