Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And the winner is...

Thank you to all who nominated an entry to the contest "Tweed's Greatest Foul-Ups."

This was very difficult to judge because there were so many foul-ups, so many fiascos. It is hard to say which was the absolute worst: the school bus re-routing, the ARIS supercomputer, the credit recovery contribution to raising the graduation rate, the "end of social promotion," the report cards, the pre-K admissions mess, the middle school admissions mess, the gifted and talented admissions mess, the quality reviews, the mindless obsession with test scores, on and on.

All contributed to turning the New York City school system into a new and painful version of 52 Pick-Up. But this game is not funny. It is only funny when Gary Babad writes the press releases, even if they are fake.

Two nominations had to be excluded because while they were powerful, they were not the work of Tweed: one, Norm Scott's suggestion that turning the education system over to a politician was the original disastrous mistake; and two, the suggestion (by anonymous) that hiring a non-educator as chancellor was another disastrous error. The first, as Norm notes, was the decision of the Legislature; the second was the choice of the Mayor.

So, the fastest way to whittle down the list of finalists is to restrict them to those who signed their name to their choice. That makes for a very short list, which is indicative of the fear that people in this city have to openly criticize those in power. This in itself is indicative of the terrible change, the repression of open discussion, that the new regime has introduced into our civic life.

Faced with a very short list of people who were willing or able to sign their names, I award the grand prize to Diana Senechal, who selected the "workshop model" as her biggest blunder. I take it that the blunder was the effort to impose a single method of teaching, in the absence of any genuine curriculum. This blunder was itself indicative of the arrogance of power, the belief that these non-educators could tell every teacher in the system how to teach. From that same arrogance flowed all the other blunders and fiascos, all recognized by teachers and parents, but unacknowledged at 52 Chambers Street as errors.

-- Diane Ravitch


Anonymous said...

There are only two "unifying principles" that can explain all of what Bloomberg/Klein have done: They simply are incompetent, or they needed to destroy the system before they could rebuild it under their business model. Unfortunately, these principles are not mutually exclusive.
So: successive shuffles to eliminate lateral relationships, controllable new principals and teachers, top-down policies and centralized testing, fear-based management with incentives based on test performance, reliance on outside consultants...and the many goofs that inevitably happen when experienced professionals are marginalized.

Anonymous said...

Good choice but I still think the ATR crises is the biggest mistake. How can anybody justify 812 million dollars on experienced and talented educators that are not given a classroom position.

Anonymous said...

I am honored to have won, and eager to read The Great School Wars! I am not happy that the workshop model was ever imposed; this does not speak well for Tweed. Sadly, it is only one example of their blind espousal of senseless measures.

Much has been said about the damaging effects of the workshop model. There's an interesting post at Under Assault about the workshop model and the demise of grammar instruction; I also like Jackie Bennett's unpublished letter to the New York Times. Then there's the New York Teacher article about the teachers who fought back. Those are just three examples of thoughtful commentary; there are many more. One would expect the DoE to listen and respond. Alas, they have millions of dollars invested in the workshop model and its kin. Just about every PD I have attended has pushed some aspect of the model.

As for signing with my real name: that was one of my biggest changes this year. I used to vacillate between my real name and various pseudonyms. I have far less fear now that I have abandoned the pseudonyms. I understand that some may not be in a position to use their real names. The risks of retribution are real. But for me, the internal risks of fear are worse.

It is sad that we have something like the "workshop model," imposed and overapplied; so many thoughtful voices criticizing it; and no apology from Tweed. Granted, the micromanagement has eased here and there. But the multimillion-dollar contracts continue, and a sense of excellence is lost.

I thank Diane Ravitch for inspiring me, through her courageous and clear writing, to offer the best language, knowledge, and ideas that I have, and to make those better over time. That's what keeps me in teaching; that's what the kids need. I look forward to much more of that than I could even know to anticipate.

Diana Senechal