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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 10/15/2010

Two superintendents who rejected the "manifesto"

By Valerie Strauss

Much has been written (including on this blog) about the school reform “manifesto” published in The Washington Post this week and signed by 16 big-city public school district chiefs. But little has been said about superintendents who refused to sign the document.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein gave the document to Michael Casserly, executive director of the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that is a coalition of 65 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems. Casserly then asked the chiefs in member districts if they wanted to sign on to the document. Fifteen did, including the soon to be departed Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington D.C.

But some superintendents found the rhetoric empty and the solutions highly limited.

I asked Jonathan P. Raymond, superintendent of the Sacramento City Public School District, why he did not sign the document. Raymond earlier this month issued an open letter (which you can read here) putting forth a different view of what is needed to fix schools than was portrayed in the Klein-Rhee manifesto.

After seeing the controversial education film "Waiting for Superman," Raymond wrote in this letter:

"I came away from the movie with an overwhelming sense that we have to stop blaming teachers for problems that have multiple causes, ranging from poor administrative oversight and accountability to a lack of parent engagement."

That's a far more sophisticated, realistic vision of the factors that have to be addressed to improve public education than the manifesto portrays.

Here’s what Raymond said, in an email, about why he didn’t sign the manifesto:

"First, the piece speaks to the success of Race to the Top. My question is, successful for whom? Certainly not California’s 6.3 million students -- the largest population of public school kids in the country – who were left out when our state’s application for RTTT [Race to the Top] funding was denied.

"Real reform can’t be pushed down from Washington. It needs to bubble up from the men and women who are accountable to the children and families we serve.

"Secondly, I felt the manifesto, while impassioned, was limited in its view of how schools are transformed. There are 1,379 words in the manifesto, but none of them are “family,” “collaboration” or “teamwork.” Parents are mentioned only twice, and only in connection with school choice and charters. The word “together” appears three times – all in reference to superintendents working together as reformers.

"Turning around struggling schools requires strong partnerships, and parents are a district’s most important partners. That should have been acknowledged.

"Finally, the piece omitted any references to the importance of connecting children to the reality of our globally competitive 21st Century world as a method of transforming education. Other sectors of American society long ago hooked into the excitement and possibilities – the innovative potential – of viewing the world on a global scale. Why hasn’t education? Children can only benefit by schools that prepare them for whatever interesting challenges they will face in the future. By looking outside the walls of our classrooms, we can change schools from the inside."

Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent James A. Williams refused to sign the manifesto too.

In an interview, he said:

“It says, for example, that the public and our leaders in government are finally paying attention. Well, paying attention to what? To the 'Waiting for Superman' documentary? The defeat of [Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty], the $100 million that the Facebook founder [Mark Zuckerberg] gave to Newark schools?

“Those things will not improve public education.

"There is nothing in the document that talks about structural changes. It talks about unions, and yes, unions in some cases are problems. But we have work-free states. Are those school systems doing any better? No.

“It talks about charter schools. You can’t say more charter schools are going to improve public education. Charter schools are hiring the same people we are hiring. From the research I’m reading, most charter schools aren’t doing any better than we are. Nobody speaks about the research.

"They should come out and tell the truth. If they want to privatize public education, they should say so.”

Yes, they should.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 15, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  
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Comments

I am encouraged that James Williams read this manifesto and refused to sign it.

I am happy to read this no-nonsense response from the Buffalo superintendent.

I agree with him. Why claim that data is important and then ignore research?

"They should come out and tell the truth. If they want to privatize public education, they should say so.”

Exactly.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 15, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

As a taxpaying resident of Prince George's County, MD, I contacted the superintendent of schools, Dr. William Hite, about the claims he made in that manifesto and their occurrence in PGCPS.
I have not heard back from him.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | October 15, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Valerie, thanks for reminding us that some larger cities in this country still have leaders with their heads screwed on correctly when it comes to improving public schools.

Wish D.C. could find a superintendent with an attitude like the guy running Buffalo's schools.

Posted by: Kathy8 | October 15, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I thought the same thing when I read that "manifesto. It was quite a pile of you-know-what. Sadly, there WERE school superintendents who signed on this garbage, and it should be a surprise that Michelle Rhee was one of them. So too was Peter Gorman, of the Charlotte/Mecklenburg NC schools

Interestingly, Gorman is prominently cited in the Oct. 19, 2010 issue of Newsweek as a "can do" urban superintendent whose "strategic staffing initiative" is turning some heads as a "turn-around" reform model. It isn't. There may be some short-term gains, but Gorman simply imposed his original plan (what might be called a "push" plan) in the disguise of what he now calls a "pull" plan that's just chock full of opportunity. And Newsweek is promoting it and him. And Arne Duncan cites it as a model. Please.

Make no mistake. Race to the Top and the Gorman "strategic initiative" plan are both based on a business model approach applied to education. There are unintended, and often negative consequences to such an approach, and we're seeing them play out in school districts across the nation. No Child Left Behind failed. Miserably.

But for some, the answer is to double down. Let's bleed more blood from the patient.

There are far too many in public education who fail to grasp what the major purpose of public schooling is.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | October 15, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I thought the same thing when I read that "manifesto. It was quite a pile of you-know-what. Sadly, there WERE school superintendents who signed on this garbage, and it should be a surprise that Michelle Rhee was one of them. So too was Peter Gorman, of the Charlotte/Mecklenburg NC schools

Interestingly, Gorman is prominently cited in the Oct. 19, 2010 issue of Newsweek as a "can do" urban superintendent whose "strategic staffing initiative" is turning some heads as a "turn-around" reform model. It isn't. There may be some short-term gains, but Gorman simply imposed his original plan (what might be called a "push" plan) in the disguise of what he now calls a "pull" plan that's just chock full of opportunity. And Newsweek is promoting it and him. And Arne Duncan cites it as a model. Please.

Make no mistake. Race to the Top and the Gorman "strategic initiative" plan are both based on a business model approach applied to education. There are unintended, and often negative consequences to such an approach, and we're seeing them play out in school districts across the nation. No Child Left Behind failed. Miserably.

But for some, the answer is to double down. Let's bleed more blood from the patient.

There are far too many in public education who fail to grasp what the major purpose of public schooling is.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | October 15, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

oops....should NOT be a surprise that Michelle Rhee signed on...........

Posted by: mcrockett1 | October 15, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The reason that public schools are failing is because they are structured to fail. The reason some charter schools are performing beyond belief is because the structure of charter schools is more in tune with competition and innovation. The reason that some charter schools are dismal failures is because not every charter school program developed is innovative or effective. However, the structure of the charter program allows for competition, innovation and efficient, strategic decision making that permits the school program to change with the demands of the global market. Public schools do not offer such options.

Today, public schools still operate on an archaic student and school schedule...elective courses are outdated and lack the information that students need to compete in the current market. It is impossible for principals to make innovative changes in public schools because of the ridiculous contractual constraints of teacher hours, planning time, seat hours, etc. For example, if a public school wanted to permit kids once a week to leave school 4 hours early to do community service and engage teachers in professional development it cannot be done because of teacher "contractual hours." If a principal wanted to add innovative, virtual courses or other strategic and innovative coursework she is often rebuked quickly because the courses aren't part of the "district" requirement, etc. The public school structure does not allow for efficient change and innovative strategy. There simply are far too many barriers to such strategies and consequently our schools are years behind.

In my opinion, the answer to improving schools is to hire innovative principals, give them a budget for the school that is exclusively at their disposal, allow them to have the decision making power over how the school day is run, allow them to make changes to the school schedule, teacher schedules and courses and professional development decisions. Give the school and the teachers 3 years to create an innovative program that demonstrates improved student results. It's up to the principal and the faculty to develop the curriculum, the courses offered, the time periods, electives, assessments, etc. In 3 years if students aren't showing the necessary progress then they get a year to retool or the school is closed and they work somewhere else.

By doing this schools will need to retool efficiently based on the demands of the global market. Principals and teachers will have to deliver results, work within the parameters they have and develop their PD and resources around the individual needs of the students and staff and parents. Then, you will see schools soar. Some will fail, as many ventures do. However, schools will begin to copy other successful programs in order to succeed and the results will be staggering.

Or we could continue to design schools that have such archaic and bureaucratic rules that teachers teach regardless of student results!

Posted by: teacher6402 | October 15, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Here is my response to the superintendents' "manifesto", that the Post chose not to print:
"As an education writer and former public school teacher, I think the 'manifesto' falls short.
"It ignores the August Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll showing that by 71% to 21% public school parents rate the home as more important than the school 'in determining whether students learn in school'; that 67% of respondents believe that the amount of money spent affects the quality of a student's education; that by 60% to 26% respondents think that evaluating teachers should be for helping them improve rather than documenting ineffectiveness 'that will lead to dismissal'.
"The manifesto fails to discuss the inadequacy and inequitable distribution of educational funding, unfairly castigates teacher unions, and puts too moch emphasis on charter schools, the vast majority of which are either worse than or no better than nearby public schools.
"It represents management rather than the men and women who have to do the actual classroom teaching, and neglects to discuss the poverty and its concomitants that hold so many of our childrem back.
It ignores the critiques of Bush's NCLB and Obama's flawed sequel to NCLB by such education experts as Diane Ravitch, whose 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great Amenican School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education should be at the top of the reading list of the manifesto's authors." -- Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, www.arlinc.org

Posted by: EddDoerr | October 15, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

teacher6402
Charter schools are not performing "beyond belief", nor are all public schools failing.
True, some Charters do well. Great! But it is completely false to say that they all do well.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 15, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

@teacher 6402: Not all public schools are failing. Inner city schools are typically the ones that are failing or under performing. Why should the same "reforms" be pushed on successful schools who are using other reforms to increase student achievement? Why is it that only certain reforms are considered to be "correct" when other reforms are showing promise? I teach in the largest district in MD. We have a number of poor schools with a large population on non English speakers yet we are showing progress in closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement overall. We have a nationally recognized peer review teacher evaluation system, emphasize staff development and promote teachers working in collaborative teams. Why do the business model "reformers" not look at systems such as ours to find out what works?

I would suggest to you that it is because what we do doesn't fit their goal of ultimately privatizing education in the US. There are many ways to innovate. Being limited to only certain "reforms" that are considered acceptable regardless of what research indicates is certainly NOT thinking outside the box which the privatizers profess to be doing.

Posted by: musiclady | October 15, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

teacher6402,

Please avoid all or nothing language in a post that relies so heavily on fact-based research. For instance, you state "the reason public schools are failing is because they are structured to fail." However, research shows that the majority of public schools are NOT failing. In fact, there are a higher percentage of charter school failing when compared with other charter schools than there are with public schools being compared with other public schools.

And the biggest problem with your argument can be narrowed down to one word: competition. The very idea of schools competing academically in and amongst themselves is antithetical to what learning collectively means in the United States. If you think of the logical ramifications of your competitive model, then some schools will have to fail so that others can succeed. And in this Brave New World of yours, I guess when those schools do fail, you will recommend that they take some soma-like pill, too, and just get on with their lives.

Posted by: DHume1 | October 15, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

If the superintendents in Fairfax and Montgomery Counties did not sign it--two of the best public school systems in the country--then it isn't worth reading or paying attention to.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 15, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

@ teacher6402:

The last time that I can remember a major newspaper publishing a manifesto was in 1995, when the New York Times and The Washington Post published the "Unabomber Manifesto", a 35,000-word essay entitled, 'Industrial Society and Its Future'.

The Unabomber (aka Theodore John "Ted" Kaczynski), was a child prodigy. Testing conducted in the fifth grade determined he had an IQ of 167, and six years later Kaczynski matriculated to Harvard College at the age of sixteen.

Kaczynski insisted that his Manifesto be printed verbatim by a major newspaper or journal. He stated that if this demand was met, he would end his bombing campaign, but otherwise he was going to kill again.

----------------

Reading the post by teacher6402, I am particularly struck by two very disturbing themes that are basic to the pop-education reform movement embraced by the signatories to the ‘School Reform Manifesto’:

1) The consistent use of the ‘language of business’ to describe educational efforts and expectations, and ...

2) The exceedingly simplistic and impractical “answer to improving schools”, which essentially promotes principals to ‘superman’ status, imbued with imperial powers to create and change critical school curriculum, organization and personnel without any mention of stakeholder collaboration or consent. These Principals would effectively become the Chancellors of their schools. And if these autocratic educational experiments fail to “deliver results” … “they get a year to retool or the school is closed …”

----------------

And what happens if these well meaning and “innovative” experiments fail? Well, teacher6402 writes, “Some will fail, as many ventures do. However, schools will begin to copy other successful programs in order to succeed and the results will be staggering.”

Yes … the results will “be staggering,” but not with the positive meaning many believe follows from the application of completely unsuitable business tools to the complex problems facing urban public school systems. We need to appreciate that “ventures” are what venture capitalists do; usually with significant risks that are offset by potential financial rewards.

Furthermore, we should recognize that many powerful for-profit education providers are behind these “ventures” and they have significant financial interest in the privatization of our vast public education systems. These include the Walton Family, Broad, John Arnold, Roberson, and Gates Foundations, who are also funding "alternative science" through research that is inherently political and resistant to peer review.

The pop-education reform movement represents a clear and present danger to our children … unless of course your child is a significant shareholder in the for-profit education business … like the Washington Post.

Posted by: AGAAIA | October 16, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

More on the Themes of Pop-Education Reform
as per 'teacher6402':

-----

1) The consistent use of the ‘language of business’ to describe educational efforts and expectations.

Response: The words “innovation” or “innovative” are used 9 times, with little or no explanation of these inventions or consideration of their origin, established effectiveness, or the potential that they may actually do harm. The words “compete” or “competition”, “efficient” or “efficiently” are used 7 times. The term “demands of the global market” is used twice, with the clear implication that the primary directive of education is to increase the worker productivity, and not the self-discovery and development of young individuals that would nurture true innovative minds. The results of teaching and leading students to develop their creative talents and an integrated understanding of different subjects are almost impossible to measure using standardized testing, while the benefits of such educational goals will continue to grow throughout their lifetimes.

-----

2) The exceedingly simplistic and impractical “answer to improving schools”, which essentially promotes principals to ‘superman’ status, imbued with imperial powers to create and change critical school curriculum, organization and personnel without any mention of stakeholder collaboration or consent. These Principals would effectively become the Chancellors of their schools. And if these autocratic educational experiments fail to “deliver results” … “they get a year to retool or the school is closed …”

Response: In this model, students essentially become a product, measured by standardized testing or other metric systems that have very limited value. Nevertheless, these systems are used as the basis of determining success and failure with tremendous consequences. Given the fact that each school principal and the teachers under their direction are encouraged to develop innovative and unique curriculums (in the interest of competition), there are no standardized systems that will adequately measure the relative value of such diverse educational environments. And of course, there are external factors that will have tremendous effect on student achievement, but there are no reliable means to quantify exactly how these can be included in such high-stakes business style evaluation tools.

Furthermore, the primary purpose of these metric systems is to evaluate the school administration and teachers; so the many weeks of effort expended by our children has no tangible learning or diagnostic value. Even more distressing is the realization that the students, families, teachers and staff of each school are almost completely dependent on the ‘superhuman’ abilities and judgment of an individual principal. As the purpose of creating such powerful leaders is to improve “efficiency”, any objections to the principal’s policies can be dismissed as being anti-progressive and obstructionist.

Posted by: AGAAIA | October 16, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

OK ... OK ... all you Rhee Fans out there ...

On Friday, October 29th, 2010, we propose a fundraiser for all the kids of DCPS. How much would pay to hear the Chancellor sing the Karaoke version of 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' by Pat Benatar?

----------------

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT (Pat Benatar)

Well you're a real tough cookie with a long history
Of breaking little hearts, like the one in me
That's O.K., lets see how you do it
Put up your dukes, let's get down to it!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Why Don't You Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
F I R E A W A Y !!!

You come on with your come-ons, you don't fight fair
That's O.K., see if I care!
Knock me down, it's all in vain
I'll get right back on my feet again!

Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Why Don't You Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
F I R E A W A Y !!!

----------------

Happy Halloween Everybody !!!


Posted by: AGAAIA | October 16, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

OK ... OK ... all you Rhee Fans out there ...

On Friday, October 29th, 2010, we propose a fundraiser for all the kids of DCPS. How much would pay to hear the Chancellor sing the Karaoke version of 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' by Pat Benatar?

----------------

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT (Pat Benatar)

Well you're a real tough cookie with a long history
Of breaking little hearts, like the one in me
That's O.K., lets see how you do it
Put up your dukes, let's get down to it!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Why Don't You Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
FIRE AWAY !!!

You come on with your come-ons, you don't fight fair
That's O.K., see if I care!
Knock me down, it's all in vain
I'll get right back on my feet again!

Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Why Don't You Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
FIRE AWAY !!!

----------------

Happy Halloween Everybody !!!


Posted by: AGAAIA | October 16, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

There are over 13,000 public school superintendents in the country, and only 16 signed the manifesto? There are over 65 urban school districts that belong to the Council of Great City Schools, and only 16 superintendents signed the manifesto? CGCS executive director Michael Casserly did what any ED would do--he employed the organization as a conduit for member communications. It was up to his superintendent members ultimately to sign on to or reject the manifesto. While I recongize how difficult the job of superintendent is and admire their commitment to poor children in many districts, I take offense at the superintendents who apparently annointed themselves to be the "imposers" of reform for all of the thousands of school districts around the nation. Besides the manifesto being lame, with little researach substantiation and very 19th century, apparently their power trips trumped democracy and the importance of involving parents and community in "owning, sustaining and holding accountable" education change strategies. So we adopt the failed approach of Michelle Rhee: command and control instead of command and connect. I have spent my entire career advocating for equity, integration, quality and high achievement for all children and do not intend to give my proxy to the manifesto and the few superintendents who signed on. Give me Dr. Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools- any day and I can easily be part of that collaboirative and committed leadership. Imposing ideology is easy, molding consensus is the real mark of leadership.

Posted by: ArnoldFFege | October 18, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

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