Cathie Black out as NYC schools chief

In what should come as a shocker to absolutely nobody other than perhaps the Mayor of NYC who appointed her as the Chief of NYC’s schools, Cathie Black is out. Admittedly, I was against this move from the outset (did anybody really, truly believe that this little experiment was going to work???), but I am truly surprised that she lasted all of a whopping three months. Coming from somebody who was against this move from the start, I’m just not sure that three months was truly fair.

Then again, it’s not like Black didn’t bring some bad press upon herself. It’s just not possible for a person in this role to speak as freely as she thought she could. Case in point (number 1): when responding to people attending a town hall meeting who were concerned with overcrowding in schools, Black said that her solution would include more birth control. And for good measure, she threw in a Holocaust reference – um, yeah, not a very good idea to pull out a Sophie’s Choice type of comment. Beyond this, she also complained openly about the way she was handled by the press – not so much with it’s written coverage of her, but rather the unflattering photos they took of her. Yep, Cathie, you really had a handle on what’s important. When she resigned, her approval rating was at a staggering 17%.

Cathie Black isn’t really the problem here, though. The bigger problem is that a person like Michael Bloomberg, who has no experience with the field of education, has the power to appoint who he wants to be the Chancellor. At issue is the fact that he gambled with the education of approximately 1.1 million students when choosing somebody with a business background — yet no education background — to lead the department. Let’s put it this way: if you were buying stock in Microsoft, wouldn’t you want the most knowledgeable person running Microsoft? Don’t get me wrong, I  want a person who knows the business end of things as well, but ideally I want the person who knows the most about the product to be in charge. In actuality, this isn’t a great example because the situation I gave you implies that we want a tremendous profit, whereas this is not the case with Education. Don’t get me wrong, we want economic solvency, but profit isn’t the driving force.

What’s interesting is that we’ve now seen another example of the rising reformers failing to do what they say is easy to be done. Let’s ring a business savvy approach to change the culture of education. It makes sense, they say. You don’t need to be an educator to know how to change things for the better, they say. Let me get rid of whomever I want whenever I want and shame on you for expecting due process. Yet Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Cathie Black have all shown themselves to not have what it takes. (On a side note, Rhee played dumb and acted as though there was no way a school would cheat on its testing when under an incredible amount of scrutiny. C’mon now, Ms. Rhee, let’s get real – but that’s another blog post in the making…)

Quite simply, no mayor should have the ability to appoint a person to head a position of this magnitude. Michael Bloomberg knows bupkus about education and hopefully has learned his lesson because those 1.1 million students need a leader and it shouldn’t be somebody who’s appointed to fulfill the mayor’s agenda.

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How “Waiting for Superman” can lead to Education Reform…

I wanted to hate Waiting for Superman, I really did. In fact, I got caught up in what I was reading and expected to see 102 minutes of bashing teachers. I watched the episode of Oprah devoted to it, I’ve read the articles in Time and other magazines and newspapers and I’ve devoured what I could online, and you know what? I didn’t see teacher bashing in this film. Instead, what I saw was a film that should, if nothing else, get the much needed conversation going.

You don’t have to be Diane Ravitch or Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan or Joel Stein to know that there are serious problems with our educational system. And you also shouldn’t need to be any of the above mentioned people to realize that change needs to occur in order to achieve a level of education that every child in the United States deserves. Yesterday I watched a film that looked to expose the elements of our industry that need to change in order to start this process, and yes, getting rid of the bad teachers is one of the factors that must occur. In my opinion, Waiting for Superman didn’t belabor this point – but let’s not kid ourselves, bad teachers exist and those of us who are working hard every day to do our jobs should be offended that our unions that prevent their dismissal do so.

I’m taking Davis Guggenheim’s stats as fact – should they be wrong, then my opinion would change – but there is no way in the world that over 600 teachers alone from New York City should be paid to sit in what is referred to as the “rubber room.” (Please note: according to the New York Times, this practice no longer occurs according to this article). Quite simply, we should be appalled that this practice happened. Now don’t get me wrong, due process must happen – but this shouldn’t take years to happen. The dismissal of bad teachers, let alone teachers who have committed atrocities that warrant sitting in a room for a long period of time, is simply one of the things that must happen in order to see change occur.

While teachers as a whole were not attacked, the “lemons” who get passed around from school to school in Milwaukee due to their lack of effectiveness and tenure certainly did. And they should. As I said earlier, we are all responsible for seeing change happen and we all must play a role in this in order to see this necessary change. When we allow our industry to be filled with ineffective teachers who’ve been granted a lifelong job after as little as two years, then those of us who do our jobs suffer as well. Allowing these teachers to skate through year after year only hurts our reputation in the eyes of the public and this doesn’t help matters when it comes to further reform.

Through a friend on Twitter, I learned of an excellent project completed by students at State College High School in central Pennsylvania. It is a response to student suicides which have happened due to being bullied due to their sexual preferences. In essence, the video takes a strong stand to say that those of us who sit on the sidelines and aren’t willing to take a stand are just as responsible for their unfortunate deaths. This is the same situation we face when we allow our unions to hide these ineffective teachers. Sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing will get us nowhere – and fast.

So we should go all Michelle Rhee on teachers then, Lenzi? I don’t doubt that you’re saying this to yourself, as my views on this sound a lot like hers to this point. No, this is not what we should do now. What we must do now is come to terms with the idea that tenure is an outdated idea. It doesn’t help us, it hinders us. It makes our profession about US instead of what it should always be about – STUDENTS.

We must overhaul the way we are evaluated and we must figure out a way to determine what makes a good teacher. We must be ready for the consequences should we not meet the requirements we have come up with.  We must profess the idea to those coming up through the college ranks that while this profession is the greatest on earth, it’s by no means easy and we must expect more out of colleges as they prepare those who will enter our profession. We must realize that being a senior teacher doesn’t necessarily make one a strong teacher, just as being a new teacher doesn’t necessarily make one a great one. We must play our role in this crisis. We can’t simply sit back and blame the bureaucracy (which certainly deserves blame, don’t get me wrong) without admitting that we must do our part as well.

I realize that the clip from State College isn’t the highest quality, but its message is. I hope that you took the time to watch it all. If you did, I also hope that you agree with me when I say that the I Am can just as easily apply to the problems we face in education today, just as the We Are can be applied, or to use what I’ve just focused on, We Must

Michelle Rhee resigns (or the day that the news stood still on this issue)

During my lifetime, I’m not sure that I’ve witnessed anyone who has been more polarizing in the field of education than D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Very few people are in between on her – it’s definitely a love or hate kind of situation. I must admit, however, that I am one of the few. She has been both very good for the field of education and very bad – and this stretches beyond the confines of D.C.

If you think that there’s nothing wrong with the field of education, then, well, there’s something wrong with your line of thinking. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. We are at a crossroads in this country as we continue to drop down the world’s rankings. More importantly than these rankings, however, is the fact that we are failing our young students daily. There are many reasons for this – and many people have no issue with spouting off their opinions – including members of the media.

Working in this field exposes many raw nerves. We’ve been inundated with information about how poor teachers are ruining our society. If only it were this simple. But if you read the press on “Waiting for Superman” and watched the puff piece on Oprah, then perhaps this is all you would believe, because that’s what you’ve been led to believe. Better yet, if you listen to Rhee on her press tours, you would definitely have this message pounded into your head.

Let’s get real – there are bad teachers who are being protected by our unions and this is dragging down the rest of us. We should be appalled that this happens, and until we stand up and announce that this isn’t acceptable to us, then we are just as much to blame. Yes, the powerful teachers’ unions need to accept some blame in what’s going on as well. I’ve said this many, many times in the not so distant past: We are many times our own worst enemy.

So Michelle Rhee resigned today – October 13th. I’m fully aware that the Chilean miners are in the process of being rescued today and that this will fill much of today’s news flow. However, since the announcement was made that Rhee would be resigning today, I have seen nothing on the front pages of either CNN or MSNBC – both sites which have covered her rise ad nauseum as well as her attacks. Both sites have been on the “Waiting for Superman” bandwagon and have run articles on what’s wrong with education.

And now, the chancellor of probably the 2nd most important district in our country right now – and the one who, in my opinion has brought the most attention on herself, has resigned and these sites are… silent. Hmmm… I’m just not completely sure what’s going on here. Run out of room on those pages?

I believe in many of the same things that Michelle Rhee believes in – all students deserve nothing but quality teachers, the weakest teachers – no matter the seniority – should be weeded out, and that pay needs to be increased in order to attract and keep the best and the brightest. I don’t believe that she necessarily went about this in the correct way. But perhaps that’s just my take. At the very least, however, when you’ve put yourself out there, as she has, and then you resign your post prior to getting fired by the Mayor-elect (as was going to happen), well those news sites should be there to cover this as well.

The “Manifesto”…

Wow. That was truly my first reaction when I read the manifesto published in The Washington Post today. For those of you with a sense of history and perspective, the last time that I truly heard this term even used seriously, we were tracking down a guy in the woods of Montana. As a teacher, this piece is simply appalling. Please, before you read anything else in this post, if you haven’t already clicked on that link above and read the words of Joel Stein, Michelle Rhee, et. al., make sure to do so.

The last thing that I want to do is claim that our system of public education doesn’t need work. It does and anybody with half a brain can see this. But divisive forces like Mr. Stein and Ms. Rhee aren’t helping anything by having a piece like this published. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And this is truly a shame.

Until we can all come to the conclusion that WE ALL must play a role in this absolutely necessary turnaround of OUR educational system in the United States, we are only going to continue to tear each other down. And let’s get this straight: by ALL, I mean all of the stakeholders in our system – which means EVERY SINGLE CITIZEN IN OUR COUNTRY. That’s teachers and parents, administrators and students, school board members and legislators, Michelle Rhee and Joel Stein, John and Jane Doe. If we all don’t climb aboard the bus, to use the metaphor we use over and over in my school district, we just aren’t going to be able to achieve anything.

I’ve been doing a ton of reading in the past couple months regarding educational reform and have some pretty strong opinions. I hope you continue to read as I spout them out.

To be continued, you can count on that…