Smart take on Chicago and some larger issues from Seth Lavin is below. He’s the guy behind Chicago Schools Wonks – a solid and must-read free weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe by emailing him here.
We’ve had Brizard for 100 days. Noreen Ahmed-Ullah has a Trib piece with a decent overview of what he’s been talking about (longer day, new accountability, emphasis on principals) and areas he’s faced criticism (conflict with the teachers union).
She also has a few weird paragraphs on “suggestions that Board of Education President David Vitale and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley — both Emanuel appointees — are actually running the district,“ adding “many wonder if he selected his team or Emanuel did it for him.” Ahmed-Ullah offers an even weirder explanation: “rumors are likely fueled by his unpretentious style. He is driven around town in a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, opting to sit in the front rather than the back.” http://trib.in/o8ntlf
The team around Brizard actually gives me confidence he doesn’t. It feels like Chief Education Officer Noemi Donosi’s been putting an emphasis on quality of change (not just shiny-ness of change) that I don’t see from Brizard of Rahm. If she and the others were brought in as a hedge on Brizard then good for whoever brought them in.
My big problem with the Trib piece is that it mostly follows a lazy pattern a lot of edujournalists use. The world’s divided into reformers and traditionalists. Reformers like charters, testing and accountability metrics. Traditionalists like unions and primary investment in neighborhood schools. Ahmed-Ullah plops Brizard in the reformer camp then gets some quotes from predictable folks on each side who either praise or disparage him—not based on what he has or hasn’t accomplished but on what he says he believes. The whole thing’s set up as reformer vs. traditionalist (Brizard vs. union), then we get to decide our opinion of his administration based on whichever camp we think we support.
But what does that really tell us about how things might change for students? Can Brizard’s stated philosophy really help us predict his success as a change agent? Brizard (and Rahm) like charters and accountability and streamlining. We get it. But how are they making decisions? What data do they look at? What programs and places do they see as models and what information do they use to determine that? Brizard follows two reformer schools chiefs in Chicago, one you may recognize as the current US Secretary of Education. They said most of the same things he did, yet he says the school district he inherited is failing. What went wrong? I’m not insinuating the concepts behind the reformer camp are wrong. I don’t believe they are. I just believe that the key reformer buzz ideas (opening charters, implementing test-driven accountability, promoting alternative certification) succeed or fail based on how carefully and thoughtfully they’re implemented. I wish Ahmed-Ullah and the Trib would cover how Brizard is doing rather than what he’s saying. The reformer vs. union story just isn’t that interesting and it’s not that helpful for people trying to make things better for students.