Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Predictable Bus Woes

Who has the easiest job in Gotham City this week? Carolyn Daly, the able mouthpiece/flack-catcher for the coalition of school bus operators serving city schools. (Coalition sounds much better than 'cartel,' no?) Part of her job is to keep reporters and photographers busy finding poster children for the screw-ups associated with the massive mid-year reorganization of school bus routes.

When you're dealing with the city's Department of Education on stuff like this, admittedly a massive undertaking when you're talking about a system with 1.1 million kids, finding mistakes is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But these mistakes do matter.

While many of us get excited about issues like funding formulas, curriculum issues, etc., the point-of-contact that most families have with public education is either the bus driver or the school safety agent who hassles them when they try to enter their child's public school building. Those points of contact become the face of the system. When people are told to go to new bus stops, at new times, in the last week in January and then the buses don't even show up, it is a big deal. It disrupts family routines, and causes more stress for people who already have plenty in their lives.

The idea of saving $12 million by making bus routes more efficient is a slam dunk, good idea. But once again we are reminded that in NYC, ideas matter very little when accompanied by the type of ineffective implementation we have come to expect from our public education system.

As Manhattan professor George Bonanno told the NY Times' Elissa Gootman of the new bus routes, "I was baffled... It looked as if a monkey had done it. It looked as if someone had done it randomly."

Non sequitur, but related to news coverage of education in general: AFT John makes an important point about the formulas that are used to form the templates of press coverage on successful school turn-arounds. His beef is that teachers are often framed as the inflexible critics rather than an important piece of the reform puzzle. He's right. It's impossible to imagine any successful school getting that way without the input/buy-in/involvement of committed teachers. (And the very best principals always seem to be the ones who know how to work with their best teachers so they get that input/buy-in/involvement.) Of course, it is also worth noting that teacher union leaders have long enjoyed playing the public role of the inflexible reform-stopper, able to kill an interesting idea with a single stomp of the foot. In doing so, they played an important role in contributing to the well-established storylines that exist in the media today. With great inflexibility comes great power.

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