Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What will real regime change look like at the DOE?

*Will de Blasio battle the toxic character of the NYC Department of Education or will he peddle old Bloomberg wine in a new "progressive" bottle?

New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will face a teaching force that is the most demoralized and is eager for qualitative change. The NYC Department of Education under Bloomberg pursued a program of destruction of education and the teaching profession. Just look at the names of some of the blogs in this city, Assailed Teacher, Under Assault, Pissed Off Teacher, Exasperated teacher. The sheer volume of New York City oriented blogs alone (see the sidebar of this blog) suggests a definitely high degree of weariness.

For the good of education, and out of humanity to the people laboring in the schools, great changes are need to reverse and correct the damage. And the battle-scarred teachers will be extra-attentive to the quality of changes that the new mayor will make. There is a tall order of tasks for that he will have to attend to.

I would want to say that I am cautiously optimistic. I am not. I am guarded. The hints in the last couple of weeks have been discouraging. First was his identification to the business community that he is a fiscal conservative. Then this week we have his characterization of ruthlessly anti-labor Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as a great mayor. Union activists are well aware of the latter's record. Such a characterization of Emanuel sound like fighting words targeted against the New York's municipal workers. De Blasio now has a negative reputation to undo. So far, it looks like we, the democratic left, have been thoroughly duped.

The Bloomberg record and the challenge of regime change
In schools, the break-up of large schools meant that students no longer enjoy the opportunities for English electives other than the test-prep treadmill. Schools no longer offer foreign language choices other than Spanish. (Actually, in the recent era, even Spanish has been scaled back as an option in the middle schools.) It meant the loss of arts choices. It meant the closure of school libraries. It meant the drastic reduction of guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologists. Envision the thousands of youths harmed by being deprived by these staff eliminations. On many points it has meant the city violating state law in pursuit of these policies.

It meant a racist and classist policy, as these changes were pursued first and more thoroughly in minority and low-income neighborhoods. Truth be told, the break-up of schools into different "learning communities" within one building was pioneered in the 1990s, before Bloomberg, such as with the closure of Julia Richman High School in 1993 during David Dinkins and Erasmus High School in 1994 during Rudy Giuliani, when the schools were run by the Board of Education.

It meant the loss of departmental chair assistant principals or department coordinators to guide curricula in the middle and high schools. Now, in the smaller schools, there are one or two assistant assistant principals. Good luck having an observation with someone that has taught or understands your subject.

Beyond the school-break-up trend, the Department of Education changes meant the replacement of the schools' leaders, professional, seasoned educators, with businesspeople, utterly unfamiliar and unconcerned with issues of pedagogy. Having businesspeople run schools has made as much sense as car manufacturers running farms. Their singular concern with metrics and the bottom line has often led to schools ill-serving authentic educational goals. Again, fat chance on getting an empathetic observation, as the private sector originating administrator weighs in on what good teaching looks like.

It meant replacing the traditional career trajectory of seasoned educator moving onto AP, moving onto principal, moving onto superintendent. These people knew what it was like to teach in the classroom, to get to know students as they watched students progress through the grades in the school. Now, you get people that stick around for two years at best in a position before getting kicked upstairs.

It meant replacing a public institution's leadership with private, unaccountable, non-public bid (or no-bid) "networks" that have questionable practicality, as non-educators or people with fleeting classroom experience (and little or no content familiarity) inform teachers about proper teaching. Regime change will involve terminating this privatization boondoggle staple of the Bloomberg years. This was just one example of how the NYC DOE has been following the Broad Virus program.

The system, from top to bottom is poisoned and corroded. The institutional damage needs a complete rapid turnover to past practices. Even by establishment metrics there is no quantitative or qualitative evidence that the changes of the Bloomberg mayoral control years have improved schools, the teaching or learning environment.

This system has been one of repression. Edward Stancik passed away, but his spirit has continued, with an alphabet soup of investigation agencies. Real regime change and an unoppressive teaching climate will require the end of a no due process system for teachers. And as blogger Chaz has said, administrators can do all sorts of unseemly things and remain in the system, barely punished. Read his blog, Chaz's School Daze, for dozens of illustrations of such scandalously double-standard treatment.

The next mayor would do well to study this pattern of destruction and undo each and everyone of these destructive policies.

Alas, merely a change at the top, in and of itself, will not create changes. The mayor shall be gone, but principals will remain. Outgoing New York City Michael Bloomberg made changes that will last long. Even if broken schools re-unite, there is the issue of his thorough stamp of appointment of Leadership Academy principals and assistant principals. These new style principals are too often not professional educators (or have a token two years exposure to teaching). Their orientation is often decisively anti-union, creating a hostile work environment, routinely violating contract provisions and even standard labor law. Even a temporary wage-earning employee in Macy's has a duty-free lunch, as it is state law. Not so in many New York City schools. Many of the new style principals flagrantly ignore that and insist that teachers attend meetings or work in "inquiry groups." Really, many teachers work during lunch on their own choice, but that should be the teacher's choice.

Finally, all of the above is really an indictment of the leadership the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York City teachers union. The union's Unity leadership has not recognized the above transformation, it has not frontally challenged these violations. It has failed to recognize or challenge the not just the whole set of patterns violations but many of the individual violations.

Teachers in touch with the chapter leaders would have heard from president Michael Mulgrew and his statements at the Thursday, September 12 chapter leaders meeting at the Brooklyn UFT headquarters. (If your CL did not debrief you, read this report here. Added commentary is at Perdido St. School. Other commentary on the UFT leaders' defense of Advance APPR at NYC Educator, and this post has an important discussion of how Danielson will turn NYC teachers into factory workers: Assailed Teacher. Many teachers have not had a proper explanation of the new evaluation system, and would do well to read the thorough analyses from the MORE site, here and here, of what is involved. The uninformed veterans and new teachers are in for a shock.

President Mulgrew's mood and stance has been that the new Advance APPR teacher evaluation system is the greatest thing to have happened. The UFT, when speaking of observation patterns has often said if you see any violation issues, such as principal-imposed lesson plan formats let us know. This is outrageous. If they were really in touch with their chapters and were mobilizing their chapter leaders, they would know that these sorts of violations have been going on for a while. Witness many principals' declaration that the Danielson Framework was official and that they were implementing it, before Walcott made the official announcement. (A succinct overview of Danielson developments approaching late January 2013 can be read in this Ed Notes post.)

The naivete that Mulgrew evinces, most prominently in his emphasis that many properly behaving principals will follow the Advance program fairly. Many principals will, but hundreds will not. Mulgrew and the whole (Unity caucus) leadership's naive acceptance of this program, and their ignorance of rampant contract violations are expressions of a union leadership far removed from the classroom. Their naivete is predicted on naivete and ignorance of teaching conditions.

This lack of knowledge of how the Danielson Framework of observation will work in real world contemporary conditions is a case in point. For instance, Danielson, Mulgrew, and others are failing to consider factors that affect smooth teacher performance. In broken up schools in particular, space is at a premium. Whereby a teacher in pre-Bloomberg, pre-broken-up schools would have had their own classroom, that they designed and that they had arranged their materials in; the conditions are far worse in the split up school format. The teacher moves room to room, either keeping multiple sets of supplies or moving them. And teachers are to be judged on classroom environment in these conditions?

Their view of the classroom is from the halcyon pre-Bloomberg years, when the conditions, while imperfect, were far more often in keeping in keeping in with the contract. The more frequent condition these years are schools with no chapter leader or no teachers lounge which is generally off-limits to administrators. There has been such turnover in the schools in the last six years that the night and day contrast of teaching conditions between then and now is imperceptable to maybe half the city teaching corp today.

Teachers' roles in effecting change
If the NYC teachers reading this are disturbed by the issues above, they should come to the Movement of Rank and File Educators, MORE, caucus (democratic alternative UFT caucus) events. A prime campaign is a moratorium campaign against the evaluation system.

Finally, Bill de Blasio has spoken of two cities. In the United States there is tale of two standards: a standard against urban schools with a large percentage of impoverished residents and suburbs. The latter have democratic-republican-driven school policy, the former do not. From a democratic-republican perspective, real regime change will require the city and the state allowing New York City residents to have the right to democratically organize their school system, just as suburban schools do. In short, the city must have a popularly elected Board of Education. Right now, this is a separate but unequal standard for municipal democracy, biased against New York City. The legal myth of the Department of Education must end with the Bloomberg regime. Or will de Blasio perpetuate the bias against urban schools having popularly controlled school systems? Will we have real regime change? Or a Bloomberg fourth term, under a Democratic face? Many of us one-time partisans of Democrats are cynical because of the terrible betrayals and oppression coming from Democrats in recent years.

If de Blasio fails to make a 180 degree turn from Bloomberg's record and his own recent rhetoric and steer the school system away from the disastrous policies of the Bloomberg decade, he will put himself in the position of being challenged from the left in 2017. --Perhaps from Letitia James (incoming public advocate), the woman who ought to be mayor.

Perdido Street School put the matter most astutely yesterday:

Tish James, responding to questions of what happens if de Blasio governs as a corporatist like Andrew Cuomo:
 “I don't think he's going to have much wiggle room,” says New York City councilwoman Letitia James, who will replace de Blasio as public advocate come January. “I'm going to make sure that he stays focused on a progressive agenda.”