Saturday, May 22, 2010

Putting BloomKlein on the Couch

Here is a very interesting analysis by Dee Alpert on the NYCEd listserve.

You need to understand the Bloomberg/Klein mentality. And this is not a "hedge fund guys" thing - it long preceded their entry into the NYC public education system politics.

Bloomberg and Klein are into the "let managers manage and then hold them accountable for the results of their work" schtick. They believe that managers, to the fullest extent possible, should be given total (and I do mean total, including them backing up folks who ignore laws and the NYS and federal constitutions) authority and discretion to run their shops, period. Every principal the captain of his or her own ship. And wherever possible, this authority would extend to allowing the ship captain to hold a sailor (a/k/a teacher or other school employee) guilty of treason in a captain's kangaroo court trial, and then sentencing the traitor to being thrown overboard. Period. Modern version - breaking tenure; firing 'em.

They figure that the best captains will show their true colors and run ships that shine where all others have failed and that these will then be able to be used as models ("take up to scale") for other less creative or skilled principals. They assume that these principals will be able to hire the best people, given the model they want to operate, and train and supervise the ones they are forced to hire or retain, and come up with results in ... the top 10%, let's say, of all principals in the system who have students with the same overall "metrics" (translation - SES). And then they'll get these super-principals to train the better of the remainder in their models and skills. At the same time, they wish to be able to force the bottom 10% of principals out of the system.

Doesn't work given the very complex tangle of laws, regulations and union contracts which actually exist out there. And what's anathema to the Bloomberg/Klein "captain of the ship" model is that the captains - the principals - themselves belong to a union and thus have heavy, enforceable job retention rights.

Bloomberg and Klein want to turn the entire NYCDOE into a true "employment at will" system, which is what governs private business in NYS with a few anti-discrimination law restrictions, and then be able to fire the bottom 10% of administrators and teachers every few years until they hit nirvana and ... hey, presto! ALL the incompetents are gone and this is the best of all possible worlds.

I could give about 85 reasons (other than laws, regulations and the NYS and United States constitutions) why this absolutely cannot work in the NYC and NYS public school industries, but that doesn't matter because the guys are pretending that it can and it will. What they don't do, because it might undermine their pretty pie charts and graphs re outcomes of their new-fangled management systems, is insure that everyone involved understands that they better not fudge the numbers ... or else. There is no "or else." So they keep pushing for further and further iterations of their management model and look aside when principals (and others) game and manipulate the system and then ... well ... along comes NAEP, or the SATs, and their progress suddenly starts looking like crap. Which it is.

This has zero to do with hedge funds. To some extent, it's a desperate grasp at straws by folks who've looked around the country and decided that the regular American public education system is not, if left to its own devices and allowed to follow its own imperatives, actually capable of improving outcomes for the kids whom these folks proclaimedly care about the most - children of color, non-home English speakers and the poor. (Kids w/disabilities tend to be left out of this discussion ... and for all the wrong reasons, but that's just my schtick and I doubt anyone will ever care enough about these kids to attend.) They simply figure that since the system - the American public education industry - has been given gazillions of extra federal dollars since Lyndon Johnson's first antipoverty programs - and has accomplished precious little in terms of objective positive improvement - they'll have to try to set up some system outside the regular public education industry and see if that can either work in and of itself or spur the remainder of the public education system to improve its work and outcomes for the kids.

If you think hedge fund guys (let's get real - you mean profit-making capitalists; hedge funds are a very small corner of that world) are trying to make a fortune off charter schools, I suggest you take a long hard look at the huge profit making corporations - textbook publishers; program publishers; consulting firms of all colors and stripes) who already make a goddamn fortune off the public school industry right now. What are you arguing about - that it's not the same old-same old crowd looking to make money off American children's educations? That new boys are pushing their way in and trying to get a share of the old buck that public school districts and state ed. depts. have previously distributed to their pals in the "regular" profit-off-public-education crowd?

Fact is, most of the folks you're complaining about used to donate to programs which supported regular public schools. What happened was that they looked at what their donations did and ... realized that they didn't do very much good for the children, and thus they decided to change their paradigm for donating.

What you're dealing with re the Bloomberg/Klein "principal-as-captain-of-his-ship" schtick is a pure fantasy-ridden desire to return to 19th century capitalism, before unions were legalized, and that's about it. It's a nice fantasy, closed in half-witted modern management garb, but ... it's just plain old pre-union rugged-individualism capitalism.

What are you going to do? They don't like the 21st century and weren't really happy about the 20th, either. Their mantra is fantasy. You don't kill this kind of nonsense by screaming "hedge fund bad boys" at them (and it's not accurate, anyway). You kill them, figuratively, by taking down their reputations in public - and often - by getting the real numbers showing that their schtick is just that ... and that their mantra does not work. Make it so that when someone says "Bloomberg" or "Klein" and "competent management" in the same paragraph, everyone around the table starts to snicker and one guy over at the other end of the table mutters "you've GOT to be kidding" not so quietly under his breath.

Dee Alpert


  1. You seem to be overly fond of the word "schtik."

    Nevertheless, you're right about how the success of today's educational visionaries depends on their shameless distortion of data and slaughter of the truth. I'm talking about institutional lies written in the blood of our children.

  2. Credit Recovery
    Attendance Discrepancies
    Raw Scores vs. Real Scores
    Bogus Surveys
    Seat Time
    Summer School Lengths
    Component Retests
    Disciplinary Concealments
    Community College Graduation %'s
    College Remedial Class %'s


  3. I applaud everything in this post except one phrase in the last paragraph.

    BloomKlein has been VERY competent in achieving its goals, having never intended to bring the hoi polloi out of mediocracy and illiteracy. They want that class of people to remain right where they are: illiterate and unemployable. As for the middling and more talented learners, give them as little as they can get away with and call it a day.

    The UFT made the same mistake trying to paint Klein with "mismanagement". Thankfully, that campaign lasted only a month or two, because it was garbage.

    These people are great managers, just anti-social mobsters.


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