Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Carmen Farina Files

Her management took the form of a Machiavellian benevolence — the kind of approach you imagine is taught to aspiring executives in certain classes at Wharton, whereby the party about to be demoted or fired is encouraged to believe that what is happening is the best possible result for him or her. At P.S. 6, Ms. Farina got rid of only three teachers outright, she told me. The rest she counseled out, helping them to see — presumably in some instances where they couldn’t obviously see it for themselves — that they were really better suited for other things...
..When she rose to higher levels and oversaw principals, she worked in much the same way, assisting one principal, who wasn’t doing a particularly good job, for instance, in finding a new, more bureaucratically oriented position within the system. “It turned out she liked paperwork,” Ms. Farina said. “You think no one likes paperwork.”
 ....Metropolitan edition of the NY Times, Big City Column 
Information keeps flowing in on Farina's history. There were some interesting comments on my post Message to Farina and de Blasio: Undo the Damage where I talked about going after abusive principals and supporting teachers.

There are some serious hints in this piece from Ginia Bellafonte in the Jan. 4th Metropolitan edition of the NY Times. She counseled out teachers but kicked a principal upstairs. Interesting.

Before parsing it in more detail here's some insightful comments posted on the NYCEdNews listserve which points to: class size doesn't matter and lots of PD, not the greatest signs from my perspective.
Carmen comes out of the District 2 school of thinking (most of southern half of Manhattan) that practically the only things that count are PD and standards. It is this thinking that pervaded D2 under Alvarado and his successors and also characterized the first stage of Children's first under Klein-- when she was deputy chancellor. Other factors like class size were thought to be irrelevant and a waste of money. Elaine Fink former D2 Supe used to say she wd spend 80% of her budget on PD if she could.
But here is some hope Carmen has evolved
How much Carmen has evolved since those days we will have to see, but it is no surprise that she likes the Common Core and teachers shd expect a heavy dose of PD in the months to come,

What I find most disturbing is her condescension: that parents just don't understand the Common Core and if they did they would support it.

As to her "protocol" on charter schools - we still have an open lawsuit on this issue and I would hope that she would realize this before making a deal.
[EdNote: Fink ran off to San Diego with Alvarado and ran the Leadership Academy there and when Joel Klein was given the Chancellor job he went out there to meet with them to get advice.]

Now on to the NY  Times piece, Schools Chancellor Brings Joyful and Fierce Style By
In our conversation, rather than trying to get into the granular details of how she would deal with unions or charter schools, ideas and tactics clearly evolving, Ms. Fariña and I talked about her philosophical approach to actual teaching and leadership. 
Serving as the principal of Public School 6 on the Upper East Side during the 1990s, she overturned 80 percent of the staff, greatly improving the school’s standing. One teacher was so awful, Ms. Fariña told me, that the incompetence became consuming. “I’d wake up during the night thinking about the children who had to deal with this teacher,” she said. 

I know teachers who take the position "what the guy does next door is not my business - there are supervisors for that" and I know teachers who say "it is a moral imperative if you see utter incompetence to the point children are being harmed to try to do something." What a slippery slope that can become. Luckily I don't think I would say I saw any teachers reach that level but I did think there were people who did not belong in the classroom -- maybe they can do paperwork too.
But Ginia Bellafonte doesn't seem to see it that way -- while it is OK for Farina to bump a principal into a paperwork job, for teachers it is wasting money.
One of the most contentious challenges the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio will face is contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, particularly around the question of the so-called A.T.R. — the Absent Teacher Reserve. These are teachers who are receiving full pay even though they are working as substitutes or in clerical positions, having been dismissed for poor performance or having lost their jobs to school closings or budget cuts without getting rehired. 
Because Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Fariña are not fully in the reformist mind-set, their critics speculate that they will be reflexively acquiescent or at least highly vulnerable to union influence, but it’s hard to imagine someone with Ms. Fariña’s record prodding the mayor to consent to outrageous and possibly perilous demands. 
 Solving the ATR situation is a "perilous" demand? Note the mindset here -- having been dismissed for poor performance. How can you be dismissed for poor performance and still be working? Bellafonte seems to miss the point that they were exonerated. Remember Christine Rubino who was dismissed  for Facebook comment having nothing to do with her performance - and rehired after she won her case in court - and has a perfect record as a teacher but has been put in limbo doing paperwork.
Ms. Farina is a progressive educator who speaks movingly about returning joy to the project of teaching children. “We’ve lost the spirit that education is a calling,” she told me. 
I'm on board with the above. How many teachers locally and nationally have pointed to how the ed deformists have removed the joy of teaching - and learing. 
She is passionate about social studies and science; 
Yes. Me too. As long as we don't add alcohol to the chemistry experiment (good article in NYT today on that -School Experiment That Burned Boy Was Focus of Federal Warning.)
...she is not opposed to the Common Core or to testing generally. “Life is a series of tests in many ways,” she said. 
I wouldn't expect her to be or say she was if she was opposed.

What she opposes, she explained, are myopic systems of learning in which real knowledge becomes a casualty of test knowledge, and what she calls “the gotcha mentality” of the Bloomberg years, when teachers and principals were often abandoned instead of being given whatever support they might need to improve. “Even the worst principals work hard,” she said. “When we support them, then we can hold them accountable.”

Good points. And she is the first former BloomKlein official who has used the term "gotcha mentality."
Ms. Fariña said she had left the Bloomberg administration because of the issue of professional development, though other education insiders alluded to other philosophical differences as well. 
What does the PD issue mean here? I thought they did PD up the kazoo. As a pro-PDer too I think her objection was to bringing in so many outsiders who knew so much less than the teachers they were training -- the Aussies for instance.

I'd love to know what other issues there were- the holdover policy? The gotcha mentality? Make your own best guess. No wonder she was told (by Klein?) that she didn't have the skill set for the job. I think she left pretty pissed off.
Ultimately Ms. Fariña’s biggest task may be to broker an ideological peace between those who believe that joy and rigor are compatible and those who don’t, between those who believe that progressive education works only for children growing up in prewar apartments with parents who have read every John Updike novel twice and those who believe that disadvantaged children can benefit from it as well. 
Jeez, how much are we hating the phony word "rigor." If there's a conflict I'll take joy any time.
Which side are the ed deformers and real reformers being presented? RRef do believe that disadvantaged children can absolutely benefit from progressive education -- but if class sizes are small enough to enable a teacher to manage things. And therein lies the rub of Farina's arrogance - she refuses to recognize that class size goes hand in hand with effective progressive education -- no amount of PD will compensate for that.

Now comes the kicker that won't bring joy to many Mudville classrooms.

Ms. Fariña is a fan of “balanced literacy,” designed chiefly by Professor Lucy Calkins of Columbia, an approach rooted in the idea that children build reading skill by reading books that they love and that engage them. The Bloomberg administration favored this approach until a study two years ago, following 1,000 city school children in 20 schools from kindergarten through second grade, indicated that those second graders taught with a curriculum focused more on nonfiction scored higher on reading comprehension than those in the comparison schools. At the time, Ms. Fariña criticized the study for focusing on too few schools. 
 I can't tell you how many teachers learned to despise Lucy Calkins - for her arrogance too when she was the lap dog of the DOE for a time. But also teachers I respect who were trained in the program, they feel the implementation and forced feeding was so utterly incompetent - like most things BloomKlein did - that it was doomed.
Ms. Fariña said there were many potential ways to approach context-based learning and, for instance, to improve vocabulary. Giving children actual lyric sheets when they are singing in class, she said, could be one way of exposing them to new words. 
I really love these points -- because I did them myself - I used song sheets a lot and did a lot of work on vocabulary in many unorthodox ways -- it was clear that an important component of improving reading was to increase the oral vocabulary.
One method for going forward might be to teach fundamentals in a more traditional way until fourth grade or so, to lay the groundwork for more expansive learning, and then take things in more experimental directions. The Ascend network of charter schools, educating some of the poorest children in the city in central Brooklyn, has had great success with that model, borrowing the humanities-driven approach of progressive private schools once children are beyond the earliest elementary grades. By sixth grade, Ascend students are reading “The Iliad.” The network’s test scores have been impressive. 
I don't quite get the above. Is that Farina or Bellafonte talking about this "wonderful" charter? Throwing her own 2 cents into the debate?

Here's one of the really good points in the article:
Dialogue, debate and excitement in the classroom should obviously be the goals of all educators. “Once I was about to visit a principal,” Ms. Fariña said, “who told me, ‘You’re going to love coming here because you can hear a pin drop.’ I said, ‘I better not come because that isn’t going to make me happy.’ ”
EMAIL: bigcity@nytimes.com
YES. Carmen is against "pin drop" principals -- just watch the pin head principals tell teachers on Monday to make sure their rooms are not TOO quiet -- just in case Carmen drops by -- hopefully with a set of pins to drop.

9 comments:

  1. We're going back to early Klein when Farina was in power. That was no great time for our schools.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jury still out on Farina. I would say the Balanced Literacy/reading rug/bulletin board measurement stuff that went on when Farina was around concerns me a bit. As does the call for more PD. PD for crap curriculum and problematic standards does not solve problems. And the dismissal of class size is not good either. Nonetheless, her call for "joy" in the classroom, her call to return fiction to ELA classrooms (where we spend an awful lot of time with "informational texts" these days), her acknowledgement that the last administration had a "gotcha mentality" - those are hopeful signs.

    I reserve my powder - for now. I figure, the rest of the year, we still have BloomKleinCott holdovers running things, so I am not expecting too much improvement in the short term. But if a lot of these problems (not to mention Tweedies like Shael) remain next year, we've got a problem.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes I'm willing to give her a pass for a while -- I think the Bellafonte piece lays out many of the contradictions and we need to keep reporting on all angles pro and con. I am a believer in progressive education but want it reality-based - reality-based education as you so aptly named yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Norm,
    When I read this last night, my takeaway was that this was largely Gina Belafonte's interpretation of what she hoped Farina would be as chancellor. On two key points: the ATR issue and charter schools she seems to reveal her biases. re: ATRs she just repeats the general Times perception that many of them are in this status because of poor performance. re charter schools: Belafonte raises the charter school issue without getting any comment from Farina and out of left field decides to use the Ascend school as the quintessence of what charter schools are like. Another example of Times objectivity.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really enjoyed the pin drop comment myself. As an early childhood educator, my classroom was never quiet...where there was talking and learning and going on at all times.

    I am also what one would call a progressive educator and focused on curriculum-oriented education for early childhood and I pushed. I did not take the easy way out. The rigor word did not bother me as much.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Put the ATRs in classrooms. Then administrators will attack them with Danielson. I have PD coming out of my ears. It never addresses the issues I have with kids who do not want to learn English. Does Caulkins have a solution?

    ReplyDelete
  7. First of all she came out of D15, not D2 where she was a marvelous teacher and SS staff developer.
    The comment section is very interesting. I think most people hope she is on the side of common sense, not common core. Although it doesn't sound that way in the piece--but that may be for political purposes. But one comment struck me--it was the one about when she was principal and how she threw out experienced teachers with help from the union. That's a story I would like to learn more about.

    As for Ascend--I am also confused on who is rating that school, the reporter or Carmen. But another comment said Ascend is not what it's cracked up to be.

    My main problem with the article are the lies--not the first time with this reporter--trying to make ATRs synonymous with ineffectiveness. Many people commented on that. I was hoping for a lot more comments on the Times article, but being the weekend, teachers are too stressed to bring any more of this into their personal lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're missing a point. Yes she came out of District 15 but was a principal in District 2 and when Frank DeStefano was brought into District 15 from District 2 he brought the district 2 model in there and when he left Carmen came back to the district from Manhattan - and both Dist 2 and 15 represented a similar point of view as expressed above -- lots of Lucy, PD, class size not mattering, etc. Texts and workbooks were not high on the list, nor were basal readers and some pressure on teachers who did not feel comfortable in this teaching framework.

      Delete
    2. This was also in the time during the Bloom/Klein era where things were starting to crash on teachers and principals and the joy was being taken out of learning. This was about the same time Carmen Farina decided to take her retirement. Maybe she is regretting taking that deputy chancellor position.

      Also, with someone who has an ESL background, I would hope (and I am optimistic) that Carmen Farina will do right for ELL students in NYC, bring back learning through play to the early childhood grades, reduce class sizes, end vouchers and district choices by making community schools.

      Delete

Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Currently, comment moderation is on, so if your comment doesn't appear it is because I haven't gotten to it yet. (Don't know how to do that from my cell phone.)