Tag Archives: Google

Spinning the Teacher Contract: How Manipulating the Media Controls Public Opinion, the “Message”, and, Elections.

A New York Daily News editorial panning the UFT teacher contract avers,

Bloomberg won a landmark reform that gave principals power to hire teachers as they saw fit, not according strictly to seniority. No longer were longtime teachers able to walk into a school and demand to bump someone who had been on the payroll for less time.

A canard.

Back in 2005 when the contract was negotiated the union tried to find one teacher who was bumped by a more senior teacher – without success. Sixty percent of schools had already opted for the School-Based Option Staffing Plan, the principal and a committee of teachers selected new teachers, seniority was not a factor, and, the new plan, called Open Market, allowed any teacher to transfer to any school, regardless of seniority, without the approval of the principal of the sending school. The hundred or so teachers who had received seniority transfers were replaced by thousands of teachers jumping to other schools, commonly from lower achieving schools to high achieving schools. The lowest achieving schools tend to have the least experienced teachers and serve as training grounds for teachers who are poached by higher achieving schools.

A terrible policy.

I’m sure the editorial page writer simply reviewed the stories from 2005, the spin from Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg.

Diane Ravitch bemoans that too many Americans, apparently including the Daily News editorial writers, get their “news” from Glenn Beck rather than legitimate news sources,

… we have lost many of our well-educated, cultured, well-informed thinkers. Often they have been replaced by shock jocks, ranting talk show hosts, and an entire cable channel devoted to trashing liberals, liberal social programs, and labor unions.

Influencing public opinion is an art and a science, whether you call it public relations, communications, spin, strategy or branding.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), the title of the centerpiece of Obama legislation contains two words, “Affordable” and “Care,” both intended garner pubic support; republicans have successfully branded the law as Obamacare, a pejorative term. Every republican speaks from the same script and poll after poll finds that a majority of American oppose the law,

According to a CNN/ORC International survey, 57% of adults nationwide oppose the measure, compared to 39% supporting it….

Forty-seven percent of respondents in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey said they would most likely support a congressional candidate who advocated repealing the health care law, compared to 45% saying they would most likely back a candidate who called for keeping and fixing the measure.

Republicans are winning the battle for the hearts, minds and votes, of the American people over the Affordable Care Act issue; the bottom line is that more Americans tune in to the Glenn Becks than read Paul Krugman.

In October NYS Commissioner of Education John King began a PTA-sponsored listening tour around the state in Poughkeepsie. The meeting was a disaster – a boisterous audience shouting down the commissioner – all captured on U-tube – with over 50,000 hits over the following weeks.

Poughkeepsie was the wrong place to begin the tour, an all-white audience in a city with a troubled racial past, and the format – the commissioner speaking for over an hour – the wrong format; a Q & A with respected local leaders at which the commissioner would have shone.

Over the past few years I have asked audience after audience how they get their news, from print media, aka newspapers, or TV or online. For audiences under 40 online is far in the lead, hardly anyone under forty reads newspapers.

I asked a manager of a rap artist how he decides which cities to visit on tours – he buys data on downloads of the artist’s music by city.

Social media rules.

Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg wanted to pass legislation in Albany to eliminate seniority in excessing/layoff determinations, the public reason, to get rid of “bad” teachers, the real agenda to weaken the union. The seniority issue: “bad” senior teachers bumping “enthusiastic” young teachers, a strategy to win public support.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the political machines, Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, elected candidates and party loyalty determined votes well into the twentieth century – you voted democrat or republican regardless of the candidate. Newspaper endorsements influenced voters, and ethnic politics was a constant.

Today with elected officials looked upon with disdain, voter turnouts at all-time lows, newspaper readership declining drastically, social media is relied upon as a source of reliable information, Marshall McLuhan is correct, “The medium is the message.”

“It’s on the Internet – it must be right.”

Michael Bloomberg had the perfect experience to be the Mayor of New York – he had mastered the art and science of communications – the creator of Bloomberg News – he totally understands the power of controlling the message – from the press release to the location of the event to who stands where on the stage – to the timing of the event – he controlled the outcome of the news – the populace had confidence in the mayor. His only stumble was education – he was outmaneuvered by the former carpenter and leader of the teacher union – who has a top-notch media communications team.

If John King held his first listening tour meeting at a venue with an integrated audience, if the questioners were highly regarded and highly recognizable public figures, if the format allowed for an exchange – if opponents or critics had an opportunity to be heard – the current sweeping criticism of the Common Core would have been muted.

The Daily News editorial also whines about changes in the school day,

Bloomberg added 37½ minutes to the teachers’ schedules for use, usually to help struggling students. De Blasio switched to using the time for “professional development” and “parental engagement.”

Bloomberg “negotiated” adding time to the school day in exchange for a substantial raise – a time for money swap. The Daily News ignores the impact of principal-teacher committees selecting school staffs. From my experience teachers felt responsible for the colleagues they selected – the process encouraged collaboration and a sense of ownership – if our kids don’t do well it’s because we, all of us, didn’t select the right teachers.

Since the change in the contract only principals select staffs – teacher attrition rates have remained high – the number of teachers who have tenure extended has soared – without any noticeable spike in student achievement.

Are principals picking the wrong teachers? Are principals failing to train newer teachers? Are school cultures increasingly toxic? All of the above?

From Google to Facebook to every high functioning major corporation collaboration among teams of employees are the model – perhaps the Department, and the Daily News, can learn a little from Sergey Brin.

Spin without substance ultimately runs out of energy and credibility, unfortunately the damage is done and kids only get one chance.

Districts or Networks? or, Structures That Support Teaching and Learning? Organizational Structures Should Be Designed from the Bottom Up.

At one of the seemingly endless mayoral candidate forums the moderator asked, “Districts or Networks?” The forum was sponsored by the supervisors union, the CSA, the audience, hundreds of principals. Each candidate answered “Districts,” except Christine Quinn, who turned to the audience and asked the same question, most of the audience raised their hands for “Districts;” recently 120 principals (less than 10% of the 1850 principals) signed a letter asking for the retention of networks, defending their autonomy.

There are arguments supporting each point of view.

The decentralization law (1970) established 32 community school districts, geographic entities attempting to capture neighborhoods. Each district was governed by an elected school board that acted quasi independently of the central board. Until 1997 the elected school boards hired principals and superintendents; a change in the law moved that authority to the chancellor. Voter turnout sharply decreased through the years and the elections, a proportional representation system, was controlled by the power blocs in the neighborhoods, the elected official’s political apparatus. In a few districts parents and communities were deeply engaged, too many were apathetic and a few deeply corrupt.

The mayoral control law ceded organizational control to the mayor; who, in 2003 announced the abolition of district superintendents and the creation of 10 mega-regions encapsulating the former 32 districts.

Senator Carl Kruger (now serving time at the expense of the federal authorities) sued the city arguing that the mayoral control law did not abolish the position of superintendent. The city retained the position of superintendent, in name only

Currently the 32 superintendents (plus the high school superintendents) rate principals, grant tenure and conduct occasional Quality Review visits; the superintendent’s staff is slim, a parent advocate and a secretary.

The 55 networks, with staff of about 15, half operations and half instructional support are evaluated by the principals. The networks, 25 schools each, are affinity groups of schools without any reference to geography. The network leaders have no formal supervisory authority; their role is support, although they do participate in the hiring/removal of principals.

As I understand the argument for networks:

Decisions impacting children should be made by the educators closest to children: principals and teachers. High functioning organizations, from Google to Facebook to Microsoft all allow teams wide latitude in solving problems. William Ouchi’s Making Schools Work (2003), applies modern management theories to schools.

Today, Professor Ouchi is one of the very few writers who can claim substantial influence in both education and business management. His 2003 book, Making Schools Work: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Your Children the Education They Need (Simon & Schuster), is based on in-depth study of the few large urban school systems that made consistent improvements in student test scores. The book identified seven elements common to good school systems: giving school principals local autonomy (as if the schools were business units), giving families a choice about which school they could send their children to, making schools accountable for student results, giving local schools control over their budgets, delegating authority as low as possible in the hierarchy, instilling a “burning focus on student achievement,” and setting up schools as “communities of learners,” where all the teachers figured out solutions together.

Jim Leibman, the former accountability tsar at the department argues that districts were part of the local political process – too many decisions were made that were inimical to the best interests of students.

Top down supervision stifles creativity and innovation, one size fits all, fits no one. Decades of all powerful superintendents created a compliance-driven school system that served the interests of the adults not the students.

Supporters of geographic districts argue:

Schools are part of communities and solutions to academic problems are rooted in problems facing communities. To have three schools in a single building all belonging to separate networks is ineffective. There is no evidence that the network structure has provided better outcomes, in fact, the evidence challenges the reason for networks. Although principals hire all teachers the teacher attrition rates have increased, especially in high needs schools. With so many new principals with limited experience to cast principals adrift is simply not fair to students. The current accountability system intervenes too late. Superintendents must visit and assess schools on an ongoing basis, not allowing schools to stumble and close schools.

In my view both points of view have merit.

There are schools that should continue to be in affinity, not geographic network, schools dealing solely with English language learners, transfer high schools, alternative programs, etc.

Newly appointed principals should work closely with a superintendent, the current system, mentors who makes an occasional visit, is too light a hand.

Do superintendents have the skills to work in collaboration with principals? In the past too many superintendents worked in a compliance-driven, top-down environment that discourages innovation and individual growth, a few were collaborative and worked closely with principals and teachers.

The question should not be districts or networks. The answer should be districts and networks, a model that serves the interests of all students, organizational structures that reward success as well as supporting schools.

A senior teacher blurted out to me at a meeting, “Why don’t they leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.” I thought to myself, “Do the kids know what you’re doing?” When principals and superintendents aver “I know what I’m doing,” do the teachers, parents and kids know what you’re doing?

Participation reduces resistance.

There is little evidence that a supervisory observation report alone changes teacher practice, the ongoing conversation between supervisor and teachers and among teachers changes practice.

The conversation between superintendent or network leader and principals changes practice: memoranda from central, the ukase, the requirements closely monitored only creates innovative ways to avoid implementing what a school leader feels will not improve his/her school.

Sergei Brin, the CEO at Google was asked how he improves the performance of his employees, He answered, “More parties.”