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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crosscut Education Op-Eds

There were a couple of new op-eds in Crosscut this week.

The first one is from Representative Reuven Carlyle who is not happy that his Teach for America for principals bill went down.   He first talks about what he got done last year and what his effort was about this year:

Last year, through the support of the entire Seattle legislative delegation, I was able to include a provision in the painfully ineffective "Race to the Top" legislation that ultimately eliminated tenure for new Seattle principals. This year I introduced a bill to create an alternative certification route for principals with strong backgrounds in community service, business, and many other categories outside of the traditional education route.

How did it turn out?

As the regular legislative session concludes, it’s worth noting openly that efforts this year to pass the alternative-certification bill were a total, complete, and fantastic failure.

I have to admire the ferocious political force of the education industrial complex that made it clear that passage of this bill was not an option.

He states that he did reach to principals to ask for their input and "they politely declined the invitation."  He then makes a good point:

I certainly did discover what the opponents found objectionable about the bill’s core idea. They were very clear about that. Unfortunately, I just never was able to discover what they actually support in striving to improve the role and value of principals. They never got around to answering that question.

I'll believe him if he says he reached out and was rejected but I have a feeling that PASS and the principals themselves would have plenty to say about what would help so it's puzzling they said no.

Here's what I said (condensed):

If you just wanted new managers, fine.  But a principal? The major job of the principal (really and truly) is to be the academic leader for the teaching corps of the school. To support and direct teachers. Not disciplinarian, not manager, academic leader.

It takes real training and experience to be able to walk into a classroom and judge pedagogy and classroom management skills. You could bring in some skills from other jobs into this work but if you don't understand what you are looking for and looking at in a classroom, you're not a principal.
And, the push is for assessments of teachers. We have new contract in Seattle Schools for a new 4-tier assessment. Then you want a person who doesn't know what good teaching is supposed to look like decide a teacher's career? Teachers are willing to be assessed but c'mon, it has to be by people who know the work.

It's not the "education industrial complex" that did your bill in. It was not understanding the real work of a principal.

The second op-ed is by Anthony Robinson, the president of  Congregational Leadership Northwest and is entitled,"Too Many People Think They Could Fix Seattle's Schools."

He has several good things to say but misses the reality on others.


I know this is heretical but I sometimes wonder if the Seattle schools might benefit from a bit less public involvement and diminished levels of scrutiny? Yes, in light of the most recent managerial failures, that may seem completely nuts. Bear with me.

He points out that parent and family members have a real vested concern in SPS.  But he says that the Mayor, the City Council, business leaders, charitable foundations, ed reformers, etc. are all piling on.  He also points out that it comes with the territory that a Superintendent can have many people trying to tell her their opinions.  Then he says:

Yes, but leaders, if they are to be effective, do need partners who want them to be successful, who are willing to let them grow, and who are able to forgive an occasional misstep or poorly chosen word. While leaders need to build and earn trust from their partners and constituents, real trust is not, “I’m with you as long as you support my cause or agenda, and repeat mantra-like the precise words I want to hear.”

I think that's fair.  The reality, however for SPS, is that the reality of the problems are large (not missteps) and the number of incidents are not occasional.  I absolutely understand that no one is going to get all they might like OR that any superintendent can make everyone happy.

In recent years, the Seattle School District has not found it easy to attact a wide or strong pool of candidates for the position of superintendent.

I disagree with that statement.  Seattle's a pretty desirable place and not an uber-urban district.  I think sometimes it is simply timing in who applies.

I second his point about too many innovations, new programs, etc. where the district is constantly in flux and parents and teachers often have no idea what is really going on.

He sums up what the district needs to do nicely:

If the community is to exhibit greater trust, the School District also needs to merit and earn this trust by being clear about its core mission and staying focused, by listening with interest and respect to parents, and by showing itself managerially competent.

He also has words of wisdom for everyone else:

But human organizations and institutions don’t get “fixed.” They aren’t automobile engines or leaky faucets. Human organizations get improved. They can be made better and they should be. But they aren’t going to be made perfect. They aren’t going to be fixed. So let’s aim high and work hard. Let’s cut others some slack, and remember to say “thank you” often.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

One thing that I think gets missed in the discussion of qualifications for adminstrators is that currently, a person does NOT have to have teaching certification to be a principal. All they need is some form of Educational Staff Associate (ESA) certification. This means that an OT/PT, SLP, Nurse, Counselor, Social Worker or School Pyschologist can become a principal. Sometimes this results in great leaders (Brian Vance, school counselor), sometimes in awful ones (DeWanda Cook-Weaver, SLP). If the system believes that a Nurse can lead a school (or even a school system, given that Pegi McEvoy, Nurse, is in charge of nearly everything in SPS right now, including things that are on the "academic" side of the house), I don't see why other individuals wouldn't bring value. Also not to say that every Principal with a teaching background is good either, because for every Phil Brockman, there is a Dr. Derse and or Dr. Wiley driving a school into the ground. (Side note, every wonder why some of the worst leaders have Ph.D's in things like educational pedagoy but can't lead there way out of a paperbag?)

Speaking only to secondary education, because that is where I have experience, academic leadership is what the principal gets to IF he or she has any time left in the day after dealing with things that you can't put off (safety, transportation, HR issues, sports supervision, discpline, compliance issues ect). I think it would be great for secondary schools to have an administrative version of a COO, who handles the day to day business of the school while the Principal can focus on academic leadership and teacher evaluation. I say bring on the option for schools to hire professionals who can handle the operations of the school.

SEP

Melissa Westbrook said...

SEP, I hear you. It seems wrong to talk so much about teacher quality and not give them the support they need and a person who knows what good teaching looks like.

If only we had the money for a school manager because yes, principals do spend a lot of their day on nuts and bolts.

Anonymous said...

I do apologize for doing this but I think it's worth getting my knuckles cracked. This just in:
Newark schools superintendent search narrowed to 2 candidates, sources say.

Parents in Newark might appreciate getting a head's up.

WenD said...

SEP: This is a great suggestion, and you don't need overpaid Broad intern. There is experience out there that can be tapped.

Mel: I love that he used the word "ferocious," like it's a bad thing. I also doubt his claim that he took the time to listen to the professionals he is so desperate to "help." That, and he has zero credibility because he is an ardent supporter of TFA. His complaints are less than sincere. No surprise. Look at how the LEV people turned hostile at the slightest bit of push back.

Anonymous said...

Harium was at the 46th District Democrats tonight ... from the hallway I heard some good spinning going on as he spoke.

Spinning Still.

Chris S. said...

This is nice:
by Richard Rothstein in Seattle Journal

Anonymous said...

Was Harium sittin' n spinnin'?

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

I think that this can be done at no net cost at the secondary level, by swaping an AP for a operations manager. Frankly, a good principal paired with a good operations manager and a dean to help with discpline/student issues would save a ton of money over the cost of multiple APs.

SEP

Josh Hayes said...

I too like SEP's suggestion. When I was a kid IN school (admittedly, this was sometime in the Devonian - or was it the Permian? They all run together), our rather large middle school had a Principal and an Assistant Principal, and the workload was divided very much along the lines suggested here. The VP took care of discipline and basic operations issues, while the Principal handled academics. It seemed to work well (and the kids were terrified of the VP, and loved the Principal. That's what happens when discipline falls to just one person, I guess).

I would think that such a scheme would work well in Seattle's high schools and traditional middle schools: don't they already have a P/VP system in place?

Wondering said...

"Frankly, a good principal paired with a good operations manager and a dean"

Maybe I missed something, but I didn't see anything in the bill to support this assertion.

BTW, I don't think it is a good idea for P. McEvoy to be head of facilities. So, not a good analogy.

Wondering said...

SEP,

I do agree fiscal oversight needs to be strengthened within schools.

Don't think a mlitary background would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

"Wondering,"

I was referencing my own thoughts on the subject, not the bill. However, the bill would allow for non-ESA holders to become administrators, which I think would be a good thing if the role being filled isn't that of the "instructional leader."

With regard to your comment about Pegi McEvoy, as my first post explained, a School Nurse is ALREADY deemed just as competent as a teacher to become a principal. My thought is that it doesn't hurt to be open to the idea of non-teacher administrators. As for Pegi herself, she hasn't stolen anything, given a contract to a pal or slept with a bevy of her underlings, so that puts her more then a few steps ahead of the last few guys in my book. I will judge her performance once it is done and respect that she isn't angling for the COO job.

As for military background, some of the best HR and logistics folks I have ever been around were former military. I wouldn't be so short sighted to assume that there is no value to any military background.

SEP