Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What works for New York...

... probably won't work for the District. The executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, Michael Casserly, argues that Mayor-elect Fenty's planned takeover of the District's public schools is exactly what is not in the interest of the city's schools and students.
The New York City school district, among others, is being considered as a possible governance model for the District. Every indication suggests that the New York schools are doing better than they were before the mayor's intervention. But the steps taken in New York were designed to solve problems the District does not have -- or has in a different way. Adopting New York's governance model would solve the wrong problems, leave current problems unaddressed and create new ones.

The D.C. Public Schools do not have clearly definable regional offices with their own administrative bureaucracies and elected school boards, as New York City had. The District's elementary and high schools already operate under a centralized authority. And the D.C. school system has the ability to define its own programs and services in ways that the previous New York system did not have.

The problems in the District are related more to overreaching and redundant decision-making authority above the school system and to weak capacity for solving the system's own problems. Having D.C. schools under the mayor's control would not solve this redundancy problem, and it would not address other challenges faced by the system. It might continue the debilitating turnover of school superintendents and add to the system's instability.

The biggest challenge to changing the school governance system in the District involves diluting the small semblance of voting rights that residents enjoy: being able to elect most of their school board members. Some cities -- such as Boston and Cleveland -- found after several years that their school systems were better under mayoral control and voted to retain their appointed boards. But other cities -- such as Detroit -- went in the opposite direction. Detroit returned to an elected board after five years with an appointed one, amid considerable community outrage at having its voting rights abolished.

1 comment:

Paul said...

People should not be so quick to run to NYC's model of school governance. There are lots of big pronouncements of success, numbers and statistics prominently displayed for the media, but almost everyone on the inside has a very different view of what's happening.

One thing is for sure, Chancellor Joel Klein is the master of public relations, parsed sentences as well as smoke and mirrors. People have to look beyond what is said in the media to decide for themselves whether his seismic shifts over the last five years have resulted in anything more than upheavel, dislocation and large no-bid contracts for high priced consultants. He started his tenure with demands for accountability, and yet he seems to be the only one beyond accountability, dismissing his repeated backsteps and re-reorganizations as necessary adjustments.

The bottom line so far is that educators have been taken out of the decision making role and have been replaced by managers with little or no background in education. The Chancellor has demonstrated time and again that he has no respect for educators and yet seems surprised that they have no respect for him or his plans. The result is that effective education in many schools is almost a guerilla type action, hidden from sight when Department of Education officials show up. As a result, good schools are being punished, parents are told they have a choice, but only among where to send their children, not by educational philosophy or method -- even when these approaches are validated by the weakest of measures, but highly valued by the administration, standardized test scores.

Now, not only are students to be poorly served by these high stakes tests, but whole schools are to be judged by them as well, using a computer system based upon the one used by the Police Department.

Look closely and deeply into the claims made by the Mayor and the Chancellor in New York City. You might find yourself saying, the Chancellor's new clothes are an illusion.

Paul Tainsh
New York City