Mercy!I've been friendly with Diane Ravitch for a long time. Encountering her historical work 20 years ago, I was struck by her hard-hitting, erudite analyses. She invited me to deliver my first featured talk (at Brookings, on my then-forthcoming Spinning Wheels book). When I was leaving UVA's Curry School of Education, she was one of the handful of mentors I turned to for guidance. A few years ago now, I hosted the first public event for her Death and Life book.All of which left me enormously disappointed as I read two blog posts that Ravitch penned over the weekend. Ravitch weighed in on a situation in Los Angeles, where principal Irma Cobian was removed from her position at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts when Parent Revolution helped parents exercise California's "parent trigger" law. Ravitch started out reasonably enough, pointing out that 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer in response to Cobian's removal, and that one third-grade teacher said that Cobian's the best principal she's had in her nine years at the school. (It's also worth noting, though, as Parent Revolution does, that the school ranks close to the bottom of all LAUSD elementary schools on California's Academic Performance Index and that scores have fallen over the past three years under Cobian.)Ravitch then shifted gears, summoning shades of Dante's Inferno, as she wrote of Parent Revolution, "There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization." One can just picture Ravitch fastidiously consigning these folks to their proper stations in the various circles of hell. [emphasis mine]
Rick Hess (artist's conception)
So now it's "reasonable" that good leaders "unfairly get the boot." Welcome to 21st Century America, folks...Nonprofits, for-profits, military units, sports franchises, and even churches routinely demote, transfer, or fire executives, generals, coaches, and pastors when they deem it appropriate. Sometimes it's undoubtedly the wrong call, and good leaders sometimes unfairly get the boot. But there's a sense, and it strikes me as a reasonable one, that it can be essential to change leaders in order to give a persistently low-performing organization a fresh start.
You got that? See, Rick believes that when things aren't going well, it makes sense to push for a change. So what does he have to say about Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark, a school system that has been under Trenton's control for 18 years?Now, I have no trouble with the notion that it's a mistake to fire leaders too casually, or that Cobian may have been treated unfairly. There's no clear evidence that Cobian did anything especially wrong. Indeed, Austin wrote to me, "We have gone out of our way to not personally attack the principal, or anyone else. As you can see in our media statement, we rely only on objective data to make our case and intentionally don't even mention her name." At the same time, despite Cobian's apparent popularity with the current staff, she has not been able to make a difference during nearly a half-decade as principal. In such a situation, pushing for a change hardly seems an act of malice.
I thought Anderson had a number of terrific things to say. And, given that it feels to me like she doesn't say this stuff all that much in public forums, I thought a few worth sharing. Most of them boiling down to the facts that school and system leaders need to do what they think is right, can't be intimidated by the threat of resistance or litigation, shouldn't be paralyzed by conventional wisdom, and need to proceed with both resolve and respect. As she said, "Lawsuits are lawsuits. You're going to get lawsuits whatever you do. We can't let them stop us from doing the right thing for kids."
Newark's not a big district, and Cami's tenure has seen its share of conflict, but her tenure is a fascinating example of trying to wrench a historically low-performing system onto a better course. And there's much to learn from, both when it comes to how she's proceeding and how things turn out. [emphasis mine]Except Anderson does not have the trust of the Newark community at all. She was forced on to Newark by Chris Christie, a governor who got next to no votes in the city. The elected school advisory board just gave her a vote of "no confidence." The elected city council just passed a resolution unanimously calling for a moratorium on her "reforms." The students have expressed their dissatisfaction with her management and continuing state control. The teachers have called for an external audit because Anderson's budgets make no sense.
Hell, even Rick admits that Anderson says different things to sympathetic ears than she does to the people in the community she serves! Makes you wonder what would happen if there was a "parent trigger" for revoking state control in Newark. Would Hess be for that? Tell us, Rick: has anything improved there since the state took over? Since Anderson was appointed? Would you say that, "In such a situation, pushing for a change hardly seems an act of malice"?
To summarize: Rick Hess has no problem when a political hack like Ben Austin - who has a history of coming into a community and paying off residents to help foment a phony uprising - comes to Los Angeles and supersedes the local administration.
But if local citizens in Newark want to control their own schools? Meh...
Folks, if you showed up to Hess's little treehouse looking for a coherent analysis of the parent trigger, you were bound to be disappointed. Like so much of Reformy Blogostan, Hess has been reduced to taking yet another cheap shot at Diane Ravitch. And at this point, the chance to take their swipes is about all that gets these clowns up in the morning.