Sunday, December 10, 2006

Which Side Are You On?

Come all you good workers
Good news to you i’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle’s won
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Claire
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?
Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Poor folks ain’t got a chance
Unless they organize
Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

More of the Cashin fall out: Whitney Tilson, a big macha with Teach For America shills for Klein
"I've done some due diligence on Kathleen Cashin and she has indeed made improvements -- but the real story is much more nuanced than this article makes it out to be.
First of all, the performance of her district, while better than before, hardly calls for hosannas.  It outperformed other districts, but not dramatically in most cases, and the high school graduation rate is BELOW most others (which the NYT story didn't mention).  This district is not doing well by any objective standard -- it's just gone from being truly awful to merely lousy.
Second, I don't buy the argument put forth in the article that her district's improvements are entirely due to her -- and especially due to her bucking of the new system.  Klein has implemented big changes over many years that are beginning to move the needle in the right direction across the city -- if I recall correctly, in both NY state and national data, NYC showed more improvement than all other large cities in the state and nearly all nationwide -- so why wouldn't Cashin's district be benefitting as well?
Finally, and more importantly, it's critical to understand HOW Cashin has achieved the gains we've seen in her district.  Generally speaking, there are two approaches to reforming big, broken systems, whether we're talking about General Motors, the old Soviet Union or the NYC public school system: you can either keep the existing system in place, but wring incremental improvements out of it by exercising extreme command-and-control, or do the opposite and try to reform the broken system by changing incentives, setting up accountability systems and pushing power and control down to the local level.
Cashin is a classic example of the former, whereas Klein has adopted the latter.  Turning to Cashin first, according to a friend who's in the know, she is "a total control freak" and runs her district with an iron fist.  If a principal tries to buck her in any way, she fires and blackballs him/her.  Cashin's educational pedagogy has merit, however, so imposing it on a district that had no sound educational approach at all yielded some incremental improvements, as noted in the NYT article.
BUT, there are severe limits to Cashin's approach.  Fundamentally, the system and the biggest problems within it -- lack of human talent and motivation -- haven't changed at all.  So, my prediction is that Cashin's district will not show much if any incremental improvement and will remain merely lousy -- UNLESS Klein's reforms kick in.
Klein's approach is, at its core, the exact opposite -- and is, obviously, the one I think has the most long-term promise.  But it also has real risks -- trying to reform a deeply entrenched broken system in the face of massive resistence (not to mention mostly hostile media coverage) is REALLY HARD and messy, as noted above.  If too much autonomy is pushed down the school level before the accountability and motivational systems and human talent are in place, the results would be disastrous.  That's why I like Klein's incremental approach with Empowerment Schools: it started with just a few schools, was expanded to 48 schools last year and is now 321 schools, approximately 1/4 of the schools in the entire city.
This debate between total centralized control at one extreme and total school-level autonomy at the other is a huge and important one, and every school organization is dealing with it, be it KIPP or the NYC school system.  To be clear, I don't think the answer is extreme autonomy, but something perhaps 80% of the way toward that end of the spectrum.

then he writes about some of the emails he gets from Teach For America folks getting overwhelmed by conditions in NYCDOE schools and who leave the first chance they get

"I taught in a large 1,000+ student school in northern Manhattan that was a mess as well.  It was a four-story building and didn’t have elevators, so the security guards never went to the 4th floor because they were too lazy or perhaps too fat to endure the climb up the stairs, so the 4th floor, where I taught, was particularly chaotic. 
There were two stairwells that were designated as “off limits”, which of course meant that only adults never went there, so the kids knew that’s where they could go to do anything they wanted.  I’d often find used condoms in the stairwell – and these were 6th through 8th graders!
After I left, they broke the school into four smaller schools, one on each floor.  Two weeks ago, I stopped by to see the school and, unchallenged, walked right in and up to the 4th floor.  It was pure bedlam.  Though classes were in session, there were more kids in the hallway than in the classrooms, singing, dancing and fighting.  I’ve seen a lot of chaos in schools, but this was the worst I’ve ever seen!"
Well Mr. Tilson how did that happen?
Maybe part of the reason is a curriculum that is mostly smoke, mirrors and jargon that makes absolutely no connection to kids, especially middle schoolers.
And if "Cashin is "a total control freak" and runs her district with an iron fist." -What do you think Neutron Jack Welch taught all the newbie principals at the Leadership Academy?

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