Two superintendents who rejected the "manifesto"
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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| October 15, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: School turnarounds/reform
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