2006-12-29 / Columnists

School Scope

Counter Attack!
Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman ScottNorman Scott Last time I wrote (“The Empire Strikes Back”) about the very favorable New York Times article on Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin that pointed to the very high results in the Region compared to the rest of the city while Cashin did things counter to the Tweedles.

Our take was that the article was a sign that the old BOE people are lining up behind Cashin for a possible coup d’etat when BloomKlein are out of office. You knew the gang at Tweed could not have been happy. Hidden behind the faint words of praise given her by Kleinites in the article were clearly words of damnation and unhappiness. Eschewing Leadership Academy principals, empowerment zone schools, Teacher College “progressive” curriculum, having good relations with the UFT hierarchy (giving them space for two charter schools) and other transgressions of Tweed orthodoxy, Cashin emerged as a sort of counter hero, though many teachers in Region 5 read the article with a “humph,” thinking about Cashin’s top-down management and even questioning whether the “growth” in Region 5 scores was legitimate.

Would the Evildoers at Tweed strike back? Emails came in asking if it was true that Cashin and almost all the R5 Lis’s would be out by February 1, the only question being whether Cashin was going to be moved up or be let out to pasture. Or none of the above. You know the old saying. There is the right way. There is the wrong way. And there is the DOE way.

Cashin would seem to be protected. Part of former ChancellorĀ (1978-1983) Frank Macchiarola’s political sphere of influence, the former principal of PS 193 in Brooklyn’s District 22 had strong backing from Macchiarola when she became Superintendent of Brownsville’s District 23. Despite being out of office for over two decades, Macchiarola still has some influence and may have played a role in Cashin’s appointment as Region 5 Superintendent when BloomKlein executed its bloody coop.

BloomKlein had a major goal of dismantling the local political/educational machines in the former districts while undermining UFT influence, which had been so tied into those machines. And they seemed to do just that — with a vengeance. But politicians who had been so involved and had benefited to such an extent, mostly from patronage from the old system, didn’t easily disappear and many of the machines are still intact just lurking until BloomKlein disappear into the vapor from which they came. They are joined by the UFT leadership, which plots right along with them.

Even with the onslaught, many from the old guard with political influence managed to land on their feet in the BloomKlein administration after they came out of shock, though there was some district reshuffling in their version of musical chairs where those with the least influence were left standing after each round.

After I posted the column on my blog ( www.ednotesonline.blogspot.com) a retired teacher began a correspondence. “You wrote an excellent article referring to the Times article. I don’t understand why there aren’t more folks talking about what crap the teacher’s college reading and writing workshop approach is and how much it is costing.” He goes on: “More on the Cashin fall out: Whitney Tilson, a big macha with Teach For America shills for Klein on his blog at edre form.blogspot.com.”

It is interesting to read the criticisms of Cashin from a Klein shill, who gives any credit for Region 5 improvements to Klein, not to Cashin. Note my cryptic comments in brackets.

“I’ve done some due diligence [HACK JOB] on Kathleen Cashin and she has indeed made improvements — but the real story is much more nuanced than this article makes it out to be. The performance of her district, while better than before, hardly calls for hosannas. It outperformed other districts, but not dramatically in most cases, and the high school graduation rate is below most others (which the NYT story didn’t mention). This district is not doing well by any objective standard — it’s just gone from being truly awful to merely lousy.

“I don’t buy the argument put forth in the article that her district’s improvements are entirely due to herĀ  — and especially due to her bucking of the new system. Klein has implemented big changes over many years that are beginning to move the needle in the right direction across the city — if I recall correctly [NOT] , in both NY state and national data, NYC showed more improvement [PHONY GRAD RATES, ETC.] than all other large cities in the state and nearly all nationwide — so why wouldn’t Cashin’s district be benefiting as well?

“More importantly, it’s critical to understand how Cashin has achieved the gains we’ve seen in her district. Generally speaking, there are two approaches to reforming big, broken systems, whether we’re talking about General Motors, the old Soviet Union or the NYC public school system: you can either keep the existing system in place, but wring incremental improvements out of it by exercising extreme command-and-control, or do the opposite and try to reform the broken system by changing incentives, setting up accountability systems and pushing power and control down to the local level. [PUT DOWN THE KOOL-AID, WHITNEY. THE OLD SOVIET SYSTEM HAD MORE LOCAL CONTROL]

“Cashin is a classic example of the former, whereas Klein has adopted the latter. [MORE KOOL-AID] Turning to Cashin, according to a friend who’s in the know, she is ‘a total control freak’ and runs her district with an iron fist. If a principal tries to buck her in any way, she fires and blackballs him/her. Cashin’s educational pedagogy has merit, however, so imposing it on a district that had no sound educational approach at all yielded some incremental improvements, as noted in the NYT article.

“There are severe limits to Cashin’s approach. Fundamentally, the system and the biggest problems within it — lack of human talent [SURE, THERE WERE NO GOOD TEACHERS BEFORE KLIEN] and motivation [THREATS, INTIMIDATION] — haven’t changed at all. So, my prediction is that Cashin’s district will not show much if any incremental improvement and will remain merely lousy — unless Klein’s reforms kick in. [WORDS OF DOOM FOR CASHIN?]

“Klein’s approach is, at its core, the exact opposite — and is, obviously, the one I think has the most long-term promise. But it also has real risks — trying to reform a deeply entrenched broken system in the face of massive resistance (not to mention mostly hostile media coverage [HOSTILE? HE MUST ONLY BE READING THE WAVE]) is really hard and messy [THEY’LL FIND OUT THE REAL MESS KLEIN LEFT ONE DAY] , as noted above. If too much autonomy is pushed down the school level before the accountability and motivational systems and human talent [REPLACE TEACHERS EVERY 3 YEARS] are in place, the results would be disastrous. That’s why I like Klein’s incremental approach with Empowerment Schools… [BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!]

Tilson goes on to tell stories coming out of Teach for America teachers about how horrible the system is with kids roaming the halls all over the place. The Tilson Klein vs. Cashin debate is a straw man, there being no choice, both being top-down centrally managed, though from a different location.

My retired teacher friend defended Cashin on Tilson’s blog:

“Maybe part of the reason is a curriculum that is mostly smoke, mirrors and jargon that makes absolutely no connection to kids, especially middle schoolers. If Cashin is “a total control freak” and runs her district with an “iron fist,” what do you think Neutron Jack Welch taught all the newbie principals at the Leadership Academy? There is plenty of talent in the NYC school system and it is not restricted to charter schools — (who by the way play with a rigged deck because they can skim quality students).

“To say that Cashin’s way is inferior to Klein’s just doesn’t wash. Klein has NO WAY. There is no thought with going from the regional plan to empowerment. The only thought is that the old way is not working. (For this I give him credit.) The sad part is that great damage is being done with a literacy program that makes very little connection to the majority of kids in the system.

It is heavy on structure with no content. Without engaging content you lose the interest of the kids-especially the middle schoolers who are failing at ever increasing rates. These are the kids who are roaming the halls of your Teach For America folks’ halls.

I get the impression from the Times’ article that Cashin relies on content and methodology that has proven effective, especially in her districts.

For a guy who is a financial whiz has it ever occurred to you how much the city is getting ripped off by Columbia Teacher’s College and how much teaching time is being lost to send people there for training?”

Get those daisy petals out. Cashin-Klein-Cashin-Klein-Cashin-Klein.

Having had some “issues” with Cashin in the past, here I find myself in the position of almost defending her system of education, which I worked under in District 14 and grew to despise, an indication of how BloomKlein have alienated just about anyone who was ever been truly involved with teaching. I’ve always been for maximum teacher power and input in making educational decisions.

I’m trying not to gag over the fact that Cashin vs. Klein might be our choice of how schools should be run. That my union, the UFT, plays in this “no power for teachers” game sends me searching for a giant bottle of Pepto.

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