Is it Transformation? Or is it an internal fight between past allies?

Submitted by jpelikan on Sun, 10/31/2010 - 12:34.

Below is my view on the public/private partnership traditional model of governance in Cleveland as reflected in the efforts at school reform here. The politics surrounding the Education Transformation Plan of Dr. Sanders and Cleveland’s Foundations should give us cause to wonder if in this instance the 100 plus year public/private partnership model in Cleveland needs some reform itself.

 

In the on-line discussion between the reporter and readers following The Plain Dealer’s Friday, October 29, 2010 article “Cleveland, George Gund foundations seek to shape school policy” the reporter was asked:

 

“So if the ‘foundations would not argue that a young teacher is necessarily superior to an older one” then are they putting a burden on the Union as a whole and teachers individually that has more to do with the management failures of a school District?

 

“The management would be responsible for supervising the employees, for human relations policies and practices, and for planning the changing in recruitment required to meet the changing demands of education.

 

“ So aren’t there at least two factors that contribute to the problem, yet to my knowledge the research done under the public-private partnership of District and Foundation for Transformation planning put only one of these factors under a microscope and allowed the other to transition without much objective or expert scrutiny.

 

“This somewhat perverse focus on a limited set of variables should certainly raise some question as to whose interests are driving this public campaign. We hear the moral outrage calling on adults to think of the children, but it seems those using this rhetoric aren’t looking at their own adult actions and privileges.”

 

To keep the focus on the larger political-economic context of the issue of urban education transformation, as being played out in Cleveland, let’s acknowledge the the pro-management or anti-employee perspective, and note that even with the fact that management overtime agreed in negotiation to some practices and principles that now they don’t want, it doesn’t justify a knee jerk rush to totoally eliminate seniority (either as is or as revised collaboratively) in schools. 

 

This isn’t to say that seniority is without some problems.

 

But that we need awareness of the very nature and reality of teaching as profession today:

    a. with some skills that are personal;

    b. carried out in a complex system that influences the process and outcomes; 

    c. challenged by a society unable to face the sources placing many on the wrong side of a growing chasm;

    d. built on a diversity in values and experience reflected in more than a single view of educational outcomes, content, and methods; and all of this

impacting the teacher-student-family relationship in ways ripe for subjective supervision and abuse of power well beyond reach of testing technology.  

         

So either we step up to the hard task demanded right now, or be prepared for the next muddle that our simple minded “one-best approach” and “we know best” group think-crowd gives us. 

 

This tells us that over time the framework within which school management and teachers as professionals operate has revealed how it is flawed and needs to be changed.  Not everyone in Cleveland believes that the power point delivered plan coming from the District/Foundation partnership addressed key variables and acted with the required public transparancy necessary for a transformation plan. If as some think the process up to now is more one of internal ideologicial differences former colaition partners within a common status quo framework, seeking advantage over the other, then we are on a path not to transformation but to more of the same.

 

Allowing one side of the old structure to point to the other and shout “it was your fault, not mine” is something that might be heard on school play grounds, but isn’t a serious and balance looking for a better future.

 

If parents, civic leadership, and the community really are committed to helping the future of children they would go beyond the partisan spinning of this community concern and demand a truly transformational approach. Such an approach can’t be defined as merely showing power point slides in private offices followed by marketing campaigns. 

 

Trying to write in ways that connect with the public and inter-organizational discourses on this subject is a real challenge. How do we capture reality of what is going on when experience is so divide: 

 

a.   Foundation and Civic leadership celebrating "Waiting for Superman";

 

     b. The world seen by Diane Ravitch, one of the best scholars of American Education history;

 

     c. My experiences of at School Board meeting and with the District where leaders us a public-private venture

         to violate their public purpose and without what should be transparent, while speaking of accountability; and

 

     d. Reality of the children and families of Cleveland slipping away in a widening geo-political chasm.

 

All I can do at this point is to report how I think about it, realizing that has little to offer debate based on a script and assumption that reveal very little of what is happening. Here is what I see right now.



Cleveland today doesn’t need powerful war lords action figures saving the rest of us but rather the reflection and dialogue of unscripted informed citizens. We are subject to far too much of ‘those who know best” what is good for us, who can impose their preferences because of power and not because of value.

 

That includes the celebrity power of the media and philanthropic interests, the later of which in this instance appear to believe more in their own sovereignty than in the self governance of people whose lives we might think they are serving. 

 

We know voices magnified by power can produce crowds. But that isn’t what we need. We need to work together to build a public and not a crowd. And those who have dominated this matter up to now need to reflect how unlike our social-political principles is their passionate campaigning at this moment. They can’t bridge the chasms of society if their actions are based on a narrow set of experience common only to those on one side of the chasm, the side that is doing just fine at the moment.  

Recently in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Diane Ravitch observes that the education reform strategies being pushed by large National Foundations have evolved in ways reflective of the philanthropist themselves and "that
mirrored their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes…"

In Cleveland's search for education reform it has been our local Community Foundations that dominate and it is important to understand how the Districts transformation strategies reflect a narrow range of experience.

As a nation we established a rule of law and a range of public (and public purpose) organizations that provides the context in which citizens without power can participate in and influence. This self governing is embodied in a
variety of public and private organizations, where authority is given for serving our primal societal purpose and structure.

The public municipal school district and the private community foundations are two such organizations, each of which has evolved in directions that dismantle the context for citizen participation and influence, even to the
point rejecting the very principles of self-governance.

The best way to experience this is to actually engage the District in its reform efforts, which is what I have been doing for some years. To this I bring experience and knowledge about how organizations achieve results,
along with the cost/benefit effects on lives and communities.

The dominant coalition nationally and in Cleveland are behaving exactly in the same manner, ignoring the balance of public and private interests and purpose that led to the political-economic crisis of 2008 where new bold innovation in investing and banking undermined the public context of our private lives, while benefiting a few.

The public-private partnership of District and Foundation act like a business with a product to sell. They show little awareness of the ownership for education in a democracy. The focus is on the technical aspects of production as measured by tests and managed in a corporate model.

 

We need to be more creative than this if we are serious about doing something for the children, and really mean the children actually living in Cleveland now rather than some idealized future population.

Yet as we all know the problem of education in urban areas is the impossible chasm that the families and children living here rather than is the smaller suburban districts between the school organization and the residents'
neighborhoods. But "providing the security that people need to be active participants in shaping society" is very difficult, and not a matter that the experience of those driving this reform has given high priority.

 

So rather than balance the relation between 'school house" and the village that raises the child, the reform effort will increase the chasm.

 

Does Cleveland really need to crown another set of “kings”. 

 

Wasn’t the last ‘king’ lesson enough?

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