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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Escalating the Rhetoric so That ALL Educators are Suspect

Over at the Washington Policy Center, Liv Finne's latest "analysis" is about the Success Academies in NYC, a small charter chain that has big plans to expand throughout NYC.  They do have higher than average test scores but, like other charters, don't serve as many Special Ed students.  And, their operator, Eva Moskowitz, rakes in a big salary and parent voices are not high on her list of priorities.  
This analysis would be okay -it's one in a long string of ancedotal stories about good charters.  They exist  but not in numbers that would support the idea that charters can and do make a big difference in any district where they are located. 

She then goes on to rail about principals in Washington State:

In Seattle, for example, the superintendent of the district bureaucracy selects and oversees the performance of 92 school principals, an unworkable set-up for many reasons.  It doesn’t help that, once in a position, school principals in Washington are protected by RCW 28A.405.230, granting them lifetime job security. 

If a school in Washington state has a good principal, it is because the stars were briefly aligned to allow a good superintendent to make a good choice that one time.  If a school has a poor principal, they are often stuck with her.   

The superintendent of the "district bureaucracy"?  I hate to break it to her but there is also charter bureaucracies that exist to give that all-important "accountability" that comes with charters.  There is NO public institution that doesn't have oversight (well, except for the charter commission that would be created under I-1240 - they have ZERO oversight). 

Also, if she doesn't like the RCW, shouldn't she be promoting changing it rather than saying that there has to be a system created to work around it?  If this is important for charters and an injustice to other schools, why isn't it important enough to fight to change it?

As to her second paragraph, what an insult to the hundreds of good, hard-working principals in our state.  She makes it sound like there are very few good superintendents OR principals. 

She then says this:

How can a school principal establish a  culture of high expectations for the learning of every child when she cannot choose each teacher for each class?  

Uh, by doing his or her job?  If being a good principal is contingent on the ability to being able to hand-pick every teacher in the building, we are all in trouble.  And I hate to break it to her but the principal in a charter school is VERY likely guided by the charter board that oversees the school on those decisions.

But then we get to the name-calling.  She quotes Joel Klein, the former chancellor of NYC schools who is speaking of the Success charters:

Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things.  They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.

I haven't met a teacher yet who didn't want to collaborate with other teachers in their building AND have more professional development.  Never.  It's the keystone of the success in Finland.  Ms. Finne seems to think it is fine for Mr. Klein to insult public school teachers by saying they all "wallow in a culture of excuse."

Now, I read this piece last night and, at that time, Ms. Finne called people who did not want charters "mean".  I'm thinking someone at WPC read it and  told her that name-calling is not the way to win any argument.  Interesting.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's always a back story to these "success stories." Moskowitz is asking for more public money: But with the "deficit ... increasing every year," Moskowitz says, "the current situation is simply unsustainable." In 2010-11 alone, she states, her network's "shortfall" reached $4.7 million.

This will all come as a huge surprise to anyone who has bothered to examine Success Academy's financial reports or who has witnessed firsthand its almost limitless spending .

The Success Network, in fact, is a fund-raising colossus, having received $28 million from dozens of foundations and wealthy investors the past six years, and millions more in state and federal grants.

On its annual tax forms, it has continually reported huge year-end surpluses for both itself and its individual schools. Those combined surpluses currently stand at more $23.5 million.

Hardly the picture of financial woe.


I'm tired of the con artists.

I took a class once from Marva Collins. I respected her and she demanded a lot both in terms of teacher prep and knowledge and in terms of classroom energy. I remember her saying that her teachers never sit. They are constantly moving from child to child and monitoring-correcting-teaching. I admire that but her teachers burned out pretty early. I've read that Kipp teachers have high turnover as well.

Also, I'm trying to find information on class size. Collins' class size was controlled. No big classes for those teachers.

For me, it gets back to class size fitting the needs of the population. One size does not fit all.

n...

dan dempsey said...

Life time job security for principals .. say what???

Let's read the actual RCW
RCW 28A.405.230

Conditions and contracts of employment — Transfer of administrator to subordinate certificated position — Notice — Procedure.

"Any certificated employee of a school district employed as an assistant superintendent, director, principal, assistant principal, coordinator, or in any other supervisory or administrative position, hereinafter in this section referred to as "administrator", shall be subject to transfer, at the expiration of the term of his or her employment contract, to any subordinate certificated position within the school district. "Subordinate certificated position" as used in this section, shall mean any administrative or nonadministrative certificated position for which the annual compensation is less than the position currently held by the administrator."

Read the entire RCW ... I just do not see how in anyway this indicates LIFETIME employment.

======

Can someone explain more of this to me?

Charlie Mas said...

Here is a link to Ms Finne's article.

dan dempsey said...

More on Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy HERE.

Anonymous said...


If a school in Washington state has a good principal, it is because the stars were briefly aligned to allow a good superintendent to make a good choice that one time. If a school has a poor principal, they are often stuck with her.


Amen to that one! The principal appointment process means a bunch of interim grand-pooh-bahs got together for a moment and assigned somebody.. usually based on paper credentials alone. And there is absolutely no principal accountability. If your child ever has a rotten one, you will know what that does to your child's education. It can really mess it up. And their contract is written so that they basically have to receive a golden parachute in order to be moved out. And, who would ever move them out? The musical chair "ed director" circuit? Well, that will never happen! Since they're all in their same job for about 2 years, there's really no reason to go through the bother of moving out a dud principal. Plus, you really can't fire them.

Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things.

So true! I sat on some of our school's BLT meetings for a while. Being observed by other teachers was a primary fear in the school. When they were adopting EDM, no teahcer wanted to actually have anyone observe them. They wanted 0 feedback. Can you believe it? Teachers actually want isolation, so that they don't have to get ANY feedback from peers. How lame! Then in middle school, it was the same thing. I believe union contracts actually dictate that teachers opt out of peer observation.

Anyway, their are many reasons to oppose charters - but this person has hit the nail on the head with these observations.

-reader

Charlie Mas said...

Darn! I was hoping, based on the title of the article, that Ms Finne would actually recount what they are doing at these successful charter schools that actually gets these results.

But she didn't describe anything different that the charter schools were doing for or with the students. Not at all. Instead, she wrote entirely about teacher and principal contracts and hiring and firing practices.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Finne's toadyism at the alter of Walton Gates Galt is the SOS, different day.

When we consider that appx. 80,000 working stiffs in Washington send about 80 a month in dues to their union, and their union, WEA, is supposed to fight against Walton toadies like Ms. Finne, what I find distressing is:

I find it distressing that this kind of crap comes out every week, and the "messaging" pooh-bahs of WEA can't be bothered to refute it.

I find it distressing that the "messaging" pooh-bahs of WEA won't refute with facts and won't refute it with the emotional appeals that work to fire people up,

I find it distressing that whenever you chat with these pooh-bahs you get treated to the excuses that the "messaging" people of the Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Mondale campaigns perfected - sternly wagged fingers!

I find it distressing that so many union leaders seem to be competing for a spot on the vapors couch in the dilettante salon, instead of figuring out what it takes to beat liars.

I find it distressing that too many with the affluence to pursue these leadership positions view the Finne opponents as ... their spouse? 'We'll buy 2 Subarus or 2 Beemers because we disagree on the color!'

Ever since there has been a community surplus to rob so an elite can live like princes, kings and aristocrats, there have been toadies to the aristocrats. We haven't invented a realistic ism to fix the problem of lying aristocrats and their toadies. It would be nice if the opponents of the aristocrats had leaders who weren't consistently incompetent.

AreSellOutsBetter?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader, sorry about your bad experience but that is not my experience with two sons in multiple schools.

dan dempsey said...

Liv Finne apparently makes stuff up as she goes along.

"Third, teachers at Success Academies do not have job protection for life, as they do in Washington state. "

She cares not to let existing state laws or facts get in the way of spinning a good yarn.

Much of her article could be classified as propaganda.

Anonymous said...

The problem with people like Finne and the Wa Policy Center is that people believe them. She stated her beliefs eloquently but without a shadow of substance or evidence that what she's stating is meritorious. That these people parade themselves as "think" tanks and then produce such garbage has tragic consequences.

n...

Jan said...

Before I start, let me say -- I am NOT a fan of Success Academies (I find Moskowitz to be another power hungry, disconnected ed-reformer). Nor do I agree with all her allegations regarding WA teachers.

BUT -- at some point, someone several months ago said (or so I thought) that the easiest way to get a less than great principal out of a school was to move them downtown (and we certainly see it happen a lot). BUT -- that as principals, under their union contract they remained subject to (and protected by) its terms, including terms for termination. And (so I thought I read), they continue to be evaluated as though they were principals (rather than being "at will" administrators). Since the job descriptions are so different, and they never "fail" at being principals again (since they aren't being one), they become essentially "unfireable." They are protected by job review criteria that no longer apply to their position.

At the time, I recall thinking -- surely not. Surely the District did not agree to such bizarre collective bargaining terms. I must be wrong. And so -- I hope someone can tell me that I am totally off-base and a flaming idiot here, because I must say -- I would MUCH rather be wrong than right!

Anonymous said...

I can tell you, however we may read the contract - Michael DeBell has said several times at community meetings, principals are essentially unfireable without a golden parachute, and that it is a problem. They are subject to the protections of teachers, but are actually part of management without the accountability that teachers have. So, that is what he, at least, believes. No doubt that is the belief at JSEE. And look how easy it is to become a principal. Any teacher with the right paper can easily beome one. And even if we didn't want to fire them, there's little oversight or ways for them to improve.

I for one, am glad that the education reform is moving on to administration and management. It all started with No Child Left Behind - which only left students accountable. If we're going to "hold students accountable" the s**t will sooner or later roll uphill.

-reader

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not saying we don't have a share of low-performing teachers and principals. And, that it can be difficult (especially with principals) to get them to move on.

My point is that Ms. Finne uses some very broad language to essentially tar nearly ALL teachers and principals and I'm not buying it. It's sad because I know that some people at WPC do have students in SPS. Do they think their students are poorly served? If so, why are they in SPS?

Anonymous said...

We had a principal at Lowell that many on this blog would have liked to fire. But when my child had a grossly incompetent teacher, Mr. King got that person kicked out of the district, despite us hearing how hard it was to get rid of senior teaching staff. And then King left, on his own terms.

Not sure what lessons to draw from that. Nobody got fired outright, and yet both are gone. Accountability doesn't always look like we want it to, I guess.

- Pan2Fire

Unknown said...

I think there is a principal problem, but not for the reasons Ms. Finne does. But this isn't a judgment on the individuals so much as on the culture.

The cultural problem derives from the idea that principals are not primarily educators but business managers, and this in turn derives from the mentality that schools should be run like businesses, everyone taking orders from whoever is above them in the corporate hierarchy. This mentality is accepted as normal reality now by almost everyone, and so many of the problems in the schools, particularly those flowing from low teacher morale, derive from it.

When you hear the phrase "culture of intimidation" it points to a reality, and principals are its main implementors. This is something teachers are aware of more than parents, and teachers these days are pretty much keeping their heads down. It's hard to quantify, but it's real.

And it's a key factor behind why the teacher evaluation system is so bad--it reinforces the basic assumption, with union acquiescence, that the principals are the best judge of teacher performance. Way too often they haven't a clue--and the rubric is a joke. It might make some sense if principals were hired because they were themselves master teachers at some point, but except in some rare instances they weren't. They were hired to be middle managers to implement the bureaucracy's too often silly and sometimes destructive ideas about what is good for each school.

Here's the cultural change I believe that has to take place. Parents and teachers are the only ones on the front lines of their kids' education. They have more in common than they have with the administrators, and they know far better what their kids need than administrators. They are the ones that make education happen until the kids are older, and then it's the kids' responsibility to make it happen, too. Principals should be there to help parents and teachers get that work done, and principals should be primarily accountable to the families and teachers. Central office should be there to support the principals, not to tell them how to run their schools.

Is this kind of decentralization without its problems and dangers? Of course not, and there will be some situations in which interventions from higher up will be necessary. It assumes families are willing to take their share of the responsibility in making their kids' education a success. It assumes that there is core or responsible, effective professional teachers. Where that is not the case, then there has to be some top-down intervention.

But 8 or 9 out of 10 times schools are going to have that, and their concerns and efforts have a far greater chance of delivering the education that particular kids needs in particular schools--and it will deliver far better results in the aggregate than the current top-down, get better results or else, kids are widgets and teachers are assembly line workers mentality that has come with the idea that schools are businesses.

Parents and teachers don't see their kids as widgets, and parents don't see teachers as assembly line workers. In the long run those two groups are the ones we have to trust, and it's to them we should give most of the power to run our schools.

mirmac1 said...

Excellent point Jan. I wonder, who is the Executive Dir of Schools for the principal displacement pool?! THAT person should be observing these principals lead BLTs and evaluating/supporting teachers. Oops, they don't do that. Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jack. You always see the bigger picture. Parents and teachers do work together and that bond should be strengthened and encouraged by good principals. While no teacher will please every parent all the time, the constructive relationship between the two is the best practice by far for the child. A good principal supports that.

Research shows that intimidating children does not help them learn. Intimidating teachers will most likely yield equally poor results for improvement. Accountability can be achieved even in an atmosphere that is safe and supportive.

I had one principal who never took sides. She brought together the teacher and the parent and acted as a mediator. In all my years of teaching, only one principal had that skill. She was excellent.

n...

Jan said...

Jack -- I agree that there is, or can be, a disconnect when the message from the top is that principals are supposed to act like they are running businesses, rather than running schools that educate kids --

But, I think there is ANOTHER problem, and that is that very few administrations know what a good school leader really looks like, much less how to go out and find and hire one. It is not enough to just "promote" good (or the best) teachers -- because being a teacher and being a superlative leader of teachers, kids, and the parent community are very different things. Some of the best teachers don't want to be principals (they are teachers because they love teaching kids, not because they secretly want to be the head administrator of a school) and wouldn't be good at it -- because their gift is in teaching, not school administration. Great school leaders, on the other hand, don't necessarily have to have been the best teachers -- but they certainly need to have been in the profession, they need to understand what great teaching looks like, they need to know what motivates teachers, when to unleash their teachers' creativity, when they need a modicum of uniformity. They need to know not only how to inspire, say 7 year olds, but also the 37 year olds who teach them -- and the kids' parents, and the local community that votes on levies and attends fundraisers -- all while fending off and/or negotiating with the administration with the other hand.

School leadership is not an impossible skill set to find - but they don't come a dime a dozen either; and I cannot see any evidence in Seattle that the District staff can tell the difference between a list of paper credentials, and someone with either demonstrated leadership ability or great leadership potential. They seem totally bamboozled if someone has the school credentials and a few years under their belts. And then -- as has been noted above, once principals are there, they seem to stick like barnacles. Community hiring groups, it seems to me, have in the past had an eye for leadership ability, but we frequently don't use them in the hiring process.

I am not interested in simply transferring the ed reform "witch hunt" from teachers to principals (much as I would like the denigrating of teachers to stop). But frankly my experience with Seattle schools has been far more positive in the teacher department than the administrator department. And I don't see any movement towards a better, more successful hiring policy for principals. I think there are LOTS of great teachers in the world. I think there are way too few good principals to go around.