The new chancellor has been skipping from school to school for a month: the obligatory meet and greet new chancellor tour; heavily scripted trips around the city, the Sherpas arranging carefully controlled media availability, meetings with community and political leaders, lots of pictures with kids and the smiling chancellor. I had an opportunity to tag along on one these tours in the past: you could sniff the aroma of fresh paint, the custodian touched up the school the day before the visit, the student work on the bulletin boards all dated the day before the visit, the obligatory walk-through the day before by the superintendent to make sure everyone was on their best behavior as the chancellor smiles and shakes hands his inbox piles up with folder after folder.
Inbox folders: Specialized HS Options, Diversity (Note: NEVER use the words integration, or, heavens forbid, segregation), Suspensions, Renewal Schools, Fair Student Funding formula, UFT contract negotiations, ATRs, Management structure, Political relationships, Media relationships and more.
Will the chancellor’s management style be to respond to criticism, or, create his own agenda? His predecessor responded to criticism by creating a “program,” with dollars and a press release attached and move on to the next issue. The one initiative that she created, Renewal Schools, has been subject to constant criticism.
Many school and school district leaders follow a triage management philosophy; running from school to school, from problem to problem pouring water on the flames; unfortunately, they sometimes pour from the wrong bucket, pouring gasoline on the problem
After a raucous meeting at an Upper West Side white parents spoke out against a school integration plan, the chancellor, at 1 am retweeted,
,”WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,”
The next day the mayor was asked to respond,
“I don’t think he at all intends to vilify anyone — he’s not that type of person,” said de Blasio. “This was his own personal voice … I might phrase it differently.”
At a school visit the next day the chancellor responded to reporters,
“The criticism of my predecessor Chancellor Fariña was that she didn’t do anything about this,” he said. “And here I am in my first month actually engaging in this conversation.”
“Let’s all take a breath,” Carranza said. “Let’s let communities come forward with what their solutions could be. Let’s give the space to our CECs to lead those conversations.”
The following day the chancellor called the plan “very modest, quite frankly,” and a few days later, “Nowhere in there (the District Three Middle School Integration Plan) are they talking about some of the very drastic things like busing or like rezoning or any of those things. I think it’s a modest conversation to be had.”
Welcome to the Big Apple.
A heartfelt comment tweeted out results in a few days of scrambling and back pedaling.
I was on a review team visiting a low performing middle school; we arrived at the school bright and early, the secretary apologized, the principal was busy assigning coverages for absent teachers. The principal walked into the meeting, somewhat disheveled, “Had to find teachers for coverages, we can never find enough substitutes.” The team leader began the meeting with a soft question, “How would you describe the qualities of an effective teacher?” The principal, replied immediately, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door”
Triage management, advance planning is the crisis of the moment and the norm becomes constant triage: a description of the job of the NYC Chancellors of the past?
Does the new guy have a theory of action? Guiding principles?
Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in a paper entitled, “The Problem with the ‘What Works’ Approach to Education Research and the Case for Focusing on the Determinants of Highly Successful Education Systems” is sharply critical of focusing on programs, which he sees as commonplace, as the reason for mediocre student outcomes decade after decade. Tucker urges research leading to systemic change.
In my judgment … what the “proven program” research paradigm actually does is identify programs that produce marginal results in a dysfunctional system, when the real issue is how to fix the system, a problem that cannot be addressed with this paradigm.
The underlying logic is simple. Start with the problem – say, a large proportion of students leave elementary school two or more years behind in reading. Come up with a theory about the cause of the problem and, to test the theory, use the theory to develop … a program. Administer the program with statistical controls … Then, put all the programs whose effect size crosses a certain threshold and meet certain criteria for research quality on a list of proven programs. Then stand back and watch the policymakers implement them in great numbers, replicating everywhere the results the researchers observed. Except, of course, they don’t. They never have, and when they do, we don’t see much improvement at scale.
What researchers in the United States are doing is identifying programs that are at least making a little difference in a highly dysfunctional system. They tell you nothing whatsoever about how to build a highly effective system. They are a prescription for assembling a house of Band-Aids, when we could be building a great house.
And that bring us to the main point, which is that effective schools, districts and states are not compilations of effective programs. They are effective systems. You may have a great way to teach reading, but, if you have lousy teachers, it won’t produce great reading results. You may have great teachers, but, if the school leader is a petty tyrant and does not support good teaching, the good teachers will either leave or give up while going through the motions of teaching.
I am advocating for is a large program of research on the most successful education systems in the world, organized to help American states understand what combination of features of their systems account for their success, or, put another way, what the common principles are that underlie the different approaches they have taken. What is needed is a design orientation, which is to say that the purpose of this research should be to facilitate the redesign of our current state systems of education for high performance.
Robert E. Slavin Director, Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University in “Using What Works [is the] Best Way Forward,” sharply disagrees with Tucker, he avers there are specific interventions that work.
The only programs known from research that routinely add the equivalent of 20 or more PARCC points involve tutoring. This is particularly true when tutoring exists in a response-to-intervention format, in which students receive only the services they need. Tutoring is expensive. However, its costs can be greatly reduced by hiring high-quality paraprofessionals (teacher assistants), such as ones who have a B.A. Also, effective tutoring is likely to reduce special education costs in the long term. The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE), which I lead, recently completed a research review and found that tutoring from high-quality paraprofessionals exercised substantially positive outcomes on student achievement, averaging the equivalent of 26 PARCC points for one-to-one tutoring in reading or math, and 14 points for one-to-small group tutoring. If continued with integrity and care across multiple years, a growing number of students would reach “proficient” each year … students eventually could advance far beyond those in Massachusetts and “top-performing” countries. And there would be additional benefits: the apprenticeship model of hiring and training high quality tutors could bring talented, eager, recent college graduates into the teaching profession.
The most important problem in America’s schools is not our middling PISA scores. It is the persistent gaps in achievement according to social class and ethnicity. Middle-class, White, and Asian students do not present major achievement challenges for our country. It is African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, and disadvantaged students of all ethnicities, whose learning demands our full attention … My proposal goes to the heart of this problem. There is nothing wrong with struggling learners that tutoring and other proven programs cannot substantially improve.
Is Carranza the “firefighter” chancellor, responding to blazes, hopefully quelling the jibes of critics and the media? Or, as per Tucker, will be spend months analyzing and researching the system and move forward with sweeping systemic change? Or, as per Slavin, will he select well-researched programs, for example, tutors, and put the programs at the core of the teaching/learning process?
In the meantime those inbox folders continue to grow as advocates and critics lose patience, remember the new journalism mantra: if it bleeds, it leads.
My recommendation for Richard: exercise, meditation and lots of mariachi practice – you picked one stressful job!!