Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lessons from Michelle

The Times has a good AP article on the resignation of Michelle Rhee. There are some good quotes. For example:

"Michelle Rhee did mostly what she was hired to do: shake up the system, be a bull in a china shop," said Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank.

Really? A bull in a china shop? I guess if you think slash and burn is ed reform, okay then.

Larry Cuban, a former D.C. public schools teacher who wrote a book about education reform in Texas, says Rhee took the "sledgehammer" approach of many new schools heads: trying to force reform through quickly. In her first year, she closed more than 20 schools and replaced nearly three dozen principals. Cuban said that approach doesn't work.

"It fails because it often alienates the very groups you have to cooperate and build partnerships with, and those are teachers and parents," Cuban said.

Feeling kind of wistful here because I'd love if our district was trying to build partnerships with teachers and parents. That the Board and the Superintendent have never said anything publicly about the 99% vote of no confidence against Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's leadership is troubling. Do they not take it seriously? Are there no fences to be mended? (I do know that at least one School Board member has reached out to teachers to understand the vote.) Saying things like you think some TFA training is better than what current teachers got doesn't help.

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said he wasn't bothered by the pace of change under Rhee but rather by her approach.

"There was a certain degree of impatience that caused her to overlook the human element of this," Parker said. Had she "exhibited a little more sensitivity," he added, she would have fared better.

Who does the above statement sound like? It certainly isn't about being "nice" but realizing that you can't just steamroll over people.

In the end, Rhee, a former Teach For America teacher, didn't last much longer than many urban school heads. According to a 2008 report from the Council of Great City Schools, the average tenure of a school superintendent is about three and a half years - about what Rhee's was.

31 comments:

Anonymom said...

"That the Board and the Superintendent have never said anything publicly about the 99% vote of no confidence against Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's leadership is troubling. Do they not take it seriously?"

Not that MGJ and the board shouldn't take a vote of no confidence seriously, but we have voted no confidence in the last three Superintendents. A vote of no confidence doesn't pack quite the same punch it used to.

Jessica said...

Sincere question: Is there a big-city school superintendent (in another city, that is) whom readers of this blog admire? Who is doing it successfully?

People like Rhee and Joel Klein get a lot of attention. Are there other superintendents who could be role models for Seattle?

ParentofThree said...

You think that within months of Vote of No Confidence the TFA proposal appeared on the board agenda, fast tracked? I don't. And I am thankful that it was pulled, yes for the moment, but will not be fast tracked second time and I am betting there is not a lot of board support for TFA at the moment.

Aunty said...
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Aunty said...

Ms. Rhee (pronounced mis-e-rhee) was campaigning illegally for Mayor Fenty. I suspect that's why she left in a hurry - violations of the Hatch act.

Any gains for students Rhee claimed in DC are spurious and not to be believed.

These 2 guys are a huge wealth of information about the details of DC schools. 45 minutes long, but highly recommended.
http://vimeo.com/15290640

They lay it out, and also throw down a bid to get rid of the teachers' union leadership in DC and put someone in with research, commitment to teachers and students and parent, and ganas.

Aunty said...

Anyone know of a specific instance when TFAers were used to break a teachers' strike?

Aunty said...

Teachers didn't vote no-confidence against either Mr. Manhas or Mr. Stanford, Anonymom.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good question, Jessica. Here's the problem - not many stay long enough to figure that one out. And it goes both ways because superintendents are just as likely to leave as be ousted.

According to an article I found there are fewer good candidates out there because of the never-ending turnover. A lot of it is money (superintendents are tending to really get higher and higher salaries) and some of it is fit.

From the article:

"Accountability is a much bigger factor than it used to be and the superintendency makes a lot of demands on people's time. I say to superintendents all the time, "you're only as good as your last act."

I've heard that Dr. G-J's successor, Nancy McGinley, is actually doing fairly well.

I'll have to do some research and see who I turn up. When Dr. G-J applied, I did prefer the other candidate much more. He was from Philadelphia.

I think some of it is this idea of Quick! do something. Education isn't an overnight thing. Another issue is doing too much. If you churn up a district with multiple initiatives, how do you know what to credit for success?

I don't know about TFAers breaking a strike but one issue to be sure is in the MOU is that the TFAers are NOT exempt from any RIFs. I note that this happened in at least one district in Baltimore. I think that would be highly unfair to the SEA teachers.

Central Mom said...

Jessica, I don't think you'd want to limit your question to superintendents, or to "big city". The right candidate might also come from a CAO or CFO position within a district, depending on his/her overall skill set and the values of this city.

For instance, I happen to put a huge value on parent involvement and a collaborative attitude at the policy-making level. For that, I would be willing to give up previous superintendent experience within a same-size district as a "gating" factor to being a candidate here.

I would expect others to have different values. For some it will be bottomline fiscal responsibility. For some it will be a rose-from-the-teacher ranks job history.

In short, no superintendent is going to have a chance of being successful in OUR community (vs. a different community) unless/until we have a community discussion, led by the board, on what we need here in Seattle. Lots of input from lots of voices. And a strong board to marshall the process.

Then we could start throwing names around.

Central Mom said...

And BTW, something Melissa used to say (and her viewpoint may have changed, so she'll have to speak up) is not that our current superintendent isn't skilled, but that she isn't the right skill set match for our city.

I've seen pros and cons in MGJ, and that would be a whole different thread...but something that struck me recently, and is hitting me over the head again w/ Michelle Rhee's firing er "resignation" is that you have to look at a leader's peer group to understand a leader's mgmt. style.

When I look at the Broad Board, on which MGJ sits, I see her peers are Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, the superintendent of Philadelphia, etc. (Oh, and the head of KIPP and the head of TFA, but again, that's another thread.) Anyhow, these are mega-districts, absolutely huge compared to Seattle. And the urban issues are by orders of magnitude amplified there too.

It seems to me that MGJ's style, agenda and skillset are oriented, in part because of these very peers, to Districts that are quite different from ours.

I think, after 4 years, MGJ is starting to see that Seattle is NOT those places. And the agendas for those mega-districts may NOT be the agendas for ours. At least, I hope she is. And if she isn't or can't, then that, too, is a different conversational thread.

Bird said...

Ooo.

Do you think we could recommend MGJ for DC schools?

Central Mom said...

Hmmm. Went to fact check that I had the right cities for the Broad Board and, in the past week, our superintendent's name has been removed.

Perhaps it was time for Goodloe-Johnson to rotate off the board? Someone should ask her, or Broad, why she isn't serving as of, perhaps, this week? If you talk to Broad, have them update Michelle Rhee's job title.

seattle citizen said...

Wow, Central Mom, you're right: Supt. MG-J is no longer listed as being on the board of the Broad.

That makes TWO board positions she is off of in one week...NWEA and Broad. Maybe her time WAS up over at Broad, or maybe she's figuring out that people are connecting dots and not liking the picture that emerges.

Now, if only she'd get off the board of the Alliance For Gates Education....

Charlie Mas said...

Whoever is making decisions in Everett has made some good ones about how to get kids to graduation.

The new superintendent in Bellevue has moderated some hardline positions and made peace with the teachers. That's good.

I'm sure there are others.

But, honestly, the problem that we have here in Seattle isn't unique. It isn't just Seattle, and it isn't just Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. The culture of public K-12 education is dysfunctional all across the United States.

Public K-12 Education in the United State DOES need reform. It does need to be severely re-organized and re-directed. The voices of Education Reform have that right. Unfortunately their favored solutions are all wrong.

Most of their "solutions" don't work and many of them actually make things worse.

The things that actually will work, the things that can and should be done, don't get support. Maybe because they are not quick fixes implemented from the top-down. Maybe because they require too many people to put the students' interests ahead of their own. Maybe they demand too much change from people.

There are places where people have created sustainable success, but they don't seek a lot of attention and they don't get a lot of attention.

Jessica said...

Central Mom, you're right that big-city supts aren't the only ones who could a role model. but they are much more visible in terms of current responsibilities, strategies and results (or lack thereof).

I'm wondering how many (if any) school district CEO's find ways to "reform" without alienating large groups, parents, teachers, within the education community. Is it really possible?

The Atlantic's website mentions the Baltimore superintendent, who apparently worked w/Rhee, as one example. (www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/whats-next-for-michelle-rhee/64517/)

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I'm wondering how many (if any) school district CEO's find ways to "reform" without alienating large groups, parents, teachers, within the education community. Is it really possible?"

I think the bigger question is, has anyone tried?

seattle citizen said...

I don't know if anyone has tried to "reform" without alienating all the stakeholders, but so far I think not.

"Reform" is a package - thought up in the Broad Foundation, bought by Arne Duncan, sold by NWEA and other companies (ed management, charter, curriculum, tech...hedge funds...) that a) see profit, b) see "helping kids" because they might believe it does, or C0 some combination of the two.

In the last three years, "reform" has become a mantra and a cannon: "Do it now! Pow!" It is not subtle. It is sold on the idea that there is a crisis (strangely, a "crisis" that has been going on for decades, they tell us); it is sold on the idea that public teachers s***, oops, are not good but non-union, privatized, watered down union teachers are just great!

All this required a "gotta do it NOW" ethos, and there is nothing subtle about it, nothing that takes time, nothing that deigns to listen to varied opinions and find consensus.

So my guess is that anywhere we find a "reform" superintendent we find a "take no prisoners" mentality - our way or the highway.

It's unfortunate, because just as every student is different and has different needs, every school and every district is different. The "reform" movement would have us believe that students, schools, and districts can all be "fixed" with a one-size-fits-all package.

The positive news is that people seem to be waking up. There are many signs. More positive news is that the "reform" movement has spurred on much debate about what IS good pedagogy on local levels - what IS a quality teacher? (That's a conversation that I still haven't really heard, but at least people are thinking about it); what ARE the different needs of students in different classrooms and different schools around Seattle?

This blog is evidence of these conversations - lots of discourse about need, from a variety of points of view. If only we felt (I don't, can't speak for others I guess) that the conversation included those who manage the system. There are new signs that it does, and it would be wise for us to welcome these, and work hard to develop these conversations with the managers, to have a lot of different voices. I'm not right about everything (almost, but not quite...) and welcome an increased perspective about issues I care about. I still react in a knee-jerk fashion, to be sure, and I'm still relatively close-minded (being under siege might have that effect?) but I am finding myself listening to other's perspectives more often. Are the managers?

Anonymom said...
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Anonymom said...
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Anonymom said...

Joseph Olchefske received a vote of no confidence and resigned.

Raj Manhas received so much criticism of his school closure plan, and was threatened with a vote of a no confidence, that he too resigned.

This year MGJ received a vote of no confidence.

Three supers, in a row.

Talk about slash and burn.

And a revolving door.

I'd be interested in comparing those statistics.

Do we continually hire incompetent supers and pay them 240,000+ a year? Or are we just a crowd that can't be pleased?

It's beginning to seem like we can't embrace or even tolerate, any leadership.

dan dempsey said...

WA DC is NOT a mega-district, absolutely huge compared to Seattle.

WA DC is less than 10,000 more students than Seattle.

NYC and Philly are huge but not WA DC

NYC 1.1 million
LAUSD 690,000
Chicago 420,000
.
.
.
Philly is number 8 at 163,000

dan dempsey said...

Consider this from The Broad Education Foundation:

Statistics

Number of Broad Academy-trained superintendents currently working in school systems: 40

Number of Broad Residents placed since 2003: 217

dan dempsey said...

Guess what the Broad Foundation page on "Best Practices" is under construction.

But wait ... THE BROAD says:

"Efficient Organizations

Every person and every dollar in school district central offices and schools must be focused—efficiently and effectively—on students, not adults, and must be held accountable for results. When a central office operates efficiently and effectively, it serves students well by pushing all available resources down to the classroom. We invest in efforts to institute financial controls, technology and accountability systems in large urban school districts and charter management organizations."



So what is happening in Seattle????

Perhaps Mr. Board needs copies of the State Auditor's Reports

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymom, I have said it before and I'll say it again. Superintendents come and go everywhere in the country. This is not a Seattle thing. It seems to be about even whether they are pushed or leave for a better deal. What would help is for superintendents to:

1) not come in and decide to completely shrug off everything that came before
2) believe they can make a huge change in a year or two (unless the district has terrible finances and/or malfeasance)
3) believe they don't need parent and teacher support for their changes

It is not just Seattle.

Charlie Mas said...

Raj Manhas quit because the Board was about to fire him.

The Board was about to fire him because he was thwarting their policy instead of implementing it and because he was doing a perfectly dreadful job. Read the CACIEE report. The whole first half of the report is a blow-by-blow description of how Raj Manhas had failed to fulfill every single duty of the chief executive.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has talked a good game. I give her full credit for supporting accountability, curricular alignment, academic assurances, inclusion for students with IEPs, and reducing the cost of transportation and nutrition services.

But look at her actual performance. Instead of curricular alignment we're getting standardization. The academic assurances aren't there. The special education inclusion is inadquately supported. The Transportation tail has been wagging the school bell dog and the changes in Nutrition Services may be creating higher net costs.

On top of that she has botched the new student assignment plan, the southeast education initiative, capital projects, legal decisions, policy compliance, legal compliance, labor relations, and public relations.

The only thing she has done well is attract grant money from Gates and Broad. We are NOT, however, getting much financial support from anywhere else. STEM was supposed to get all of these local partnerships and grants, but we haven't seen those.

I can certainly understand why her supporters say that I find fault with the superintendent. I can produce a long list of her failures. I want the supporters to return the favor. I want to hear from them a list of her accomplishments. I know what she has said, what has she planned, and what she has promised, but what has she done? It has been three and a half years. Is it still too soon to see any results?

dan dempsey said...

From the Broad folks:

LOS ANGELES – Fourteen prominent leaders from across the country, including high-ranking
military officers, government officials and education executives, have been selected to participate in the 2010 Broad Superintendents Academy, The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems announced today.

The Broad (rhymes with “road”) Superintendents Academy is a 10-month executive management training program run by The Broad Center to prepare prominent leaders from education, military, business, nonprofit and government sectors to lead urban public school systems. The Broad Superintendents Academy is the only program in the country that recruits and trains non-traditional superintendent candidates as well as stand-out career educators.

To date, Broad Superintendents Academy graduates have filled 68 superintendent positions and 88 senior school district executive positions nationwide, including 43 percent of all external superintendent openings in large urban American school districts last year, more than double the
percent filled in previous years. Broad Superintendents Academy graduates who have served as superintendents for three or more years are outperforming comparison groups in raising student achievement on state reading and math exams, closing achievement gaps and raising graduation rates.
======

========
Clearly we just do not realize what a great deal we have in Superintendent MGJ.

We need to read more press releases from "The Broad" and stop focusing on specifics like that Charlie Mas guy does..... ;)

Anonymom said...

Some of MGJ's accomplishments, as I see them are:

She has begun the work of weeding out teachers for "poor performance". She has been doing this with principals too. And she cleaned house with the ed directors. All while working within our current system, and the union.

She has begun the work of curricular alignment. And while some of us do not like the choices of materials, I'd think we could all agree that at least progress is being made. All high schools now use the same math text (a text that a math committee, not MGJ adopted), all high schools now offer a baseline of AP classes, all high schools offer band and orchestra. This was not happening before MGJ took the helm. We had a lot of inconsistency.

MGJ split APP. And though I don't like the placement of north end elementary APP at Lowell, I do like APP middle school at Hamilton. It is a great improvement for north end families.

Look, MGJ, has started the wheels turning. She has paved the way, and laid the ground work. She is forging ahead, making progress, and taking action. That, in my opinion, is her greatest accomplishment. It is something that I didn't feel that our last two superintendents did. At all.

Has she done a great job on everything? No. Are there a heck of a lot of things I would have done differently? Big huge yes!

Am I a MGJ supporter? Yes. I believe when you forge forward, try new things, and make changes there is a lot of trial and error involved. And you can't and won't please everyone.She has certainly done her fair share of this, but she has also pounded the pavement with a fury since she has been here. And, I am thankful for that.

BTW, the SE initiative wasn't her baby. That was Raj. She was stuck with it wasn't she?

Charlie Mas said...

Thank you anonymom. I really want to have this discussion - not in an echo chamber.

The significant uptick in the number of teachers dismissed for poor performance may be attributable to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I'd be willing to give her credit for that - credit that she isn't claiming for herself. There has been no public report of this. The District continues to support the popular myth that it is nearly impossible to fire a teacher.

I'm less familiar with the number of principals who were let go for performance. Likewise, there was no suggestion that the change in Education Directors was performance based. If that's the case, they never said so.

The "curricular alignment" work that anonymom described is, in fact, standardization work - not curricular alignment work.

The academic assurances - the guarantee of a baseline of AP classes and music instruction - does represent progress and I will give her credit for that work. Is it done? Where is the list of the academic assurances? One of the assurances is an ALO in every elementary school. That one isn't completely built out yet and I'm okay with the progress to date - except for one thing. We have no assurance that the programs are real. There is no quality assurance. Does a school have an ALO just because they say they do, or does that claim have to be corroborated?

I agree that the middle school APP split could be good. It has certainly improved access to APP for north-end students. Of course, the promised APP curriculum has not appeared and having the north-end elementary program at Lowell is just plain wrong. So, while she has botched about 75% of the APP split, I will give her credit for the 25% she got right.

Anonymom would like to give the superintendent credit for starting the wheels turning, paving the way, laying the ground work, forging ahead, making progress, and taking action. No doubt that there has been a flurry of activity, but little of it has been to any productive or positive end. It is activity for its own sake.

I don't care for it. It just creates uncertainty and gets people riled up. It's expensive, too. I would much prefer more judicious and focused efforts.

Again, I think that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has the best intentions. She says all of the right things (about academics at least - her public relations is in the toilet). She supports a lot of the right policies. She just can't implement worth a damn.

Charlie Mas said...

The Southeast Initiative was ALL HERS.

She was hired as superintendent on April 12, 2007 and started on June 10. The Board passed the Framework for the New Student Assignment Plan ten days later on June 20, 2007.

All of the references to accountability in the Southeast Education Initiative were a result of her mania for accountability.

The Southeast Education Initiative is the only project that she has taken to completion. It was an utter and abject failure.

KA said...

Anonymom said...
Raj Manhas received so much criticism of his school closure plan, and was threatened with a vote of a no confidence, that he too resigned.


I have been a SEA building rep for the last 3 superintendents. My recollection is that SEA did NOT organize their members for a vote of no confidence in Raj. Raj Manhas was a really decent man and had a positive collaborative relationship with SEA. During the heat of the conversation about school closures, there were derogatory and racist comments made to Raj at school board meetings by members of the community and that's what I think led him to resign. At least with Raj there WAS a conversation, as opposed to what is happening now.

gavroche said...

Charlie Mas said...I agree that the middle school APP split could be good. It has certainly improved access to APP for north-end students.

What good is 'access' to a program that's now weakened?

As for Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, she is still a graduate of the Broad "Superintendent's Academy," indoctrinated by their "corporate" top-down, privatizing and management techniques; she is still apparently following the Broad playbook and has plans to bring fellow Broadie Wendy Kopp's Teach for America troops to Seattle and possibly fellow Broadie Richard Barth's KIPP charters to southeast Seattle -- all of them except Goodloe-Johnson still Broad board members. We still have $90k "Broad Residents" in among the District staff.

Maybe Eli Broad plans to award her and SPS the "Broad Prize" to prop her up after the damning state audit and other public losses, and thought it would look too fishy to have her still on the board. Or maybe Broad board members only get the post for 2-3 years. Who knows.

But SPS remains the Broad & Gates Public School District, as far as I can tell.