2006-12-15 / Columnists

School Scope

The Empire Strikes Back
Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman Scott
Norman Scott The first shot in the school wars circa 2009 was fired in the glowing December 4 NY Times article on Region 5 Superintendent Kathleen Cashin (“the best turnaround artist in town”), a possible precursor to her becoming the first post-Klein chancellor. There’s so much delicious meat in the article, your cholesterol count goes up while you’re reading it.

The reporter, David Herzenhorn emphasized differences between Cashin and the Tweedle Dees and Tweedle Dumbs.

“While Mr. Klein has derided the ‘status quo crowd’ and sought to bring outsiders into the administration, Dr. Cashin is a lifelong city educator. While Mr. Klein wants to free principals from the control of superintendents like her, Dr. Cashin believes even the best principals need an experienced supervisor.

“Where Mr. Klein insists that school administration must be reinvented to reverse generations of failure by generations of educators, Dr. Cashin, a product of the old system, insists she can get results with a clear instructional mission, careful organization and a simple strategy of every educator’s being supported by an educator with more experience.

“…Dr. Cashin stands, in a way, as the antithesis of Mr. Klein’s mission to slash midlevel bureaucracy and let principals sail on their own, a challenge to the notion that changing governance structure is the key to turning around schools.

“She runs her schools in Region 5, with more than 85,000 students, the same way she ran her schools under the old Board of Education and under previous mayors.”

Wow! Is Cashin a candidate to wake up with a couple of horse’s heads in her bed, or what? The article reflected a shift in the position of the Times which had given BloomKlein unabashed support, often underreporting many of the emerging scandals while the Post and the News were getting one scoop after another.

But wait!

There’s more.

Dr. Cashin prefers principals who come up through the system over graduates of the chancellor’s Leadership Academy, which has focused on recruiting candidates from other professions. And while Mr. Klein has dealt with the teachers’ union on a war footing, Dr. Cashin has made the union a partner, hiring it to train teachers instead of using outside vendors.”

“Though she uses the citywide math and reading programs in many schools, Dr. Cashin does not believe they are sufficient and customizes them extensively, with an emphasis on writing. She also uses an array of other initiatives of her own choosing or design.”

Holy Cow! Cashin actually tampered with the DOE’s Holy Grail — the curriculum? Maybe a horse head followed by cement shoes.

But she has even gone further to dis Klein. Cashin to her credit has been able to resist the imposition of Leadership Academy grads specially trained to torture teaches and small animals. That action alone must have gotten her on the Tweed enemies list.

To add further insult, only 15 principals joined Klein’s so-called “empowerment” zone where principals are supposedly given autonomy to run their own ship, but also putting their heads on the chopping block. It should be called the “disembowelment” zone.

When BloomKlein came along they had to rely on the old guard like Cashin until they could recruit enough people who had never set foot anywhere near a school since they graduated from high school. Now that they have what they consider a critical mass to truly take over the school system from the bottom up, they are into phase 2 which they hope will drive out every remnant of institutional memory.

The Times reported, “Since the start of the mayor’s second term, Mr. Klein has pushed to reduce the role of superintendents, giving wider authority to principals in an effort that could lead to consolidation or elimination of the 10 regions. That could potentially leave the regional superintendents without jobs or perhaps filling a new role in which principals choose them to advise groups of schools. They would no longer be supervisors but rather support staff.”

So, the battle is on.

For those anti-Kleinites who are beginning to cheer, let’s not get overly excited here. A look under the hood shows that Cashin is still mucho in line with focusing on the bottom line of scores to the exclusion of all else, being for plenty of test practice, gobs of micromanagement and a total top-down management system, policies she followed when Klein was still a whipper snapper nipping at Microsoft’s heals.

Yet, that Cashin would so brazenly be quoted just on the edge of arrogance toward the Tweed crowd given the climate of fear running through the ranks of middle and upper level managers at the DOE, both at the central and regional level, is remarkable, showing some of the cracks between BloomKlein and the old education aristocracy that existed BBK (Before BloomKlein). But no worries, for Cashin’s future, at least. The Times article is a clear sign that the empire is striking back.

Next time: Region 5 results vs. the rest of the city, Cashin and the curriculum, the views of teachers who were totally left out of the Times article, which as usual, focused on the views from the top.

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