Lisa Donlan on How the WalBloom Administration Fails the Accountability Test

Find the accountability
Lisa Donlan writes:

All that "data" and none on the networks?

....after a first failed experiment of imposing a uniform curriculum, the DoE decided it was not in the teaching and learning business. It decided it was in the business of managing others to handle the teaching and learning.
And I just love this comment.
A great piece of journalism (School Scope in The Wave: A Raucous Hearing at PS 215)  –  insightful, analytically and evocative of all the human emotions and interactions behind the policies and processes!   
----- Lisa Donlan, parent activist, Community Education Council 1 (lower east side)
Hey, I don't toss compliments away, so I appreciate Lisa's comment. (Ignore my lame attempt at humor by using the color "yellow" in the context of her use of the word "journalism.") I've gotten some other nice comments on that piece. (If you read it make sure to watch the video of Walcott getting hot under the collar.)

Aside from printing it for my ego, Lisa brilliantly expands on a minor point in my column about the total lack of accountability of the Networks established by Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott to replace the old geographically defined districts (which still exist in some form and when a stake is put through the heart of mayoral control (despite the UFT's continued support of MC). A school like PS 215 which went from an A to an F with the same staff and administration is being closed while the people running the network which was supposed to monitor and provide support walk away without being held accountable for any of it. Is it possible the branding of so many schools as failures is a failure of a decade of poor management systems?

When, oh when, will the press start paying attention to the role these networks, often loaded with know-nothings and do-nothings, play. Talk about a patronage machine.

I wanted to pick up on something you wrote that I think deserves to be examined and highlighted more often, more consistently and more loudly.

Lots of people ask why nothing was done over the years if there were signs the school was failing. The numerous reorganizations over the years from district to region to network has allowed Tweed to blur the lines of responsibility allowing Lloyd-Bey to shrug.

Not just the Dist Sups get off the hook, as the accountability kick-the-dog routine rolls down the hill from City Hall to Tweed to the individual schools and homes of the students.

We all can recall that the single largest trade off for centralization of power over the schools in the hands of the mayor was to at long last have single point "Accountability".

We all know that "Accountability" has been reduced to: "Boo me in parades", and blaming the victims.

Yet there is one layer of actors that has managed to both actually be accountable and simultaneously invisible, and that is the hidden and nameless/faceless bureaucracy that "supports" the principals and schools, as you point out in your post.

From the old district sups and their staffs, publicly shamed as ineffectual racists, booted out with the schools boards; to the Regions (mostly recycled district employees); to the SSO's and now the CFN's (networks on steroids), there has been no "accountability" and no mention of the great missing link.

By missing link I mean the heart and soul, the nuts and bolts of education, the craft, science and art of teaching and learning- instruction and curriculum.

While Klein and Walcott (let's face it, they were always a team and I suspect still are) reorganized the bureaucracy, hiding it deeper and deeper into the maze of virtual networks, they were also busy ratcheting up the standards.

First it was their own high stakes exams, combined with a few state exams. Then the state took on the task of creating all the exams, and NYC DoE filled in with interim exams.

Next the machine became enamored with value-added algorithms and formulas, as supposed measures of "progress", a never ending series of bell curves of relative competences that stood in for students achievement, teacher quality, principal effectiveness, school progress and many other valuations.

Standards came to mean tests, and tests in turn became the curriculum.

Schools were forced to undertake varying degrees of test prep in limited subject areas to meet the focused goals of the very high stakes tests.

That shell game seemed to be working, until advocates and critics demonstrated just how much the books had been cooked, and how reductionist and absurd the whole game had become.

In response, the educrats have now devised national standards, the "core common standards," a more sophisticated group of expectations that cover greater areas of study, which in the end means more tests, in more subjects, eventually to be administered on-line.

Has anyone else noticed the basic disconnect in this story? The lost thread?

The state/city/feds keep coming up with more and better "standards", which they translate into blunt, inexpensive instruments that are relatively easy to measure, store and analyze.

Yet many schools and students are, over and over, unable to meet those standards.

So the response of the educrats is: to make new standards. Higher standards. More complex standards. Standards in every subject area.

But where is the curriculum that translate the standards into teaching and learning? Everyone is given an x on the map to get to - but no one is getting any directions of how to get there.

Because that map is supposed to be supplied by the Networks!
When schools first selected their School support Organizations they were supposed to select them based on affinities of pedagogy and curriculum, right?

In all the DoE depts is there anyone accountable for curriculum? for teaching and learning?

We don't even talk about the curriculum. Never mind the necessary supports and interventions the networks provided (or failed to provide) to bolster and reinforce the curriculum and its implementation in the classroom.

NYC DoE has a massive legal force, a gigantic accountability office, we have space planners, and folks in charge of Talent, and Portfolios of Learning (creating new small schools/charter schools) but NO ONE is in charge of instruction, pedagogy, teaching and learning!

That is because after a first failed experiment of imposing a uniform curriculum, the DoE decided it was not in the teaching and learning business. It decided it was in the business of managing others to handle the teaching and learning.

Teaching and Learning have since been handed off to the Regions - Boroughs- SSOs and CFNs.

So, if the curriculum and all supports, such as teacher and principal training and development, as supplied by the various Networks, has not been sufficient to get students across the bar, why just keep raising or changing the bar?

Why not look at the supports in place?
Why not evaluate the curriculum, and not just the teachers implementing it?

And why not hold these networks accountable?

We hear about the effects of budget cuts on schools but we never hear how the Networks did or did not distribute those budgets among their schools, how much money was spent on the network itself, what the network is tasked to do and whether or not it did so effectively.

Have we ever looked at their collective school progress report grades? their collective School Quality Reviews?

All that "data" and none on the networks?

Why are all of the school closing hearings about the failure of the school to meet the imposed goals and standards, but there is nary a word about the failure of the Networks to get them there?

Has anyone looked at the rate of failure of schools and the correlation with the various networks?

Could the networks themselves play a part in the school closing game, perhaps robbing Peter to pay Paul, picking the winners to give more resources to, and winnowing off the losers in their own networks?

Who knows, since we can't see them or trace them or learn of their "accountability".


Before leaving for the morning, I want to include this Q and A from ICE-mail.

State of the Union(I have lots of video and commentary on a spectacular Saturday in February that drew between 200 and 250 people to a conference on the UFT - are we all crazy or what?)

James Eterno and Jeff Kaufman in their "Know Your Rights" workshop on Saturday reminded me once again how much we need people like them giving even experienced teachers and chapter leaders sage advice. They are always there for people who need advice.

This came in over ICE mail

Subject : [ice-strategy] Question re arbitration hearing on class size
Hi, I received a fax last week stating that I had to appear for a UFT class size arbitration hearing even though there is only one class over regs- a Kgn with 26. I'm supposed to report there in the morning without going to my school first. I get paid for the day. Do I have to appear?

James Eterno responds:
Please go. It is easy and even with one oversize class you establish precedent so they will have a harder time using the exception next year. You probably will not win but if you don't go, you have let them get away with an oversize class and they can do it over and over. You get the time to travel to and from.