No Short Cuts For Education Reform

Submitted by jpelikan on Wed, 06/09/2010 - 18:20.

Pelikan / June 8, 2010 rev.

The June 7th Plain Dealer editorial (Cleveland Teachers Union must bend on seniority) is short sighted.

As a private sector for profit business the Plain Dealer has an interest in labor management issues and there is no begrudging its employees in articulating those cultural and economic values. And as seen in the June 3rd full page Plain Dealer ad sponsored by Cleveland business leaders, there are segments of the public who are believers in the CMSD plan, including a changed role for teachers.

When considered as an institution of the community, employing professional journalist, the public is correct expecting more than it would of a for-profit business. In particular we would expect a scope and frame of reference that is comprehensive, long-term, and balanced.

What is the imbalance in the Plain Dealer coverage of public education in its market?

For someone coming from a community perspective, the four part series preceding the June 7th Editorial was one of the more difficult education stories to put in context.

However when the Editorial states, “one of the country's most restrictive big-city teacher contracts”, it gives the series a context; and, in resolving that difficulty, suggests what many see as more significant in the Cleveland campaign to reform public education.

Why is so much of what is decided in Cleveland brought about by means similar to what we see associated with this editorial, the business ad, the series, CEO, and his new plan? Why does the Cleveland way of deciding always come down to the preferences of power? Why is our capacity to bridge power and community so undeveloped?

In the case of the editorial the imbalance reflects the internal culture of a for-profit press with a focus on self-promotion and selling a product to us as consumers.  The editorial push for results comes with a narrowing of focus and a targeted argumentation. It is selling, not informing.

The June 7th argument however, deals with only one part of the story, a single set of variables, and is sufficiently short sighted and simplistic to give the appearance of insight into the whole matter at hand.

The simplified editorial view of organization isn’t what we find in reality. Organizations are by definition complex entities set up to achieve functions of coordination in volatile environments. And it is the inter-action of the complex parts, each with its own contribution of flaws that has sustained the system we have today and likely to sustain it under the plan into the future. 

The outcomes of organizations are more than the inputs of its labor force.  Other factors in particular the inputs of management and governance need to be understood. 

Neither has the Plain Dealer nor the District been informative on the status of these other inputs in the same manner as they have targeted the teachers.  Nearly two years ago there was a recommendation by the Governor and later a CMSD Board vote for a study of the District administration. What is known of this today?

If the editorial scope included these matters in the same manner as it did the union, there might be an argument for those demanding that teachers trust that if they just bend, they will be treated fairly and real change will occur in the District.  

As a city resident and member of the Cleveland Education Committee I have closely followed this story. It includes an on-going and under-acknowledged Cleveland narrative, in which a few drive for change that rightly belongs to many more, doing it in a way so as to, at least in passing, acknowledge the legitimacy of the larger public.

The context that the editorial reflects is the one preferred by the few driving this change. While this is endorsed by many others in our region, it is particularly articulated by hundred year plus Cleveland tradition called “public-private partnership.”

Under this banner a few well placed individuals work not from a community perspective but from the context of political-economic power in Cleveland. Let me be clear that this context and perspective has much to offer, has value, and shouldn’t be labeled as the inherently wrong.

It should however be open to the same change it asks of others, it should be open to the value brought to problem solving from other public segments, and it should practice some humility.

As Clevelanders heard the announcement that Barbara Byrd Bennett was leaving her post, there began the search for a new CEO of CMSD. Consultants hired, preparation begun, the community called into the process. What did we in the community see and think important was the question asked at the sessions such as the one I attended at the Lutheran Church on Lorain near West 130th Street.

At that community involvement session over five years ago, the seeds of the division were already at work.  The perspectives of power and of community were both visible. Power called the meeting and decided the outcome. Community came to speak and to be heard. Especially in Cleveland’s context today, we should take great care not to dismiss any assets in our city, no matter how small they might appear. This wasn’t what occurred.

Whenever issues about the relation of the CMSD to the public (parents, students, community) were brought up as a major concern, those in charge would say “you mean we need better or more public relations.” The answer from the participants was “no, you need to be open to community participation.” At the end of the day, the deciders choose what they heard.

Public Relation is part of the political and economic power world. Its goal is to sell the product to consumers and leaves the consumer largely product of a script and hardly recognized outside of that script. Keeping a positive image of the powerful is central.

Community Participation assumes the capacity to listen to others’ perspective, especially those different from our own. It is an inclusive capacity built on an understanding of shared authority and responsibility. Unlike the consumer role the participant role is one of a person as a whole, as agent in what affects their family and place of residence.

Only one of these appears to be part of Cleveland’s civic DNA. As long as we decide in the same way we always have decided, we will get the results we always have.

( categories: )

Welcome to REALNEO Jim Pelikan

I heard you speak at the John Marshall facilities meeting in 2008.  Your voice is needed here.  The Plain Dealer's coverage of the CMSD school administration and the so-called "transformation plan" has compromised all journalistic integrity.

Sadly, the same deprecation of teachers and totalitarian attitude towards unions and public education can be found in recent New York Times editorials and in our national education policy, as well.

Where are educators in this discussion--and why is it that their voice has no merit at all in shaping our national education policy?

Yet the PD hates unions

I love this line from the PD's Cleveland's 2011 projected budget deficit much smaller than this year's  about how Mayor Jackson averted financial ruin for Cleveland this year... "the layoff of some union workers, a hiring freeze and spending cuts have helped prepare the city to balance the 2011 budget."

Thank God there were Union workers to layoff... Frank may have had to cut back on the Euclid Corridor flower budget... or fire a sustainability czar or cancel a trade mission to China or two.

At least Cleveland still has all its good non-union employees, like Frank and his wonderful cabinet and directors...

Funny thing... Cleveland is counting on local employment taxes of union construction workers from all the big projects starting next year to pay for all the non-union employees at City Hall... no pencil-necked non-union geeks pouring high stress concrete, that's for sure... takes some skill, trade training, teamwork and experience to do such things.

Yet the PD hates unions

Disrupt IT

Property values-predicted in 2009

Jim Pelikan is on the board of the Bellaire-Puritas Development Corp., a nonprofit West Side neighborhood group with offices a mile from John Marshall. He called on district officials to pay close heed to the analysis.

"They're making decisions that have an impact on property values, on kids' lives, on the ability of people to live in the city," he said. "The evidence keeps coming back and back that the way they're doing it is headed for failure."

Thank You

Laura, Thank you for the welcome, including information from your files that help put me in context. As I told Norm this medium is new ground that will challenge old mental habits. But we will see.

The two resources that I have in making meaning of education in Cleveland are the Neighborhood Education Committee of Ward 18 and the Cleveland Education Committee. Both small groups that have perserved and provided a place to share information and make sense out of events and information had seems to float about with little focus. While new to realneo as a contributor I regularly visit the site and therefore have some sense about you, others, and the content. Jim


Sanders and the schools

 A while back I commented that Sanders was tailoring the transformation plan to fit into the Obama call for proposal for federal funding. Calling it a transformation plan does not make it so.

The school system is awful and there needs to be changes. I take issue with how it is done, and the "repurposing of schools". Does CMDS have to fire massive amounts of teachers, and make them reapply? No. This is a ploy to break the union.

Today, I read the public relations piece that I received in the mail the other day from CMSD.  Sanders urges people "to speak out strongly in support of the hope this plan provides for the children of Cleveland".

Of all the positives and negatives, the back and forth arguments, this boils down to the student teacher ratio of 45 to 1. 

Sanders throws in the following quote from Obama : "America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a better jobs of educating our sons and daughters. In a world where countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, the future belongs to the nation that best educates it peoples".

A 45 to 1 student-teacher ratio is not the way to make this happen.


Gail Long, Jim Pelikan, & Ward 14

Jim, I spoke with Councilman Cummins and he indicated that you may be working with Gail Long to help facilitate community services in the new crazy quilt of  Ward 14. 

I know that it has not necessarily been finalized, but if you do participate, I am glad to see you here at REALNEO.  Your willingness to participate here is a reassuring sign that you will help to get information out in a timely manner. 

We need all the help we can get re:schools et. al.