Thursday, November 18, 2010


Watch out now--I'm going to take a break from blathering about my humdrum life and be in the now!

How wonderful that Prince William and Kate got engaged! I think it's so sweet and happy. I'm also glad that the media, in general, seem to be happy and nice about it, instead of snarky and trollish like it can be. (Though of course when gothamist posted about it, the legendary commenters immediately starting hating. What about NYC being the best, again?) Anyway, good on them, and congratulations! We can all use happy news like that once in a while.

Not quite congratulatory, but I suppose any former teacher blogger shouldn't ignore this passing of chancellor-baton that's just starting. I only taught under Klein, so thankfully I don't know what it's like to have a new chancellor every couple years. When I began teaching, I accepted the party line of disliking everything he tried to do. As time went on, and I was forced to think about it and understand that he was a person working hard for the system, I no longer hated him. Some of the decisions I found odd or ridiculous, but it's not hard to see that at least it's better than nothing.

And seriously, no matter what, the New York City school system has pretty much been fucked for a long time. It's completely broken and I don't ever see a way out of it altogether, because the system is just too big--too many buildings to maintain and build, too many kids to cram into those crumbling buildings, too many principals doing really great or really stupid things, too many kids who don't do much at all but still pass, too many angry parents who don't want their kids to take responsibility for their actions, too many parents who don't give a shit or who are too busy to care, too many teachers who work their butts off for not enough pay or acclaim, too many teachers who don't do a damn thing all day and still get paid, too much focus on fucking bulletin boards instead of real live learning, too many sensationalistic news reporters eager to break a new scandal about all the things wrong with the schools/the teachers/the chancellor/the union/the city/the world.

Was Joel Klein a hero for the schools? Eh, probably not. Did he and the mayor work hard to try and effect change? Yeah, I think we can all agree on that, even if we don't agree on the results. Can anyone be a hero for the schools? I doubt it--see above.

The pick for new chancellor, Cathie Black, does seem completely out of the blue. Along with pretty much everyone else, my initial reaction was wtf? A publishing exec? Huh? What does that have to do with schools?

However, in reading a little bit and thinking on it, I suppose that a schools leader on that level doesn't necessarily *need* school experience, because it is a high level managerial position. However, I do think that experience in schools, especially in inner-city public schools, would develop some humility and a dose of reality to those on the top. It makes sense that the person in charge of public schools knows what it's like to be in one, as a student and/or teacher. Which is why there's apparently the law that superintendents have to have at least three years' teaching experience. Good job, New York State!

On the other hand, I can see the benefit of bringing in someone fresh, who's not already bogged down in edspeak and teaching jargon, dismayed at the state of education. I don't think publishing prepares you to be a chancellor, but perhaps being a leader in one field might translate to being a leader in another one. Certainly good leaders all share similar traits, across disciplines.

One thing is certain--actually two. One, I would not want to be chancellor, because there's no way to win. You'll never be the good guy because there will always be groups clamoring to bring you down and argue against every single thing you do (whether it's deserved or not). Two, Cathie Black has her work cut out for her! She's jumping into an awfully big ocean on a fairly flimsy canoe.

I'm not sure it's anyone's place to question the placement. If the waiver is granted, then it's done and there's nothing we can do. Fighting and arguing and signing petitions isn't going to do much. Clearly, Bloomberg has his reasons, whatever they are, and his history shows that if he gets an idea, he will not give it up.

Furthermore, all that fighting does exactly the opposite of what needs to happen--focus on the kids. Okay, we have a new chancellor. Whatever. What are we going to do about this crazy broken system? How about we be realistic--there's no money to put into the schools, and not enough kids are learning what they should--what can we do to move forward?


Anonymous said...

This makes me sad:

"I'm not sure it's anyone's place to question the placement..."

I am not going to argue with the opinion you've expressed on Black - I disagree, but I don't want to argue.

But my bread and butter is standing for what I believe is right, and for someone to question whether it's my place - whether it's anyone's place - to question... I don't know what to say.


J said...

Hm. I most certainly don't mean to upset or offend, and I apologize if it came across that way.

I guess I'm just thinking about the effort--is it possible to change this appointment?

Sure, please stand for what you believe in. But don't we all stand for the kids?

I haven't read everything out there obviously, so I don't know everything. Did you believe Joel Klein was an effective chancellor?

Obviously you work hard for your students every day, and you want the best for them. That's the bottom line, right?

Perhaps I'm being simplistic?

Schoolgal said...

Wow. I find this post upsetting on many levels. There have been great chancellors, and some not so great. Klein was never great. He was just a bully. The first thing he did was cut programs that were working for my district. Then this leadership academy--many of it's so-called graduates were fired, but that never made the news. Changing the literacy program and then bringing it back years later!! Bringing in programs but refusing to provide the professional development needed. The money he wasted on so-called consultants like the Brits and anti-union groups parading as teachers then leaving after a few years. And those awful assessments that forced teachers to teach to the test. We will have a generation of kids who can fill in a bubble but can't think for themselves. Forcing schools that are making progress to close because he wants more charters. Using bogus stats to rate schools.
What "positives" have our kids received under his tenure? You also worked for charters and I don't recall many positive posts.

If I were running a corporation, I would certainly consider Black. But Education is not about profits. It's about kids and teachers. You can't talk about one without including the other. But how is this good for the kids if she herself doesn't understand what really goes on in a school unless it's a posh private school?

I am really surprised that you feel people don't have the right to protest this appointment.

J said...

Let me clarify; I'm thinking forward: Once the appointment is final, there's nothing that can be done, right? So if this is the period where Black is waiting for the waiver, then sure, this is a time to protest and question. Again, I'm thinking as if it's a done deal.

Once a new chancellor is in place, I don't think it's a good use of energy to protest. When it's time for a new mayoral election, yes, push for someone who has new or different ideas about education who will appoint a chancellor to implement and administer those ideas.

It just seems like any chancellor is going to get protested, which to me seems political and really tiring.

The changes--yes, I agree. That is confusing and maybe useless. The consultants, if they were useless, yes, that's a waste.

But that shows that the education leaders are looking for good ideas, and not assuming they have all the answers. Now, maybe they could look in better places for better ideas from consultants. Trying new things is essentially a good idea--again, I believe our system as a whole is broken. We need new ideas. Do we need new and contradictory ideas every year? No.

I would argue that the teach-to-the-test comes from the federal government and NCLB. It seems pretty clear to me that that filters down to the state and district level. I disagree with NCLB and the excessive testing, but I also understand the trickle-down pressure. Just like I was often frustrated by pressures from my school admin, but I understood it was coming from above and it wasn't personal. Again, NCLB and testing is not an issue that comes from NYC. That's something to write to congresspeople about.

As for my experience in charters (which I don't see relevant at all to this post), that's an individual school issue, not a chancellor issue. I believe that charters have their place, and I've experienced some bad charters and seen a couple good ones. That has nothing to do with Klein. You can't argue with the fact that charters do different things and can, as a whole, offer different things than public schools. (For instance, I have never seen a charter school class with more than 25 students. You can't make that guarantee in a public school.) Whether or not those are effective depends on the administration of those schools, as well the teachers, of course.

Andy said...

I think there's a distinction between the right to protest an appointment or a policy and whether it's particularly useful to do so. Seems like you were trying to make a point about the latter, and it's the right question to ask in this case.

For most of the people protesting Black's appointment, any objection they have to Black herself is dwarfed by the objections they have to Bloomberg's education agenda and the concept of mayoral control. This appointment--whether it ends up being Black or someone else--won't change either of those things. Any chancellor Bloomberg appoints is going to follow his education agenda, simple as that. It's fascinating to me that anyone would pretend otherwise.

So I agree that it'd be a lot more productive to use this change as an opportunity to hash out underlying policy disagreements or have an honest conversation about the problems the system faces today.

Schoolgal said...

I do believe that the protest are focusing on the "deform" conversation. Why was this selection process kept secret? To think that there is not one person with an education background qualified is ridiculous. And the value-added system is filled with flaws, but no one including the union who backed its use seem to care. Perhaps the chickens are coming home to roost. If this issue wasn't so important, it wouldn't be front page news almost every day.

I disagree with JD in that it was Klein who started the bonuses for principals which led to test prep at least on the elementary level and not NCLB. And I cannot think of one consultant who did anything positive--unless you are referring to changing the bus schedule in
the middle of winter? And didn't he recently try to use his so-called "emergency powers" to override an order not to kick out autistic kids from their building?

The conversation that needs to be addressed on the state level is the revisiting or possible elimination of mayoral control.

Anonymous said...

It's nice that so many people are concerned about me wasting my effort. Trust me, I won't stop giving any of you cause for concern.

@Schoolgal, you disagreed with J, the blogger here, not me (this time).

I'm not in it "for the kids" and I'm not in it for "a conversation." I'm not in it for a catch phrase or a cup of coffee.

Teaching is my job. I teach my students as best as I can.

I advocate for teachers, in general, and against those who oppose us. I advocate for public education, in general, and against those who would destroy it or weaken it. I advocate against inequality, in general.


Schoolgal said...

Jonathan...I only disagreed with you about blaming NCLB when Klein clearly set the stage for test prep via bonus structures and rating systems.

Today's NYTimes story about the panel picked for the approval of this selection having close ties to Bloomberg...yet Mulgrew doesn't have a problem with it???

Maybe someone should tell the UFT to start advocating for teachers too. Once again Mulgrew plays both sides but always comes out giving Bloomberg whatever he wants, like when he pretended to be against the closing of schools, winning in court and then making a deal to turn them into small schools giving Bloomberg wanted in the first place. What a hero!