2004-03-12 / Columnists

School Scope

By Norman Scott
Ten Reasons Why Klein Should Resign Let

By Norman Scott
Ten Reasons Why Klein Should Resign Let’s just skip the first 9 and go directly to—Number 10: Hiring Diana Lam

"I have full confidence in Deputy Chancellor Lam’s abilities and her continued efforts to provide New York City’s 1.1 million public school children with the education they need and deserve." - Joel Klein, 3/6/04.

On March 8, Joel Klein asked for Diana Lam’s resignation as Deputy Chancellor in Charge of Instruction (at $250,000 a year) because of the scandal/coverup of her attempt to get her husband a job. It’s good to see Lam got the same kind of support from Klein he has given the teachers of New York City.

Soon after the resignation announcement, the following email was circulated by Elizabeth Carson, co-founder of NYC Hold ("Honest Open Logical Debate on Mathematics Education Reform."

"I thought this an appropriate time to share again messages two fellow education advocates in San Antonio and Providence wrote when Lam was appointed telling us precisely what we might expect. Both provided prescient warnings, all born out in her brief and destructive time in NYC. — Elizabeth

Friday, August 30, 2002 5:43 p.m.

Subject: Diana Lam

(My comments in italics)

Congratulations on your new deputy chancellor. Enjoy her thoroughly because she will not be with you for long and brace yourself for the turbulent times ahead.

Using information from articles published by the San Antonio Express News earlier that day, the author(s) of the email revealed: —Lam departed as suddenly from San Antonio as from Providence within a 4 year period. Her management style is described as "controversial" and "top down" by her supporters.

Her school boards are always des cribed as "hostile" while the business community is always described as her ad vocates.

The San Antonio Express News des cribed Ms. Lam’s experience in Du buque, Iowa before coming to South Texas. "Lam stirred tension as superintendent in Dubuque, Iowa, but kept a board majority before coming to San Antonio." [There were] several newspaper articles about community hostility in Iowa against Ms. Lam.

Diana Lam resigned from the superintendency of San Antonio Indepen dent School District and her board voted to accept her resignation. She is quoted by the city newspaper as saying the resignation was "not her idea." Four years remained to her $142,000 a year contract when she left San Antonio in January 1999. The district, described as "financially strapped," agreed to a $618,000 buy-out to free themselves from Ms. Lam

She asked for $200,000 to repair "reputational injuries, pain and suffering, and mental anguish arising from the controversy." In addition to this, the district also agreed to pay her benefits and up to $40,000 for legal fees related to her resignation. In total, Ms. Lam’s departure cost the "low performing urban district" $781,000 and represented the largest buy-out in the nation at that time.

Ms. Lam faced a similar buy-out proposal in 1995 but was "saved" by local business leaders and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

—Under Ms. Lam’s leadership, state test scores for the district, "long ranked as the lowest-performing large urban district in Texas," ascended but "remained mediocre." Improvement in state test scores should be considered in light of the fact that scores for almost every school in Texas rises annually. It is reported, but has not been verified, that achievement gains for San Antonio were less than for other school districts with comparable demographics.

Some of the "controversies" experienced by San Antonio Independent School District during the Lam reign involved: (a) district requirements for students to participate in group counseling and to take psychological tests;

(b) "restructuring" the highest academic performing high school (highest SAT scores) - firing the principle and all teachers and redesigning the school to serve as vocational magnet schools or career academies, despite huge community opposition;

(c) introducing the New American Schools design (curricula focuses on cooperative learning, heterogeneous grouping, constructivist instruction, block scheduling, employment readiness);

(d) requiring students to select a career major by the end of grade 8 (although schools were not obligated to provide this choice);

(e) requiring students to wear school uniforms;

(f) introducing year-round schooling;

(g) implementing Chicago Math (another name for Everyday Math which Klein/Lam imposed on New York. The founders of Chicago Math have claimed Lam’s implementation so distorted their creation as to make it unrecognizable) - a curriculum that was later withdrawn after significant teacher opposition and faltering test scores. (San Antonio teachers actually voted Everyday/Chicago Math out by a large majority, in a secret ballot.)

(h) Ms. Lam negotiated a contract with the National Science Foundation for an Urban Systemic Initiative grant;

(i) in 1997, Ms. Lam led the district in a bond issue of $483 million dollars, the largest bond in Texas history;

(j) Some newspaper articles cite union opposition for Ms. Lam’s fall but newspapers also describe broad and strong grassroots community opposition as well. A survey of teacher attitudes conducted by a local teachers’ union indicated that 65 % of teachers suffered from low morale, 87 % thought too many programs were being implemented too rapidly and 59 % thought the superintendent was doing a bad job.

A number of ideas Lam put on the table have a valid educational basis but require a cooperative and motivated teaching staff. Her history of top-down management and horrendous methods of implementation have em barrassed many purveyors of these ideas. Advocates of reform of drill and kill curriculums in NYC (I count my self as one) will see their efforts set back for the next decade.

All this information was available to Klein and Bloomberg in August, 2002. But the arrogance of power had already gone to their heads and they hired Lam anyway. After all, why should they be worried when 65% of the teachers suffered from low morale in San Antonio? I’m sure they are proud of their "success" in New York where the number of alienated teachers is more like 97% (add supervisors to the mix). The alienation is so great, a grass roots movement is shaping up to urge people working in the schools to take a vote of "No Confidence" in Klein. (This would have happened already if not for the fear factor.)

In her resignation statement Lam pointed the finger of responsibility directly at Klein, saying he had been fully informed about her husband’s efforts to obtain a job. She maintained close contact with Chad Vignola, the Education Department’s top lawyer.
"I was given a green light to proceed," she said.

With Lam gone, Klein’s head will be the next one on the chopping block
as the BloomKlein partnership of bogus school reform continues to un ravel.

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