Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's the Real Difference Marcia Lyles?

Marcia Lyles, Joel Klein's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, following on the heels of Diana Lam, Carmen Farina (Lyles took over for Farina when she left Region 8) and Andres Alonso (now chief of the Baltimore school system) gave a revealing interview to Jennifer Medina in today's NY Times (posted at Norm's Notes.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked in a 2-day a week F-status job for one of Lyles' top assistants during the 2003-04 school year and have many contacts in Region 8, so I have a bit of an inside view of how the region was run under her tenure, plus some knowledge of how she ran District 16 before the age of BloomKlein. I never met her during all that time but she seems to be a very nice lady and no one had anything bad to say about her, so I won't go there at this time. One of the 4 superintendents chosen in the latest reorganization, about 12% of the schools signed up with her, which put her 2nd to Judy Chin's 27%.

Her story is that she went to public schools in Harlem and spent her entire career as a teacher and supervisor in the NYC schools. Long-time observers of the ed/political scene see her (and her predecessors) as figureheads for the MBA types looking for bottom-line narrow test results who are really driving teaching and learning. Lyles almost admits as much when she says:
"When the music changes, so does the dance.”
“I learned all the new steps,” she said. “I just moved with the changes, that’s what you have to do.”

Medina writes:

While some teachers and principals say the Klein administration desperately needs an educator’s voice in a headquarters packed with lawyers and consultants who have little patience for the city’s education establishment, they question whether Ms. Lyles is aggressive enough to be heard.

But the most revealing part of the interview was her own childhood experiences. As a high school student at the dreadful Benjamin Franklin HS she cut school regularly until an aunt found out.

Convinced that the school was too easy, her aunt, who was raising her, forced her to transfer from Benjamin Franklin High School to Jamaica High School, making an hourlong trip to and from Queens near the end of her sophomore year. There, Ms. Lyles was shocked to learn that after being in the top of her class at Franklin, which was largely black and Hispanic, and finding school so easy that she could skip out, she was struggling to keep up at what was then a largely white Jamaica High.

It was her first lesson in the problem that still preoccupies the nation’s largest school system — the racial achievement gap.

Joel Klein (and Bloomberg) have seized on this issue, trying to play the race card by turning it into a civil rights struggle and calling the inability to close this gap "the shame of this nation."

Ironically, Jamaica HS was recently placed in the list of most dangerous schools. Knowing Chapter Leader James Eterno from ICE, I know that picture is misleading. But what has changed at Jamaica from Lyles' student days? Analyzing how that school is turning into what Benjamin Franklin was would provide some interesting data for Aris and the MBA's at Tweed to crunch.

Lyles, who had found school so easy now had to struggle and ended up flourishing.

I just thought, wow, what’s the difference?” she recalled of Jamaica High. “What’s going on, now I have to play catch up? That’s when I saw about inequity, that’s when I saw about low expectations.”

There it is. She was just a victim of the low expectations by the teachers at Franklin while she somehow escaped the low expectations of teachers at Jamaica. In other words, racism. Next she'll be telling us that if the teachers at Benjamin Franklin had gotten merit pay things would have been different.

What was the impact of the role Lyles' aunt played?
Did the fact that Lyles had an aunt who acted in a way that made the crucial difference in her life play no role at all? Did the fact that she was now in a better learning environment without being surrounded by other students who were struggling make a bit of a difference? Did the fact that the students at Benjamin Franklin clearly needed so many more resources than the white students at Jamaica - more guidance counsellors, lower class sizes, etc. to make up the racial gap mean anything at all? Does she really agree with people like Chris Cerf and Joel Klein that if they had swapped the entire staffs of Jamaica and Franklin at that time things would have been much different?

If Lyles publicly recognized all these issues, that would be an admission that no matter how many times BloomKlein reorganize, or manipulate test scores, things will not change until there is a will to spend the money needed to make a real difference rather than rely on gimmicks. The refusal of BloomKlein to take any of these factors into account and just close down schools while blaming the teachers is the true shame of their administration.

Marcia Lyles won't go there. She has learned to dance to whatever tune is playing.


  1. I asked a teacher who worked for a year in Region 8 (while Marcia Lyles was in charge) about Marcia Lyle's "philosophy of education". In other words, what did she consider important to improve the education of students in Region 8. My friend responded that her only philosophy of education was "herself". How she could move higher in the bureaucracy.

  2. this seems to be an accurate assessment. she visited my classroom when i worked in district 16. contrary to accounts of lyles being friendly and warm and smiling, she was cold and impersonal. she did acknowledge my students or myself, instead walking around my classroom looking at the bulletin boards. she did not bother to observe the lesson or engage the students. she wore sunglasses the entire time, too. her criticism to my principal which was passed down to me was that i had neglected to post the learning standards on the bulletin boards. ?!?! as a second year teacher i expected more constructive criticism than that. she forever stuck out to me as someone who did not care at all about children or improving educational standards. i was happy to see her move on from district 16. it completely astounds me that she has moved on and up. what the hell are people hiring her thinking? have you SEEN her in action and interact with teachers and children, the people she is directly impacting? i guess it's been almost ten years and i would hope she has grown as a person and professionally...otherwise, all i have to say is good luck delaware. hope she doesn't stick around too long.

  3. If you pay someone 1.3 million dollars they will gladly dance to any tune you play.....Marcia Lyles has come to Jersey City to dance to Chris Cerf's the tune of 1.3 million for her no questions close schools, overcrowd classrooms more than they already are, lay-off teachers and administrators, and basically dismantle this District at Chris Cerf request. Our stupid Board thinks she reports to them by the time they figure out who her real Boss is it will be to late for them....and our board is still going to be taken over by the State.


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