Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NYC's Wylde Great School Wars

As many fellow bloggers have already pointed out, Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City committed a tactical error of magnificient proportions by wasting precious New York Post op-ed space discrediting one of our most thoughtful commentators on education policy, Diane Ravitch (space the Post could have filled with clever headlines like, "Want to Eat Me? Head to New Jersey!").

From Elizabeth Green of the NY Sun, we learn that Wylde was shooting straight from the Bloomberg-Klein hip. Apparently, it's now kosher to keep "files" on the opposition. Wylde made use of a 7-page Department of Education document entitled "Diane Ravitch: Then and Now." From the folks that brought you performance pay, this is what the young bucks at Tweed are hard at work on?

This move was foreshadowed at the NYC Research Partnership's kickoff conference, where Klein reportedly shocked an audience full of researchers by ominously commenting that there are "good and bad education researchers" and insinuating that only the "good researchers" (people who will rubber stamp Klein's policies?) should have access to the Partnership's data. As the article related, this response to dissent is the problem:

Ms. Ravitch said her most serious concern with the Bloomberg administration is the way it responds to dissent. She said that many educators who are professionally reliant on support from the city, through grants or contracts, fear voicing any differing opinions.

"It's a very sad situation, when people don't feel free to speak their mind," she said.

The kids of NYC are very lucky that Diane Ravitch has the courage and conviction to speak out against an administration that appears to be more concerned with spin than figuring out what works for New York City kids.


Anonymous said...

I respect Diane Ravitch and think she's written some great histories of the NYC school system, but come on. She cultivates the image of an objective expert and can use that to get something printed in any major paper in the country whenever she wants. What's wrong with examining her record the same way she examines Klein's? That's all Wylde's piece did. Why should critics be immune from scrutiny simply because they're critics?

You say the NYC administration isn't concerned with "figuring out what works for New York City kids." I'm assuming you just don't agree with their approach, because you can't seriuosly suggest there's a shortage of ideas being tried up there. They're practically New Deal prolific with reforms. That's not necessarily a good thing, but they're certainly trying. Meanwhile, what are Ravitch's ideas? She's against standardized tests as they currently exist. She's against pretty much everything Klein is doing. So what is she for? She's for national standards, but that's not anything NYC can control directly. What would her agenda be if she were chancellor instead of Klein? I've yet to hear her or any other critic of Bloomberg/Klein articulate a coherent alternative vision of change. Surely these people weren't happy with state of the school system in 2002.

ed notes online said...

I haven't been happy with the state of the NYC school system since about 2 days after I started teaching in 1967. But what you call an "alternative visions of change" is not based on any educational research but a shake em up philosophy with no grounding. The ed system as a football team needing a new coach.

May of us do have a vision for change. It includes attacking problem schools with more teachers to reduce class size, more social workers and guidance counselors to address problems at risk kids have and more involvement in teachers in making some basic decision. Not the corporate gimmicks of BloomKlein which educators who have dealt with the day to day classroom issues know will not work.

Some of Diane Ravitch's vision is also one that progressive educators do not accept but we appreciate her being with us on the barricades.

Anonymous said...

See Diane's response to the Wylde smear in the 11/1/07 issue of the New York Post. She will not bow to this threat of intimidation. Go Diane!

Sol said...

Anonymous wrote:
"I'm assuming you just don't agree with their approach, because you can't seriuosly suggest there's a shortage of ideas being tried up there. They're practically New Deal prolific with reforms. That's not necessarily a good thing, but they're certainly trying."

Yes, they're trying ideas that don't work or have worked in very controlled settings. Ideas that are all form and no substance. Ideas that don't engage kids. Did someone say the reading, writing workshop approach?

The real ideas that work are the ones that have been tested and true in the real world and which are passed along from teacher to teacher. They are free. That's how I learned, that's how "Ednotes" learned. There are masters that existed in every school, regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately you can't sell that and you can't hire expensive consultants to do that and its unfortunate that those masters are being driven out of the system.

Robert Pondiscio said...

I posted the following on eduwonk as well, but it's a subject I feel strongly about, so I hope the cross-posting will be forgiven.

I have always felt a kinship with Joel Klein. I became a teacher at the same moment he became chancellor, and I wondered at the time if the sense of mission I felt in leaving corporate life to teach in the South Bronx was anything like what my father felt leaving home to fight in World War II. Under Klein, I felt like I was going off not merely to teach, but to fight the good fight. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with the Chancellor several times, and I believe him to be not a businessman, a lawyer, a politician, but a true change agent, in the best sense of that hackneyed phrase. I sat with him once and heard him say that his goal is “to change the world.” I don’t doubt his earnestness for a second.

I’m also acquainted with Diane Ravitch. Her place in the education pantheon is beyond doubt. Her only accomplishment is a lifetime of clear thinking, public service and passionate advocacy. What to make then of this proxy battle pitting Ravitch against Kathryn Wylde? I believe that the city schools are in much better shape now than they would have been without Klein and Mayor Bloomberg. But I also believe it is important to pay careful attention to ones critics, especially when they have earned their place in the marketplace of ideas with a lifetime of first-rate work.

The worst thing that can happen to any reform movement is complacency. And one of the worst habits of mind is lock-step agreement with partisans on one’s own side. Ravitch is right when she says the curriculum in NYC schools has narrowed to an unacceptable degree. Her skepticism in test results is well-placed and valid. Her point that tests are poor measures to dole out rewards and punishments is solid. These criticisms and others that she has leveled are validated by my first-hand experience in the classroom. Those of us who consider ourselves reformers, I think, tend to fear that to agree with critics is to align ourselves with those who oppose reform. This is sloppy thinking. I don’t believe in making the perfect the enemy of the good. But it does not follow from that that I should therefore oppose the perfect.

New York’s schools are riding a wave of positive publicity from the Broad Prize. I pray that the DOE not fall victim to another bad habit of mind: reading and believing its press clips. Progress is being made, but it is vital that we not declare victory and quit the field. The victory that has been won is to show that a massive bureaucracy can be mobilized and directed. But to date, that has not resulted in a sea change in results. Test scores are directional; they are not proof of a well-educated child. Graduation rates are a positive indicator, but they are not a guarantee of educational attainment or future success. We need to be reminded of this, and reminded often, if we are truly interested in changing outcomes and lives. We cannot afford to become mere cheerleaders for individuals and institutions.

Have we come to the point in the education revolution when we will devour our own? Let’s hope not. The battle is nowhere near over. We need all the ideas and constructive criticism we can muster.

sol said...

I find it interesting that the teacher who has the great kinship with and began his career with Mr. Klein is no longer a teacher.
According to his byline in the New York Sun

"A former public school teacher, Robert Pondiscio is presently writing a book on public and private schools in New York City."

ed notes online said...

I'm not one who would say you have to teach for 20 years before you can comment on education but those of us who put our careers into the classroom did learn some perspective as to the kinds of things that work. There is massive outrage from so many teachers (and I don't mean the UFT outrage) and princiapls who speak privately and even top level people around Tweed at the results of BloomKlein's leadership in terms of day to day operation of schools due to these constant shakeups - especially in terms of special ed kids.

I spent my final few years in the system as a technology specialist and know all the players. What Klein has done (or let's say allowed to happen) in that area is a total scandal - maybe almost criminal.

Robert Pondiscio said...

As I thought my post made clear, that kinship is not tantamount to lockstep agreement. I applaud effort, good intentions and commitment, but there comes a time when that's no longer enough, and results are the litmus test. The question for me became what exactly do we mean by good results and outcomes?

I'm concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum and the overemphasis on testing. As a teacher, I was consistently at odds with the prevailing philosophy, and could no longer support it in good conscience (how effective could I be as a teacher when I did not believe in the curriculum I was hired to teach?). That's why I'm no longer teaching.

eduwonkette said...

hi everyone,

i am going to respond at length later on, but for now let's not, as robert said, "come to the point in the education revolution when we will devour our own (eduwonkette readers)."

everyone but anonymous 1:55AM is on the same page about this indefensible and unconscionable attack not only on our colleague, but the very idea of deliberative democracy - whether we have taught for no years, a few, or a dozen.

ed notes online said...

I put 35 years in the system working in what many consider one of the more corrupt local school districts. While there is much to deride about local control, based on contact with so many people I know in those schools - many of then fabulous, dedicated teachers - things were much better before BloomKlein took over.

At least you knew who to call to get something done. There was an entire infrastucture for special ed that worked. Wasteful to some extent? Probably. BloomKlein hide the waste on their end.

And you could go to a monthly local school board meeting and look the elected (ok, maybe by 12 people) board and the Superintendent in the eye and publicly raise any issue you want. When my principal screwed around with a pre-k class we got 50 signatures from parents and went and raised it publicly just for one example. It didn't happen often but at least we had the option.

Give me back that old corrupt system where they stole pennies. Now the BloomKlein corporate gravy train funnels millions into private hands.