I continue to be more and more impressed by the This Week In Education blog by Alexander Russo. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s the latest addition to The Best Ways To Keep-Up With Current Education Issues. I really can’t think of a better source of information and insightful comments about education policy issues.
An example of this is his post from yesterday. It’s about how different school districts are approaching the problem of closing schools, and he shares a piece from Claudia Wallis, a longtime writer at TIME magazine. She’s covered a panel discussion, including Michelle Rhee from Washington, D.C., on the issue.
You should definitely read Alexander’s post (and subscribe to his blog), but I’d like to reprint a small portion here:
“What we’ve tried to do in DC is take the politics out of it and stay focused on the children, putting the adult interests aside.”
“Last year we closed 23 schools: 15% of our inventory and I can’t tell you how many people screamed at me for closing schools that were completely failing,” said Rhee. “In my opinion, those parents should have been banging down my door to close those schools.”
But that failure to build political support—with both parents and teachers–appears to be exactly what’s going wrong in D.C. And a few other bigwigs at the conference politely pointed it out.
“Why should people believe that the system that has failed them will give them something better?” asked Michele Cahill, of the Carnegie Foundation (formerly one of Joel Klein’s deputies). Before closing 21 schools in New York, she said, “We took parents and kids to see good schools. We rented buses.”
Atlanta’s superintendent Beverly Hall and Green Dot founder Steve Barr also chimed in. Said Barr: “You have to show up in a church five times” before the African-American community will believe you might be offering something besides a fresh batch of promises to be broken.
Hall, now in her 10th year as superintendent, said she spent a lot of her first three years talking with parents in their living rooms. She closed 17 failing schools. “Success began to change people’s minds. Now, she said, “there’s less pushback”—even though she was in the process of “transforming” a sentimental favorite: the high school attended by Martin Luther King.
Even though I think Steve Barr’s comment misses some key points on how to develop relationships, I do think this piece demonstrates how effective leaders make long-lasting change. I wonder if Michelle Rhee learned anything from the discussion.