Friday, January 20, 2006

Why NYC's Reorg Could Work This Time

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein yesterday announced the next phase of his Children First reorganization, which he promises will push more cash and authority to the school level. One of the key (and most promising) features is that it will essentially undermine his previous restructuring, which amassed a great deal of power in regional offices and inside the Tweed courthouse administrative building - and not necessarily in schools.

These days, everyone talks about empowering principals, teachers, and parents at the school level, but when push comes to shove (and mid- and upper-level bureaucrats face the prospect of giving up power and control) it ends up being more talk than action (i.e. it's not in the bureaucrats' self-interest to loosen the grip.) This is a major theme in my new book.

Why will this reorganization be any different? And why should teachers and parents be as optimistic as The Chalkboard thinks they should be this time around? If you listen carefully, you'll notice that Klein understands that you can't push power downward to the school level without a bunch of ball-busters on board. I'm talking about people who truly understand the concept of empowering entrepreneurial school leaders and staffs to control their destinies, and who can look into the eyes of well-respected big-wigs in the Department of Education and remind that they are not as powerful as they used to be in the old world order.

Remember, this plan requires rethinking how things work, i.e. the central and regional administrations exist to serve the educators, not the other way around, as is the current practice.

The best news coming out of this reorganization just may be the people Klein has brought on to help him move these bureaucratic mountains: Chris Cerf, a former Clinton administration staffer who most recently served as president and COO of Edison Schools (and a great guy, to boot) and the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, which was baptized in the cut-throat world of public school politics when it was hired to clean-house in the troubled and shockingly-bloated St. Louis Schools (and is now involved in restructuring the New Orleans schools.)

Read the NY Times story here, NY Post story here, NY Daily News here, and NY Sun here.

Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.