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More Lessons for Education “Reformers”

December 8, 2010
empty classroom

photo: Tiffany Szerpicki (via stock.xchng)

Quiz time for education “reformers” – what’s missing from the picture at right?  Answers to follow – read on.

Over at Huffington Post, Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, the Executive Director of Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network, has written a useful reminder to the edreform crowd that there are certain standards they should hold themselves to while pursuing their agenda (“Lessons from Gotham for Education Reformers”). Using as her example the controversies around the recent appointment of Cathie Black as Chancellor for New York City Public Schools, Kubach observes that the leaders of that movement must be more consistent in their views of transparency and in articulating a compelling vision for education.

Kubach’s main concern seems to be winning over the general public, and perhaps more specifically, parents and voters. She’s right – the real power should reside with the people. However, in her view of the edreform political process, and whose concerns matter in that process, there are some key groups of people Kubach overlooks. I don’t know her broader body of work, so please don’t read this as personal indictment, but this particular piece of writing suffers from some glaring omissions.

Teachers? Kubach doesn’t mention us – at all.  Really.  The millions of us who actually do the teaching and provide the education apparently do not need to be won over.  Our buy-in does not matter in debates about the educational policy and leadership.  Oh, yes, Kubach uses the word “teacher” – but not to talk about the people; it’s only in the phrase “teacher performance information,” which is clearly a euphemism for test scores.  She renders us a mere adjective.

So, while Kubach offers some advice that I agree should be heeded, her article slips up, further undercutting what she calls, “our own organizations, agendas, and intentions” (emphasis added; a reference to education “reformers”).

Yes, I do question the agendas and intentions of an education reformer who writes about education without mentioning teachers as an interested party whose concerns warrant attention.

And is there anyone else missing in Kubach’s formulation of leadership issues and lessons in New York City schools?  (Think back to the quiz, above):

She uses the word “children” – once.

She does not use the word “student” – not even once.

Nor the word “learn” – not even once.

Consider this one more lesson for education “reformers” who may or may not wonder or care why slick PR and lots of money don’t buy them much credibility among actual educators.  And this omission underscores the fear many teachers and parents have about Cathie Black – that if your only qualifications for the job have to do with organizational management and working with adults to make a company profitable, then you don’t understand enough about our values and our enterprise.  The words “students” and “learning” might not show up on your flow charts and reports, but teachers spend every day focused on them anyways, and we don’t trust that someone who’s used to flow charts and reports will see deeply enough into the organization to understand what really drives it and then lead it effectively.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    December 8, 2010 2:58 pm

    This entire thing is about money and control. They don’t want to pay teachers, discard older teachers to save on retirement.
    I cringe to see what education will look like in 10 years……

  2. December 8, 2010 5:31 pm

    Holy cow. Ultimately, her omission of teachers and students from the discourse is a subliminal identification of her agenda: if it weren’t for the teachers and the student, education would work splendidly…maybe if we ignore them long enough, they’ll go away.

  3. December 8, 2010 6:59 pm

    Thank you David for pointing out not only the glaring omissions in this piece, but in the larger edreform debate as well.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      December 9, 2010 10:47 pm

      Hi Mike – I left a long comment on your blog post, and on one other as well. Let’s keep the dialogue going.

  4. Lynne Formigli permalink
    December 10, 2010 11:26 am

    I’d be laughing if I weren’t crying…

  5. December 11, 2010 8:56 am

    Hi David, your lengthier post made it into my spam folder, which I didn’t even realize existed. Is it ok to post that comment as its own blog entry?

    I really appreciate what you wrote and I want to take time to think about it because it brings up an important issue. Do we need to agree upon the new evaluation system first, or do we need agree that seniority does not work as a proxy for effectiveness? There is indeed much fear by more veteran teachers when I mention the reform of seniority. They view it as an attack on their career- which obviously does efforts to reform no good.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      December 11, 2010 10:45 am

      Hi Mike –
      Go ahead and embed my reply on your blog as new post, and maybe include that question afterwards and we can continue the conversation there; we’re on our own tangent that digresses from the post above.

      And for anyone else reading this, Mike is a teacher in Maryland who writes a thought-provoking blog that is worth your time – just click on his name to go there.

  6. December 11, 2010 3:48 pm

    If LEAs have to send letters to parents informing them of unqualified teachers in front of their students, should the 1.1 million school children in NYC receive a similar letter informing them of a chancellor who would not legally be allowed in a classroom alone with students?

    Also – there is a encouraging string of lawsuits developing in NYS challenging Steiner’s decision to grant Cathie Black a waiver to become chancellor. Here’s hoping….

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