Friday, June 12, 2009

Wanted: A Leader for My Daughter's School

Late last night I completed my duty as a parent member of the principal selection committee for my daughter’s high school. Fully aware there was a strong possibility that this was just a “phony committee” (a wise warning from my mother who worked as a medical school administrator for many years), I gave it my best anyway.

The candidates were discouragingly inadequate, both in number and in scope of experience. Despite months of lead time that this position would need to be filled; the district had only been able to scrounge up three people for us to interview, two had been held for a few weeks and one was slipped in at the very last minute that very same day; we barely had time to read the resume. These three are the only ones who had supposedly passed downtown's screening test and who would be willing to work at our 2000-student, comprehensive high school, a school which holds nearly 16% of OUSD’s high school student body.

Of these three candidates, only one had substantial high school administrative experience. One had a few years of administrative experience at a 260-student charter middle school in central California. The other was just slightly more experienced than that, and was the only one who had ever worked for our district.

Along the way it was admitted to us that OUSD is in crisis because it can’t get people to apply as principals for its schools. The district can’t attract people to apply for other types of administrative positions either, according to a friend who is working for the district as a teacher support person.

In regard to the lack of interested applicants willing to work at the high school level, the number is further reduced because only some are open to working at comprehensive high schools, preferring instead the small high schools. From what I've been told, the pay differential at the large schools isn’t enough to compensate for the increased responsibility and workload. I'm sure some principals would prefer comprehensive high schools, with all the interesting activities which accompany them, so perhaps part of the problem is that the district has passive headhunters. And I can’t help but think that an additional reason for the dearth is because the state-run leadership neglected the identification and proper fostering of its future leaders during its stay here. Now the rooster has come home to roost.

So when an already weak school district has been intentionally and heavily destabilized for six straight years by the manipulations and mismanagement conducted by a sequence of Broad-trained, disruptive-force minded state administrators, what would the appeal to working in that district be, especially since principals can make more money in every single neighboring district? It makes me especially sad to recall three great administrators I knew who were essentially driven away by the "new" mentality brought in by the state, and ended up taking early retirement. Believe me when I tell you they were not only skilled, but dedicated to Oakland's kids.

Before we concluded last night, we were compelled by the district rep to take a final vote to reflect our "choice." He said he was required to do this by his superiors. There was a short discussion about possibly developing a Plan B; some members accepted that as an option and others were strongly opposed. On my scrap of paper I wrote “abstain” and scrawled the message, “I don’t want any of these cars and am willing to keep taking the bus for now.”


I occasionally envy oblivious parents; what people don't know can't hurt them. When I explained what had happened at this meeting to my OUSD teacher friend, she advised, “I say just go to Paris, drink absinthe and make art for awhile to get it out of your system.” Right now that sounds about right.

At any rate, in preparation for the above process, I did a little research about NewLeaders for New Schools.

NewLeaders for New Schools

NewLeaders for New Schools is a relatively new principal training program located in a handful of U.S. cities, including the Bay Area. Founded in 2000 by a team who had attended Harvard Business School and Harvard's Graduate School of Education, it was launched in 2001 in Chicago by the Broad Foundation and the Chicago Public Education Fund, Arne Duncan’s home stomping ground.

Among the goals NLFNS is working to achieve by 2014 is to create a “world-class, scalable, sustainable, data-driven organization that has created an essential knowledge base that is actively used by education policy and decision-makers to drive educational excellence at scale. This innovative "action tank" will blend the power of a think tank with the results of and lessons learned from highly successful schools and principals at increasing scale.”

Also: “By 2014, a critical mass of schools in most of our current partner cities--and a critical mass of principal vacancies--will be filled by high-quality New Leaders principals selected and trained by New Leaders with the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and frameworks needed to ensure 90-100% student success rates in their schools.”

Billionaire Eli Broad’s 990’s reveal that he gave NLFNS a total of $7,994,000 in the years 2001 through 2007. His early contributions were identified for use as start-up and first year implementation. He donated $1,056,000 in 2001, $1,218,000 in 2002, $2,250,000 in 2003, $2,000,000 in 2004, $720,000 in 2005, $375,000 in 2006, and $375,000 in 2007.

Lynda Tredway, of UC Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute, reported to me that half of the program's curriculum is designed by NLFNS, and the other half is from the administrative training program at Cal State East Bay.

Potential applicants are tempted away from traditional, academic-based principal training programs, like the one at UC Berkeley, because they can't offer the advantages that NLFNS can. For instance, the NLFNS program does not charge tuition. Participants also receive a salary and an automatic administrative residency position (paid for by both OUSD and NLFNS) while they undergo their training. Undoubtedly, the benefits underwritten by the philanthropic funding which NLFNS receives work to entice people into the program, and to create an uneven playing field.

The overwhelming destinations for those who have graduated from the NLFNS Bay Area training program are both the charter and non-charter schools of OUSD. Of the 45 graduates listed in the Winter 2008 issue of the NLFNS Bay Area Community Newsletter, 32 are in the traditional and small schools of OUSD, 10 are at OUSD charter schools, and 13 are at other Bay Area and Central Valley schools, primarily charters.

One point to consider is that for the past several years, NLFNS graduates have been given special, automatic preference and access to leadership positions in OUSD schools by special arrangements made between NLFNS and the Broad-trained state administrators. So the program provides OUSD with candidates for principal positions while blocking good potential candidates from other programs at the same time.

Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) is a 76 year-old accountant by training, and a businessman by experience. He made his initial fortune in real estate and homebuilding (KB Home), then went on to become the founder and CEO of SunAmerica, a subsidiary of AIG (American International Group).*

Broad has no personal experience or training in the field of public education, or in the management of urban public schools or school districts. His massive wealth $6.7 billion (48th richest American) has permitted him to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on education reform projects which he personally launches, including alternative training programs such as NLFNS. His base of operations is the Broad Education Foundation, an organization which is working toward “transforming urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition."

*This is an insurance corporation heavily involved with the recent financial collapse, and recently listed as eighth of 655 on a list of bad-faith insurers.

Reform, reform, reform.

Here’s what John Thompson has to say.

Hopefully, Arne Duncan will listen closely to John Easton, Charles Payne, and others who have studied reform efforts in Chicago (and elsewhere). Payne calls for "Standards of Implementation" or guidelines for minimum prerequisites required for reforms to be successful. Just as teachers tend to be isolated from each other, "reformers are isolated - by ideology, attitude, ... and tribalisms." Just as teachers need learning "Standards," reformers need Standards or a guide as to whether a minimum amount of professional development, follow-up support, on-going assessment, and capacity for addressing disengagement are available. To borrow Payne's analysis of a previous systemic reform, "one need not spend a decade and $130 million dollars to find out that one doesn't have a theory of action connected to the real world."

In 1971, Seymour Sarason explained the failure of reformers to understand schools as social organizations and their cultures. For another 15 years, he kept a file of letters from people who led failed reform efforts and learned "that reformers ‘had vastly underestimated the force of existing power relationships and had vastly overestimated the willingness of school personnel to confront the implication of those relationships.’"

And above all, "when people who have led a reform effort are asked what they would do differently," writes Payne, "perhaps the single most common answer is "take more time.”

That sensible advice has arrived here too late to be of any help.


GGW said...


Top young principals today, born after Sarason's 1971 comment, think he's right.

In existing schools (and other organizations), it's incredibly hard to change teacher attitudes.

So why take your daughter school's job when a really talented principal can start a brand new charter, and build a team from scratch - instead of beating his/her head against the wall?

In the same way you correctly realize that you were on a fake committee, the principal job is most schools is equally fake.

The job might as well read: "Wanted, someone to keep the lid on, more or less keep things going as they were, rearrange deck chairs. No real budget authority. No ability to hire/fire/reward staff."

* * *

I commend you for being what sounds like a tireless volunteer in the school.

andrew said...

The past two decades have seen a serious run at destroying America's system of universal public education for the sake of the global economy and maximum profit making. Call these folks what you will--the Business Roundtable, corporatists, Reagan Revolutionaries, neoliberals, disciples of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, privatizers, money-grubbing vultures--their objective was always clear. They wanted Americas children educated into their service. They wanted servants on the road to outright slavery.

Some of their number stepped up in a big way. There was of course Bill Gates who is the nerdish face of the movement. There was America's first family of fascism, the Waltons. They wanted children trained for the tedium of Walmart jobs as early as possible. And there was the decrepit one, Eli Broad, who has maybe done more damage to the nation's children than any other human being on Earth.

Well there is good news around Eli Broad today. No he has not died. It's better than that. The foundation of all the money he uses to fashion his attack on public education, KB Home, has been downgraded to "sell" by Goldman Sachs, the people in charge of the US economy now. The share price of Broad's baby has dropped quite precipitously today over that.

There's nothing like a bit of good news to brighten up a Monday morning. And remember, Boycott Bing, Gates is counting on it to punch up Microsoft's earnings. This has always been about economic warfare and the sooner we hit back the better.

nikto said...

ELI Broad's character and integrity would be greatly enhanced by his working a yearful of 48-hour weeks as a late-night custodian, without having available to him millions of schoolchildren to mass-abuse, as he does now.

But he will never do it, so he will stay an utterly unprincipled immoral, scum-bucket.

Does that man really even have
a soul?

Frm where I sit, he appears very much the rampaging monster,
like a Godzilla.

And Public Education is his Tokyo!

The Perimeter Primate said...

That made me chuckle.

But I'd prefer to dress him up in a School Security Officer uniform and force him deal with irrational, irate parents and clumps of cutting kids, a great number of whom are chronically high on weed.

nikto said...

Why settle for having Eli work with kids who are "merely" high on pot?
I've worked in schools where the METH/street speed problem was literally epidemic.

Now Meth--that has a lovely effect on kids who are usually kind of unstable anyway.

I think he should work with bunches of gang-involved "Meth-Kidz" from broken homes.

He'd learn a lot from those kids that he never dreamed of before.

How much you wanna' bet Mr. Toad would quickly lose patience and start hitting kids and screaming and calling security (who seldom come because they are already busy).
Or maybe, Eli would just call in one of his hired jackals to "waste" the kid, or maybe just "rough him up a little".

In some of the classrooms I've worked, a pampered, shielded "emperor" like Broad wouldn't last 2-minutes (at least, NOT without his entourage).

And I'd love to see him stuck
in one of those classrooms
for YEARS.

Maybe that will be his "Hell" in the next world.

That's some salty, high-fat food for thought.

andrew said...

An exchange of comments in the Washington Post behind this article,

Linda/RetiredTeacher wrote:

It's time for TEACHERS to be the leaders in their schools. I'd like to see teachers start their own charter schools, elect a head teacher, and make all decisions regarding staffing and curriculum along with parents. We need a complete paradigm shift in education. Only when teachers enjoy enhanced professional status and autonomy will we see the type of skilled professional that everyone seems to want. Highly intelligent people want to be decision-makers.

natturner wrote:

Linda, now you're talking sister!

A teacher-run public school system would give them something to talk about. Watch them howl over it now! But it's the only way, I say the only way to fundamentally reform America's public schools.

Mayoral control will never change anything. Business control of the schools through school boards won't change a thing. The business model for the schools perverts them into General Motors and Enron-like entities. Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, and their ilk have clearly failed already. But then they were never trying to reform the schools anyway. They wanted to destroy them.

One of the reasons why teacher controlled public education would work is because the vast majority of teachers care for their students, the children they teach. Not all, but most. Once we were in charge bad teachers would be gone the next day. We know who they are. Their lips would just have to be detached from administrators backsides across the country. The worst teachers love the test or they become administrators. The very worst become Chancellors.

And our concern for these children would cause us to guide them away from becoming cannon fodder in wars for oil in Iraq or Afghanistan. And our concern for these children would compel us to guide them away from competition with Chinese children and Indian children and other children of the world to see who could work for less in sweatshops and farm fields. And we would not lie to them about success and a wonderful job in a failed global economy if they will just do well on some meaningless test. We would not lie to them, like they are lied to everyday now!

But you know what it means to have the workers, the teachers, in an industry take it over and run it without benefit of filthy rich overseers. So don't expect the idea to be discussed on its merits when it can be so easily dismissed by calling it a name. Hmm, what name might that be?

malcolmxmlk wrote:

To the man trying to foment the slave revolt, Mr. natturner, might that name be socialism?

natturner wrote:


nikto said...

I have thought about all-teacher- run schools for years.

1 pay scale for everyone except the Principal (who would be a teacher, but serve only 1 term as chief).

Teachers would, on a mandatory basis,
be rotated into administration--Dean, AP, Coordinatorship, etc and SERVE LIMITED TERMS, AFTER BEING TRAINED BY THE LAST PERSON TO HOLD THAT POSITION.

In this way, administration of the school would be done like Jury Duty is done--Your number comes up and YOU SERVE, with training periods & orientation being established & institutionalized, like in jury duty.


Everybody would teach for most of their career, with some years of administration folded in there as well. That would be standard.

This should be institutionalized---This way, teachers would understand more of the messy politics that adminstration often deals with--And this would help keep adminstrators on the "up and up" ()because they would answer to themselves, as teachers).

Most teachers I know are more competent than most of the adminstrators I've seen--Sorry, but that is just the Truth.

And teachers sre far-more student centered in their thinking,
as well.

The idea sounds like a winner
to me.

andrew said...

Let's make it happen Nikto. We just have to vanquish the corporate marauders and rally our teaching brothers and sisters. You start on the West Coast, I'll begin on the East Coast. Meet you in Omaha.

nikto said...

Here's a tidbit of encouraging news from the LA Times today, where Charter Schools meet their most dangerous foe--REALITY:

"Low-performing charter schools in California could close under plan",0,4831244.story

I love the ommission from this quote:

"Carol Barkley, director of the state Department of Education's Charter School Division, said she did not know how many charter schools were shut down in a typical year, but said that many were closed for reasons other than academic performance."

"REASONS OTHER THAN ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE"---We know what's been left out by Ms Barkley:
etc etc etc

What a nest of snakes & scorpions waits to be discovered in the very heart of the Charter School movement!!

WE TEACHERS have to get sponsorship from some billionaire magnate, or at least SOMEONE with a big name to attract attention to our cause & help start a teacher-run school or 2.

Imagine a school with a TEACHER-PRINCIPAL, ALL-TEACHER administration, and a group of involved parents WITH CLOUT,
running the school.

"Business-World" BS and financial exploitation would not be allowed, total transparency would insure integrity, and ALL FUNDING and expenses would be PUBLIC, so there would be none of the "hands in the cookie jar" stealing that goes on in so many Charter Schools.

Super-disruptive kids would be removed from the classroom until THEY CHANGE their behavior, or they would be kept in a VERY-SUPERVISED, STRICT, tutoring environment, where the kid would have little choice but to do some work (with help), or else sit in a supervised school-room until 5:00 o'clock PM, instead of getting out at 3.

REAL Teachers have answers to many of the "insurmountable" issues that NON-EDUCATORS (i.e.Charterizers/Privatizers) seem to always get stuck on and have to lie, cheat or connive about, to appear successful, again and again.

This Charter-Generated Phoniness is one of the things that is killing Public Education-----But, if revealed, could be the utter downfall of the Charter movement, and totally bring it crashing down, if the inherent corruption of many Charters is ever widely publicized.

Unfortunately, many Media outlets may be involved with some of the venture-capital groups that are expecting to profit from Charters.

So the corruption and conflict-of-interest that aids the Charterizers/Privatizers is widespread indeed.

1 more thing:

I didn't realize Californi!!!!!


That's about 900 too many, IMO.

nikto said...


Part of my last post got cut off....

Right near the end, I mean't
to say...

I didn't realize California had
800 Charter Schools.


That's about 900 too many, IMO.