Klein gets to say ‘I told you so’

Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, has a book coming out today, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.

His timing is great, writes Rick Hess. Two new “gold-standard” studies on Klein’s reforms show promising results.

Klein closed large, low-performing high schools and opened small schools that are more likely to graduate their students and more likely to see them enroll in college, according to MDRC.

The Equity Project, “one of the many boundary-pushing charter schools that opened on Klein’s watch,” is raising achievement for its low-income students, according to a rigorous Mathematica evaluation.

It takes time to see what works, writes Hess. Klein didn’t get everything right, “but he led with courage and conviction, was constantly eager to inquire and learn, showed astonishing fortitude in the face of exhaustive personal attacks, and left New York’s kids a helluva lot better off than when he started.”

Improving teacher quality is the key to improving schools, Klein told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.

Firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000,” when he started as chancellor, Klein writes. Due to union contracts, it was “virtually impossible to remove a teacher charged with incompetence.”

Klein wants schools of education to raise their selection criteria and update their curriculum, he told Bruni.

Klein urged “a rational incentive system” that doesn’t currently exist in most districts. He’d like to see teachers paid more for working in schools with “high-needs” students and for tackling subjects that require additional expertise. “If you have to pay science and physical education teachers the same, you’re going to end up with more physical education teachers,” he said. “The pay structure is irrational.”

In an ideal revision of it, he added, there would be “some kind of pay for performance, rewarding success.” Salaries wouldn’t be based primarily on seniority.

In Los Angeles, John Deasy “is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. The new superintendent, as yet unknown, may be “a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat.”

Teachers’ unions lose unity, clout

“The teachers unions now face an environment in which their traditional enemies are emboldened, their traditional allies are deserting, and some of their most devoted activists are questioning the leadership of their own officers,” writes Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency on Education Next. But,”even weakened, together the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) constitute the single most powerful force in American education policy.”

Both unions peaked in 2008 “with a combined membership approaching 4 million and annual revenues at all levels estimated at nearly $2 billion,” he writes.

Since then, NEA member has fallen by more than 9 percent. The AFT has held membership steady by affiliating with non-education unions, not by recruiting new teachers.

Today, a slight majority of teachers are not union members.

In both unions, a radical faction “wants to man the barricades, fight over every inch of territory, and take no prisoners” in the fight against education reform, writes Antonucci.

Union leaders want to appear to be “forward-thinking and innovative” rather than constantly rejecting reform. They need political allies.

While both national unions decry the corporate influence on education, they have partnerships with large corporations on many levels: sponsorships of union events, discount arrangements and credit cards as part of member benefits packages, funding for joint projects, etc.

. . . Union activists often depict the Gates Foundation as the mastermind behind corporate education reform. But in 2009, when the foundation announced it would award $335 million to a number of school districts and charter schools to promote teacher effectiveness, the union response was a far cry from the anticorporate rhetoric it regularly delivers to its internal audience.

. . . The NEA’s own foundation received $550,000 from the Gates Foundation to “improve labor-management collaboration.” The AFT accrued more than $10 million from the Gates Foundation, until internal pressures forced the union to end some of the grants.

The militant wing sees Common Core standards as part of the “corporate education-reform agenda,” while the establishment wing “has been forced to triangulate by defending the standards but attacking the way they have been implemented.”

The NEA and the AFT won’t disappear, concludes Antonucci. “But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane.”

In an open letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten, Education Post’s Peter Cunningham critiques her Oct. 22 speech calling Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy a “John Wayne” autocrat. Deasy had just resigned.

Wrapped in aspirational language about “collaboration” was a clear signal to your members that organized resistance to reform is the real strategy, and that the AFT supports it. The equally clear signal to reform leaders across the country is that they could be targeted next if they are not sufficiently “collaborative.”

The public is losing confidence in district-run schools and “voting with their feet,” he warns.

LA Superintendent Deasy resigns

Under fire from all sides, John Deasy has resigned as superintendent of Los Angeles Unified. “Needless to say this has been hard work, in fact exhausting work,” Deasy wrote in his resignation letter. “I am proud and honored, but it is time for a transition.”

deasy2He’ll stay on for the rest of the school year as a consultant, while Ramon Cortines — the veteran reliever for urban school districts — will be interim superintendent.

Deasy’s three and half years were “mired in controversy over technology missteps like the rollout of a $1.3 billion iPad program and a court case that struck down teacher tenure laws in California,” notes the Hechinger Report.

However, test scores and graduation rates are up, while suspension rates “have dropped dramatically.”

Deasy testified for the prosecution in the Vergara trial, which overturned state laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal. He never discussed the case with the school board, trustee Steve Zimmer told the Hechinger Report.

Zimmer was particularly disturbed that Deasy seemed to enjoy taking down laws that were put in place to protect the 28,000 teachers he leads.

“You take something that needs a scalpel and careful instrumentation and instead you take out the sledgehammer,” says Zimmer. “Deasy wasn’t careful enough to avoid the perception that he enjoyed using the sledgehammer. He fought for things he really believed in, which is fine, but he wasn’t careful about how it would be perceived by the people who have to teach our kids everyday.”

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., isn’t a big fan of the Vergara lawsuit, yet he admires that Deasy stuck to his principles. “For a superintendent to make it clear that he hopes his own district will lose a lawsuit in order to effect change takes a little bit of chutzpah,” says Hess.

Deasy was hired to shake up the system, says David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona.

Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought Deasy into the district with backing from billionaire Eli Broad, with the hope of growing the charter school system, confronting the teachers union, and changing the terms of teacher employment in Los Angeles.

“Unless you think the status quo is just hunky-dory, you can sit back and do the same old, same old because it makes it easier or congenial,” says Joel Klein, former schools chancellor in New York City. “If you’re not willing to do things that are controversial, then in my view you’re not going to change things for kids, and if you’re not going to change things for kids, then why be a superintendent?”

LA superintendent speaks at choice rally

“We believe that every single family and student has the right to a choice of a highly effective school in Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy at a National School Choice Week rally. That won’t boost his popularity with the teachers’ unions.

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified, argues Dropout Nation, which sees an anti-reform turn on the school board. There are 32 cities within the giant district. “L.A. Unified’s bureaucracy has proven long ago that it is impervious to change,” writes RiShawn Biddle.

Superintendent John Deasy threatened to resign if pro-union Richard Vladovic, a former teacher, principal and superintendent, became president of the Board of Education. Vladovic became president last week. Deasy backed down.

Being right isn’t enough

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

“A superintendent walks into an honors composition classroom, and sees students copying the school rules into their notebooks.  He turns to the teacher and says…”

The punchline took place last fall, but I only read about it today in the LA Times.  Apparently what the superintendent says in this particular joke is something along the lines of:

That’s why Deasy blew his top last fall when he encountered students in a 12th-grade English class copying a list of classroom rules into their composition books.

Busywork, he called it. An insult to their potential. A disrespectful waste of time in an Honors Composition course.

He told the students as much, then asked their teacher, Patrena Shankling, what they were supposed to be learning from this.

Let me just say that from the limited amount of information I have, he’s absolutely, 100% right.  It is busywork.  It’s a disrespectful insult to almost any high school class.  And, frankly, it’s probably (rank speculation alert!) the sort of thing that happens all the time in high schools.  (The mindless, stupid copying, that is, not the superintendent walking in.)

But as right as he might be, as righteous as his indignation may properly burn, he’s also a bit of an ass for going after the teacher in front of her students.  That’s not good management.  It’s not good leadership.  It’s not good manners.  If you really want, you can lean on the teacher, force an apology to the students later.  But going after someone in public is just going to end badly.  It’s the sort of thing you only do if you absolutely have to.

So in light of this criticism, it turns out that the teacher was also right when she objected…

Shankling was a substitute. It was the second day of the fall semester, and she was following the teacher’s lesson plan. She didn’t appreciate being scolded by Deasy in front of the students in her class.

But of course, as we know from seeing the superintendent in action, being right isn’t enough.  You also have to avoid acting stupidly, which seems to have been remarkably difficult in that classroom that day for several parties…

They wound up in a shouting match. She ordered Deasy to leave, he threatened to have her removed, she said.

One day later, Shankling, substitute No. 970595, was banned from teaching in L.A. Unified.

Let me say it again: being right isn’t enough.  You should also  be decent, and wise.  And being right is definitely not enough if you’re in a giant bureaucracy like the LAUSD.

On the other hand, when it comes to LAUSD superintendents, given the district’s track record, I might be perfectly happy with someone who’s just right.