Tag Archives: PROSE

What Type of Chancellor Do We Need in New York City: An “Innovator” or a “Collaborator”?

On Thursday I helped facilitate an event, “How does the New ESSA Law Impact my School?” – about fifty principals and teacher union (UFT) staff listening to and interacting with two experts, one from the Department of Education and the other from the UFT: labor and management, principals and teachers, working together to comprehend a complex new law changing school assessment. I think I might even understand the difference between proficiency, growth, progress, measurements and goals.

Ironically the same day the NY Daily News published an op ed by former Bloomberg Department of Education staffer Andrew Kirtzman (“Needed: An Education Innovator to Follow Carmen Farina”) The innovators Kirtzman praises described themselves as “disrupters,” breaking apart a school system and building another based on their ideas. Kirtzman’s innovators/disrupters created turmoil. Over 2000 teachers in the ATR pool, Open Market transfers, aka, teacher free agency, Fair Student Funding, change after change, a chaotic era antagonized the work force. Teachers despised the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott, “innovations” that were actually an attempt to end tenure, weaken and/or destroy the union, an attempt that rallied teachers and created a vibrant opposition. Farina’s first job was to clean out the Augean Stables.

Obama/Duncan/King pumped out hundreds of millions of dollars: the Common Core, evaluating teachers by student test scores, in New York State four tests for prospective teachers, extending teacher probation, and, choice aka, charter schools. Once again, alienating the work force; teachers in classrooms across the nation and the state.

The most successful corporations, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zappos, all build teams of employees, teams with wide latitude to create and collaborate.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs is Tony Hsieh, the president and CEO of Zappos, an online shoe and apparel site.  In a new book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Hsieh argues that workplace culture is the key to highly effective employees that create a highly effective business enterprise. Spend a few minutes listening to Hsieh here.

 Workplace culture in New York City has dramatically changed, from the toxic culture of the previous administration to an increasingly collaborative culture. The 2014 teacher contract created PROSE schools,

Of all the breakthrough ideas in the 2014 contract, none has more potential to empower teachers and their school communities than the PROSE initiative. PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

See the PROSE application and rubric for 2018 »

Over 100 schools are currently in the program, bending management/union rules, redesigns, school communities finding better ways to deliver services to students.

The change in culture also comes from Albany, Commissioner Elia and Regent Chancellor Rosa involved the education community across the state in major policy decisions. The creation of the state ESSA plan included scores of meetings, hundreds of educators from all levels participating, thousands of comments, months and months of discussions created a plan that moves from how many kids reach a proficient grade (3.0) on a state test to a system that combines proficiency, growth and progress. The topic I referenced above, the work groups included all the educational stakeholders.

The former administration imposed a teacher evaluation system based on Value-Added Measurements, student test scores, to assess teacher quality. After a long, arduous battle Governor Cuomo agreed to toll the system for four years, teachers are currently assessed by a system called “the matrix,” a combination of teacher observations and locally-agreed upon measurements of student learning (MOSL) and student learning objectives (SLO).

With the moratorium in its third year the commissioner has asked for feedback from staff across the state.

See the APPR survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/commissionersAPPRsurvey

BTW, fill it out and submit- join thousands of teachers across the state.

We’ve had enough of “innovative” leadership, leadership firmly convinced they possess the Holy Grail, leadership imposed so-called innovations, and moved on to their next job.

The Gates Foundation has a new director of K-12 education, Bob Hughes, the former leader of New Visions for Public Schools, an organization that created and works with small public high schools. (He was also one of the attorneys on the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity law suit team). I know, I know, we’ll all suspicious of the word Gates. I worked with Bob for a few years, I respect him. The Foundation is requesting proposals for networks of schools.

The networks we invest in will use a continuous improvement process to improve student outcomes by tackling problems that are common across the network. At the foundation, we believe connecting schools that are facing similar challenges will increase the likelihood of school leaders identifying the approach that is most likely to be effective in their school. We also believe that principals and teachers, through focused planning, collaboration, and data-sharing within networks, can raise achievement and increase the academic success of Black, Latino, and low-income students

I arrived early for a meeting with a principal and asked whether it was possible to push up the meeting, the school secretary, “No, he’s teaching.” I was surprised, “He’s covering a class of an absent teacher?” The secretary: “No, he teaches first period.” I was intrigued.

When we met I asked the principal why he was teaching a first period class.

“I take three classes into the gym; we do exercises, maybe some yoga, a few basketball skills. it allows me to get the temperature of the kids, it allows three teachers to meet and co-plan for the day.”

I asked if I could speak with one of the teachers, the principal, “Of course.”

The teacher: “We love it, we can concentrate on particular kids, particular skills, I’m really enjoying this year and I feel we’re making a difference.”

There are school leaders and teachers across the city collaborating to improve their schools, unfortunately the “ideas” are rarely shared, after all, what do teachers know (sadly too often the higher-ups attitude).

The Gates Networks, the UFT-Department of Education PROSE schools, the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium, all move schools and kids forward, all make teaching more rewarding.

We need a collaborative leader, a chancellor who can build on the trust that Farina created. We need a chancellor who understands the answers are in the schools and classrooms. Distributive leadership throughout the ranks strengthens ties, gives every voice a place within strong school cultures.

Is Education Reform Dying or Thriving in New York City?

A week ago Eliza Shapiro posted a lengthy, well-researched article in
Politico, “,How New York Stopped Being the Nation’s Education Reform Capital.”  My question: who are the reformers and who defines reform?

Shapiro tells us,

[Reformers] sought to make New York City — the nation’s largest school district — into the central urban laboratory for education reform. They hoped to overhaul how schools evaluate teachers, and to weaken the grip of the powerful teachers’ union by loosening tenure laws. If they could accomplish those foundational reforms — in a deep blue state, no less — then perhaps New York could serve as a beacon for similar efforts across the country.

In the last three years, education reformers have made little progress in transforming the city’s public schools. Efforts to change teacher evaluations and tenure here have sputtered and stalled. Dreams of political domination have receded as policy disappointments have multiplied.

The Bloomberg/Klein and policy think tank reforms have waned; however, perhaps less controversial and more impactful reforms are in progress.

“The rollback of education reform in New York has been the most dramatic in the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Interviews with three dozen current and former New York state and city education officials, charter school leaders, teachers’ union brass and education researchers revealed how inconsistent policies, poor implementation and shifting national politics compromised reform efforts here.

While the Duncan/Bloomberg/Klein reform efforts have fallen by the wayside reform has continued, a slower more consensus -driven reform.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” a must-read for anyone involved in education policy tracks education reform efforts over time and concludes that if reform is to become “sticky,” to actually change teaching and learning, the reforms must include teachers and parents.  The road to reform is littered with policies that have been rejected in the classrooms across the nation. The vast literature on personal and organizational change tells us, “participation reduces resistance” and “change is perceived as punishment.” The reforms of the last decade, imposed from above, were doomed, regardless of their value.

The first problem: was the system broken? The reformers worked under the assumption that the system was dysfunctional and all that came before them must be cast aside, or, to be more cynical, trashed the system to defend the sweeping changes they proposed.

I’m not going to defend all aspects of the New York City school system, dozens of high schools were dropout mills, too many teachers were provisionally certified because they couldn’t pass the required pre-service tests, the elected school boards in the poorest districts were rife with cronyism; however, the system was far from broken. A fascinating massive study of college graduates , released in January, 2017, is informative,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus.

At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Not only CCNY,

Three CUNY colleges are among the top 10 in the country in enrolling low-income students and graduating them into solid careers. Six more CUNY baccalaureate colleges are in the top 10 percent of the 918 U.S. colleges included in the study.

The CUNY students are almost all graduates of New York City public high schools. As a member of the board of the CCNY Alumni Association I am on the CCNY campus frequently, the student body is extremely diverse, and, impressive.

The so-called reformers, for the most part, did not come from within the system and were not traditional educators. They were lawyers, economists, Teach for America grads, who honestly believed they held the holy grail.

Sadly, they didn’t, and, the system continued swing from reform to reform.

In the late sixties David Rogers, a sociologist, wrote, “110 Livingston Street,”

This is a rigorous sociological examination of “”bureaucratic pathology within the school system.”” Rogers, who chooses New York City as a “”strategic case”” of a national sickness in public education, conducted this study for the Center for Urban Education. Here he presents a full history: unofficial blocking of desegregation, inefficiency, fragmentation of functions, failure.

The next reform, decentralization, created a fragmented school system, the middle class districts thrived, dedicated school board members, innovative programs, deep community involvement while the poorest districts were saw rapacious local leaders who fought for power and jobs, and, the local electeds who benefited from the system allowed the poorest kids in the poorest districts to suffer.

In my view the reforms of the Bloomberg years, with exceptions, were ill-conceived and harmful. For example, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, at a cost of 150 million a year, was just senseless. Reformers were fixated on ridding the system of “bad teachers,” without any definition of “bad,” and succeeded in going to war with all teachers and many parents.

I an not going to recount and assess the reform policies, I am going to argue that reform is not dead, reform is now a process that has not garnered headlines but has moved the school system in a far better direction.

The Universal Pre kindergarten and the new “3K for All” are dramatic reforms that over the years will have an immense impact on improving outcomes.

Under the radar, the fifty or so transfer high schools, schools for “overage/under credited” students, about 2500 students citywide, serve students who would have been dropouts, the transfer schools graduate about half their students, while a 50% graduation rate is below the ESSA requirements the state, acknowledging the value of these schools has a separate metric for assessing the schools.

Under Bloomberg almost 3% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings based solely on supervisory observations and about 40% of probationary teachers had their probation extended. Did this policy improve the quality of teaching? We have no idea. Under the current administration, working with Albany, teachers are now assessed by a complex combination of supervisory observations and measures of student learning, the system, referred to as the matrix, is supported by the union, in spite of some member discomfit.

Even further under the radar about 10% of all schools have chosen to participate in a UFT-Department of Education collaboration, using the acronym PROSE, (See detailed description here)

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools range from staggered teacher/student schedules to teacher peer assessment, all collaboratively agreed to by the school leadership and the school staff. For me, taking ownership of your practice is the most essential reform.

Bloomberg administration, with the support of the union reinvigorated Career and Technical high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. A Manhattan Institute report, “New CTE: A New York City Laboratory in America,”

The March, 2016, points to substantial reforms, beginning with Bloomberg and continuing under the de Blasio mayoralty,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.

 City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication, in June, 2017 continues to track the CTE movement in New York City,

Encouragingly, policymakers have begun to offer programs to train students for such good jobs—and the early results are promising. In 2008, a task force commissioned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recommended overhauling and expanding the city’s career and technical training. Among the suggestions that the city adopted was a push to instill in high school technical programs “a strong academic foundation in literacy and numeracy” to prepare for today’s job market. The city also reformed vocational schooling to include apprenticeships, intern programs, and other work-related learning, seeking to ensure that students who don’t go on to college have some kind of certification or path to further training. Based on the task-force recommendations, the city has opened 25 new career and technical schools since 2010 and added vocational training to many others. New York now runs 50 schools entirely dedicated to career education and another 75 career academies within larger general-education schools, serving some 26,000 students in New York City.

Reform is far from dead in New York City, the “new” reform has continued meritorious initiatives and curtailed the foolish and harmful initiatives. The striking difference is that the union, parents and electeds are not only on board they are an integral party of the reform process.

I know there are cynics, all progress is manipulated, the school system is “bad,” the only answers are returning to the “good old days,” or, trashing everything and enlarging “choice;” the parachuting experts from the ivory towers of think tanks and universities who have “all the answers.”  A friend of mine begins each professional development session with “the answers are in the room.”

New York City is bubbling over with thoughtful, effective schools and programs, most of which bubbled up from staffs, the International High Schools Network, fifteen schools that serve English Language Learners who are new arrivals, Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, with highly flexible hours and total wraparound services, and on and on, the issue, how do we scale up success?  The International High School Network grew from one school to fifteen in the city and another fifteen or more across the nation.

With a mayor, a chancellor, a union president and a Board of Regents pretty much on the same page I am hopeful that progress will continue. Splashy reforms runoff into sewers, reforms that grow from classroom seeds embed and flower. City As School was one of the first alternative high schools;  I congratulated the founding principal; I thought the school  was a brilliant idea, he replied, “Speak to me two or three principals down the road, if you feel the same way I did my job.” Half a century later the school is still thriving. Good people, good ideas, hard work will create a better and better school system.

Charter Schools and the Education Reform Agenda: Fabulous or Failures? Why Top Down Reform Will Fail and Bottom Up Teacher/Parent Driven Reform Will Succeed.

“As charter schools continue to expand, new research indicates liberal opponents are failing to make effective arguments aimed at curbing the education reform movement.”

In a peer-reviewed article in the Policy Studies Journal University of Michigan political scientist Sarah Reckhow finds,

“Conservatives outnumber liberals in this country, and only liberals tend to oppose charter schools. They are failing to persuade even fellow Democrats who are more moderate…. Those who want more regulation of charter schools will have to find more effective ways of persuading people because their base is small and their arguments are falling on deaf ears.”

The 2014 midterm elections were a Republican romp; Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and pummeled the Democrats to seize control of the Senate. The national education debate was not around charter schools, the debate centered around excessive testing, Common Core, and, generally, the expanded role of the federal government in the formation of education policy

Charter schools are popular among conservatives primarily, according to Reckhow, due to their anti-union bias, as well as among the large swaths of progressive Democrats. At a recent panel of former Clinton staffers one of the speakers, who had a high-ranking policy position in the Clinton White House, praised Clinton for his support of charter schools. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) actively campaigns within the Democratic Party for the “reform” agenda: charter schools, weakening tenure, abolishing layoff by seniority and generally weakening the power of unions.

The consumers of charter schools, inner city parents of color, routinely flock to charter schools in lieu of the local public school.

What is particularly distressing is that the “evidence,” piles and piles of research, shows that charter schools are on a par with public schools, or have slightly better data, many stumble and fail, and this is in spite of their obvious advantages, few students with disabilities, fewer English language learners, high rates of “pushouts” and expulsions, and a recruiting system that favor parents with “social capital.”

Joshua Corwin, “Charter Schools: Fabulous or Failure,” takes a deep dive into the research findings,

Depending on whom you ask charter schools may be either an important solution to persistent educational inequality, or a misguided attack on public schools as Americans know them. Both sides are firmly entrenched in this debate, which remains one the more polarizing arguments in American education.

Corwin parses the studies that differ in their conclusions. Although not part of the Corwin’s article New York City is a good example, the large charter networks, Success, Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP and Uncommon Schools perform reasonably well while the hundreds of single entrepreneur charter schools frequently underperform neighborhood public schools. The article concludes,

The answer then to the question of whether charter schools provide opportunities for students in struggling public schools appears to be “yes, but…”

The important word here is “opportunity.” For some students, attending certain charter schools may lead to significant improvements in their educational experiences. How those effects occur remains a matter for debate; explanations for charter successes and failures are as varied as the results themselves.

In the realm of cyberspace there are enumerable blogs critical of charters and the so-called “:reform” agenda, there are over 200 bloggers within in Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education churning out post after post and thousands upon thousands of tweets. Are the anti-charter school bloggers and tweeters talking to each other or impacting opinion in the public sphere?

One of the main arguments of the anti-charter school, anti-reform folks is that they are fighting against the corporatists, the “rich and powerful,” the Bill Gates, the Eli Broads, the donor community, who are funding the support of charter schools and the reform agenda. Reckhow in an earlier book, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics, examined the role of foundations in influencing education policy.

Jay Greene, a scholar on the conservative side, in a review of the book wrote,

Reckhow confirms that total foundation giving to K–12 education may exceed $1 billion … Reckhow shows that large foundations have recognized the need to focus on influencing how public monies are spent, and that they are now devoting a significantly larger share of their giving on policy advocacy … Reckhow extends this analysis by warning us that shifting to policy advocacy won’t necessarily result in policy success, especially on an enduring basis…

Without building authentic and lasting support among local constituencies, philanthropic dreams of policy change may be ephemeral … New York City may have been easier, faster, and cheaper for reform-oriented foundations to accomplish their goals, but that speed came at a price. The support for reform policies is so narrow in New York City that Reckhow doubts it will survive for long after Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office. [And, yes, many of the Bloomberg era policies are eroding]

If large foundations can build and control a national machinery to shape education policy nationwide, then they have no reason to worry about how broadly based support is for their preferred policies. As long as national elites favor their agenda, they hope that the national machine they are constructing can force policies from the very top all the way down to every classroom.

Reckhow’s implication is that this national reform machine is doomed to fail. Both state and local education authorities will resist the national reforms before they can be completed, or they will ignore and subvert policies that actually go into effect. Millions of teachers and thousands of schools cannot all be monitored and compelled from the top. Reckhow’s lesson is that enduring and successful reforms require a broad and deep base of support, which top-down reform efforts are failing to develop.

… there is an alternative to trying to convince the education establishment to buy into reform. Donors could mobilize the most important yet most ignored constituency of all: parents.

Reckhow thinks donors should court unions, community activists, and local leaders…

The top down reforms, i. e., the Common Core and testing is the subject of grassroots parent advocacy, the “opt-out” movement is spreading from state to state and the reauthorization of NCLB is seriously considering moving away from annual student testing. On the ground parent advocacy may be turning back the climate of testing that has dominated the education scene.

Twenty years ago, David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform, they were also sharply critical of top-down public school reform efforts,

“… we suggest that reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide
public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from the inside out rather than top down … To bring about improvement at the heart of education – classroom instruction has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform … and it will result in the future more from internal changes created by knowledge and the expertise of teachers than from decisions of external policy makers”.

One of the most interesting experiments in “inside out” change began in New York City, the new teacher contract allows for wide latitude in changing provisions of the contract and management regulations. The project, called Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE), began with 63 schools and the application process for next year is underway, schools took on a wide range of projects,

Staff members of these schools created a range of plans, including staggering the school day to meet student needs, changing contractually required student-to-teacher ratios to allow for a combination of small group learning and larger lecture-style classes, and using portfolios of instructional strategies to help rate teachers. In close collaboration with their teachers, school leaders in PROSE schools will drive continuous innovation as they look to change some of the basic rules and regulations under which they have historically operated.

Critics of charter schools and the reform agenda are vociferous in their opposition and light on alternatives; except for more funding. Yes, poverty has a severe impact on families and children, however, to imply that poverty is an excuse for struggling schools is no salable. On the other side of the argument, to offer charter schools as a “fix,” to claim that teacher unions, tenure and seniority equals failing schools is equally foolish.

The American Federation of Teachers uses the term solutions-driven unionism and, I was taught when I come to the table always come to the table with solutions. I ran monthly meetings of union building reps, (in NYC called chapter leaders); my one “rule” was no one could bring up an issue that those at the table couldn’t resolve.

Inner city schools with similar students have widely differing results, school leadership and teachers can make differences. The differences may be small, they may be incremental, however, lower suspension rates, better attendance, and a rich engaging curriculum provides a platform for progress.

The large high school in which I taught “competed” with three neighboring schools for students one was a modern building with highly innovative “block scheduling” with an independent study option, another school included a highly selective screened program. The assistant principal in my school who was in charge of guidance services also led the student recruiting efforts. We hosted a lox and bagels breakfast for local middle school guidance counselors, produced a lovely folder advertising the school’s achievements, attended every middle school open house, every community organization; we lobbied elected officials for physical upgrades to the school building and entered every imaginable competition, we were activists and we successfully attracted families. A nearby school complained endlessly that we were “stealing their kids,” which, in a way, we were. One school, with no special circumstances, except their staff successfully retained neighborhood kids and attracted kids from surrounding neighborhoods thrived; the “complaining” school eventually was closed due to poor performance.

A colleague was waiting to meet with a principal, and began to pester the school secretary who kept on telling him the principal would not be available until the second period. “We have other schools to visit; can’t he meet with us now?”

The secretary responded, “No, he can’t meet with you, he’s teaching.”

The visitor, somewhat surprised, “He’s covering a class?”

Secretary, “No, he teaches gym every day first period so teachers can meet and plan.”

My colleague said he was embarrassed, the school leader and the teachers came up with a “fix,” an innovative way of allowing teachers to plan collaboratively…

I thought the PROSE program, as described above, would have many applicants, unfortunately too many schools abjure (“Don’t Move My Cheese”) change. For a dozen years under the Bloomberg/Klein regency teacher voice was diminished, in fact, outspoken teachers were punished.

Teacher, parent and student voice matters: fighting along with parents and students to improve a school and to improve society builds a school community, engages and produces students who are the kind of citizen that enable our city and our nation to prosper.

Will the Proposed New UFT Contract Change the Direction of Education Policy Across the Nation? From “Duncan Voice” to Teacher Voice?

Teacher contracts around the country have followed the Gates-Broad-Duncan model: merit pay based on student performance as measured by a Value-Added Metric (VAM), tying tenure decisions to VAM scores, eroding tenure and due process procedures and a heavy dose of compliance. A few contracts delink seniority from step/longevity increases and offer the potential of larger raises if teachers jump into the pay for student performance plans.

An example is the highly touted Denver ProComp Plan, negotiated by the union and the school district,

• Rewards and recognizes teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations
• Links compensation more closely with instructional outcomes for students
• Enables the district to attract and retain the most qualified and effective teachers by offering uncapped annual earnings in a fair system

The glitter of the Denver plan turned to dross – the enthusiasm waned and Denver did not become nirvana; however, the enthusiasm for the elements remain as similar contracts were negotiated in Cleveland and Baltimore.

The New York City proposed contract moves in a starkly different direction, according to the UFT website,

New teacher leadership positions, with extra pay, will foster idea-sharing by allowing exemplary teachers to remain teachers while extending their reach to help others.
Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The website Chalkbeat adds,

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

The proposed contract is taking on the essence of improving schools – changing school cultures. High performing individuals may impact students in their own classrooms, they do not impact schools. Teachers working in collaborative settings, none of which are necessarily superstars can create higher performing schools.

For twenty years, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (1993) has been the bible in corporate America – every large corporation organized themselves into a team structure.

A summary of the book that is the Talmud/Ten Commandments of organization after organization,

Lessons we have learned
• Significant performance challenges energize teams regardless of where they are in an organization. No team arises without a performance challenge that is meaningful to those involved. A common set of demanding performance goals that a group considers important to achieve will lead, most of the time, to both performance and team…
• Organizational leaders can foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a team-promoting environment alone.
• Discipline-both within the team and across the organization-creates the conditions for team performance. For organizational leaders, this entails making clear and consistent demands that reflect the needs of customers, shareholders, and employees, and then holding themselves and the organization relentlessly accountable.

Team Basics
• Small enough in number. Can convene and communicate easily and frequently. Discussions are open and interactive for all members. Each member understands the other’s roles and skills.
• Goals are clear, simple, and measurable. If they are not measurable, can their achievement be determined? Goals are realistic as well as ambitious.
• The approach is concrete, clear, and really understood and agreed to by everybody. It requires all members to contribute equivalent amounts of real work. It provides for open interaction, fact-based problem solving, and result-based evaluation. The approach provides for modification and improvement over time. Fresh input and perspective is systematically sought and added, for example, through information and analysis, new members, and sponsors.
• There is a sense of mutual accountability.

From Google, (“Redesigning Google“) to Harvard Business School teams are the expected organizational structure, except in schools.

Schools and school districts traditionally have been top-down organizations, each step down the ladder to the classroom everyone salutes and not much changes. Teachers close their doors and do what they have been doing for decades – new ideas; “innovations” come and go: from homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping of students, the Workshop Model to the Common Core Learning Standards, the culture of schools are strong and firmly embedded and schools become skilled at shedding ideas that require change.

The feds acknowledge the power of culture in their turnaround strategies: replacing the principal and/or 50% of the staff, converting the school to charter or closing the school; in other words, the only way to change the culture is to change the school leadership and/or the teachers who are not onboard. The turnaround efforts, in spite of huge dollar inputs have not shown lasting success – in my view because the plans are punitive (“change or else”), are put in place far too late in a school’s downward spiral and are imposed from the aeries of all knowledge, the hallways of Washington, Albany and Tweed. Turnaround schools are persistently lowest achieving Title 1 schools – the lowest 5% in a state, waiting until a school is far beyond a “tipping point” is a failed strategy.

The winter 2013-14 edition of the American Educator is devoted to the question collaboration,

In recent years, rigorous studies have shown that effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships between administrators and teachers.

It is no surprise that collaborative relationships within schools, between teachers and school leaders and among teachers lead to more effective schools. Begrudgingly even the US Department of Education agrees,

While real differences must be acknowledged and agreement among all stakeholders is neither a practical, nor a desirable, end goal in itself, the U.S. Department of Education believes that in the long run, the most promising path to transforming American education is student-centered labor-management collaboration.

In the early nineties New York State adopted regulations requiring schools to create School Leadership Teams (SLT’s), school districts complied, and the SLT’s languished; for compliance purposes the teams met to sign Comprehensive Education Plans or other required documents; it was the rare school that actually engaged in a collaborative relationship among staff members.. “Mandating collaboration” is an oxymoron – school districts and school leaders must model collaboration in their day-to-day operations – not cede leadership, not forgo the power and responsibility of their office – they must engage, and, collaboration is a two-way street, teachers must learn to engage both with the school leader and with each other.

The American Teacher points to caveats at the outset.

First, while labor-management collaboration is a necessary condition for sustained improvement in school performance, it is not sufficient. The strong relations must extend beyond the bargaining table to a persistent, team-oriented focus on enabling teachers to work more effectively with students. Other, interrelated factors also are crucial, including close ties with parents and community groups, and attentiveness to assessment results to identify areas where students and teachers need more support.

Second, while collaboration can promote a self-sustaining culture that outlives the tenure of any individual superintendent, principal, or teachers’ union representative, it’s also the case that disruptive personnel changes and political forces can torpedo progress built on collaboration.

Third, because collaboration usually requires upending deeply entrenched cultural habits, it is inherently arduous and requires years of effort on the part of all parties. Collaboration is not a “silver bullet” that will eliminate whatever ails a school; rather, it is a shared mindset and an agreed-upon collection of processes that over time enables everyone connected to a school to effectively work together in educating children.

An in-depth study of five high performing school districts explored the reasons for their success,

A high degree of engagement between administrators and teachers in developing and selecting instructional materials, assessments, and pedagogical approaches;
• Embedded time in the workweek for teacher collaboration to improve instruction;
• An openness among teachers to being observed and advised;
• Close monitoring by administrators and teachers of testing data to identify areas where students and teachers needed additional support; and
• Personnel who dedicate time to extensive outreach to parents and coordination with community groups and social service providers.

The proposed contract is an enormous risk for the union. For years the union stood outside the circle peeing in, criticizing initiative after initiative: how can Common Core work if there are no curricula, professional development is absent or insufficient, teacher expertise is ignored, the overuse of outside consultants, principals more interested in silencing teachers than working with them, “reforms” that are destructive of teacher morale; now, for the first time, the union is inside the circle.

The creation of a zone of innovation will encourage teachers and school leaders to create and actually implement their dreams,

Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The PROSE schools are an answer to charter schools, the defenders of charter schools point to freedom from union and management rules, now a cluster of public schools can, if they choose, shed restrictive union and management rules. Under the former contract the School-Based Option section did allow schools to reconfigure, the new zone schools can, perhaps, share these practices. When schools have a sense of ownership the school communities are committed to making their “ideas” work, rather than constantly looking over their shoulder or trying and operate under the radar schools can proudly display what they have accomplished.

The union will have to change, to move from an organization skilled at fighting back to an organization committed to promoting educational leadership among their members. Some teachers will be unhappy, they would rather close their doors and teach; opening their doors to other teachers is frightening. Working together is not natural, some teachers are protective of their lesson plans, sharing is out of the question. The union has to move from filing grievances to mediating disputes among their members.

Union President Mulgrew has taken a risk – he could have simply negotiated dollars and cosmetic changes – he choose to negotiate a contract which may change the entire direction of a school system, he may have negotiated a contract that will resonate across the nation, he may have negotiated a contract that will impact federal legislation.

In my union representative days the Board of Education started a program called QUIPP,

Quality Improvement Program Plan for Special Educators (QUIPP) which provides supplemental professional development opportunities for New York City special education professionals and paraprofessionals at the elementary, middle, and intermediate/junior high school levels. The program stresses design of the professional development program by program participants.

As the union guy I put together a committee of special education teachers to work with the district to design the program. It evolved into a catalog of courses taught by teachers, lectures by experts, a retreat, a professional library in every school, and for me, interactions with teachers who had no interest in fighting and filing grievances; teachers, who for the most part, had never been involved in the union were now involved in an educational project led by the union and the school district.

I would like to think that we are reimagining a time when the union, in partnership with the Board of Education, was the driving force in creating new pathways, from John Dewey High School to City-As-School High School, to School-Based Options to the SBO Personnel Transfer idea.

Maybe by taking the road less traveled we can change the future,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.