Saturday, December 28, 2013

The New Chancellor (or What To Expect When You're Not Expecting Much)

Well another Friday has come and gone without an announcement as to who the next chancellor will be. Given that we won't have word until next Monday or even Tuesday, I thought it would be a good time to lay out the possible scenarios about how the pick might shape up and how that next pick may or may not bring actual change the DOE.

Scenario 1: "Sellout!" The fear is that the new mayor will sell us all out and pick a true-blue ed reformer as the next chancellor. That's not very likely. While the reformers would love to have sway over the next leadership (a $24 billion budget directed by one man has a tendency of doing that to people), the truth is that no spottings of Ed Reformers in NYC have been seen as of late. The rumors that Washington is pressuring BDB or that the pro-charter lobby in NYS is doing the same, are probably true, but meaningless. New York City has been the epicenter of reform and the reformers would not like to see it let go. But the fact is that NYC also has the largest contingent of activated, angry stakeholders in the nation. Those people vote and they know how to get on TV and in the papers. Now that we'll have an actual politician in office, he'll be inclined to listen to those people a little more and  I can't think of a reformer in the world who would want the job of chancellor without a mayor who will give them carte blanche to do whatever they want. Truth is, a sellout is probably not going to happen.

Scenario 2: "Farina or Cashin Hit the Ground Running"  It's not very likely, but there is the possibility that the next chancellor has known he or she has had the job for several weeks and has been quietly assembling the team that will be put into place when she (or he) goes in. If that's the case, and if the pick is either Cashin or Farina, then they'd be in a position to hit the ground running in January. They each have years worth of relationships and are the only two who would be able to assemble a team rather quickly if they wanted to (stress; if they wanted to. I can't think of any reason why anyone would want to rush into a job like this. Can you?).  If, on the other hand, the next chancellor knows he or she is it and it's not Farina or Cashin? Well, then there will be no hitting the ground running at all. Instead, there will be a slow, months long transition into however the DOE 2.0 will look.

Scenario 3: "Chancellor Shael" If no announcement is made, or if the announcement calls for a deferred start for the new chancellor, then look for DC Shael Suransky to assume control over at Tweed. Most folks don't realize that he was already acting chancellor once in his career. That's right! After Cathie Black departed, Shael was the chancellor for ten whole days, making Dennis Walcott the fourth chancellor (not third) under Michael R. Bloomberg. Suransky might be there for a week, or he might be there for several months as the 'new' chancellor begins to establish him or herself. If he is, don't count on much changing in the near future (Shael once called for standardized exams once every 12 weeks for NYC students!). Instead, pin your hopes on the more distant future.

Scenario 4: "New Chancellor; Old Leadership Staff". This is probably the scenario that will occur: If the new chancellor is announced on Monday or Tuesday, then he or she will probably be going in with a very small group of people loyal to him or herself. As he or she gets set up (it takes time to review policy and to review budgets (which are more important than policy as they dictate actual policy). It also takes time to review and interview staff. All the while, it is the nation's largest school district and it has to be run), the old staff will be humming right along with the old policies -and the old mindset. If the old leadership staff is in place, don't look for any big changes over at Tweed this winter. Whatsmore, if the old leadership staff is in place, and with the political need to a get money from Albany for the pre-K plan, don't look for much (not even the UFT contract) to be done anytime until Spring at the earliest. Even if there will be big changes at Tweed, try to imagine the process of turning a large cargo ship around 180 degrees. It's a slow process that takes a very very long time. Those hoping for drastic changes at Tweed should be warned: It will take an established chancellor years to sift through what the previous leadership team has been up to and perhaps years more to begin making needed changes. Did you expect the networks to immediately go away? Or the lawyers to stop running key parts of the system? Did you expect the $4 billion in consultants to start going to unionized men and women across the city, the way they were before Bloomberg? Or fair funding to just vanish? Fat chance. Replacing the old leadership staff with a new one will take months all by itself. Then the new chancellor can begin thinking about making his or her mark. During that time is budget season for both the city and the state -and it will be de Blasio's first budget. Not much gets done during budget season (Late January to mid May/early June). If there are big changes (and that's actually a big if) they won't come until the next fiscal cycle (after July 1).

Conclusion: "The Plane Will Be Built After We Take Off. Please Sit Down and Enjoy the Ride"  The bottom like here is that the politics since the election (or whatever is to blame for slowing the process of selecting a new chancellor down to glacier like speed) have squandered a chance to really shake things up down there at Tweed. A new, empowered chancellor who was announced early would have been able to make some strong changes by the end of January. But a late announcement chancellor has no such luck. He or she will be able to do little more than assemble a team after the appointment then begin planning -for next September- when any possible shakeups may occur.The de Blasio plane down at Tweed will be built as it's flying. Any impact that will have on clusters, networks, districts or schools -or children- won't be felt for months.

As RBE at Perdido Street School concluded yesterday: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.


  1. I think it is a real mistake to equate Cashin and Farina as 2 sides of the same coin. Cashin is a political animal who will bend where pushed - by the UFT, the ed deformers and the charter lobby. She is extremely ambitious and wants to be Queen and has been lobbying for this job since she left the DOE. I believe it is her supporters who have tried to intervene to stop a Farina appointment. Farina is also not a perfect choice but to me she has a more humane view of education and that counts. Cashin was very heavy testing before she started to reverse herself to curry favor with the anti-deform community -- and it has worked to some extent. I don't trust her. Farina to me seems what you see is what you get -- while I don't like a bunch of what we may get I would choose someone more philosphically atuned to my ed views like she is.

    1. I'm actually not sure any of that matters. Whoever gets in will not be and to do undo much of what has been done until at least next school year. That didn't have to be the case.