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Driving Michelle Rhee, Plus: Joel Klein Needs Your Help!

If you just got laid off from Lehman, do I have an edu-job for you!

Michelle Rhee needs a "safe, prompt, reliable and comfortable driver to assist [the] Chancellor with her daily schedule and a variety of duties. The incumbent’s primary responsibility is the safe operation of DCPS vehicles for the purpose of transporting the Chancellor to and from events in accordance with the daily itinerary of events."

Do all superintendents of big districts get drivers? I had no idea. But just think about the splashy, tell-all book you could write! I'm out of the running as I have no license, but you can find the job posting here. Or if you're in the market for something different, you might apply for the "Critical Response Team."

Speaking of job postings, Juan Gonzalez wrote a column in the Daily News yesterday about the increasing administrative headcount at the NYC Department of Education. Even though there is a hiring freeze, Gonzalez reported that there are 30 new jobs posted at Tweed with precious titles like, "Knowledge Management Domain Leader for Leadership & Organizational Management" ($170,000). It reminds me of college, where there were gazillions of clubs - coalitions supporting homeless guinea pigs and what have you - so everyone could be the president of something.

With an 18% growth in jobs at Tweed over the last three years, I realized that these guys must be running out of catchy job titles fast, and could probably use our help. Plus, Michelle Rhee will eventually need job titles that sparkle, too.

Help these kids out, folks, and submit a job title below. For the first time ever, there is a real, live prize involved (I've been reading too much Roland Fryer, obviously) - the achievement gap tee shirt pictured above. Boys, don't fret - it comes in other colors. Get your entries in by Monday, October 13th at 5pm. Here are some ideas to get you going:

* Senior Blackberry Correspondent
* Director of Achievement Gap Termination
* Truth Squad Captain
* Senior Finder of Efficiencies
* Chief Term Limit Obliterator
* Senior Transcriber of Diane Ravitch's Remarks

Secret Grantor of No-Bid Contracts
Chief Derider of Public Opinion
Officer of Balanced Literacy Enforcement
Head of Kindergarten Test Score Payroll
Contradiction Timing Optimizer

I've been reading Roland Fryer, too, because students in half of DCPS middle schools are on payment schedules for their school behavior in what Fryer and Chancellor Rhee call an experiment. Besides, he's an ambitious fellow and the complete focus of his center's own handsome website.

While I find in his writings typical economist's intuitions and assertions about motivation, learning, development, and incentives, I don't find indications of curiosity about or familiarity with relevant research in those branches of psychology. Nor in organizational or social psychology, either. While the data collection is complex, the design is right out of an 8th grade science fair. It is an experiment in the sense that there are so many ways in which it can fail. Experiment yes, but not science.

Just as troubling is that his implementations of piecework pay-schedules for students seem not to have passed by a qualified human-subject research review panel, one constituted to consider the ethics of experimentation on children. And that is just the beginning of ethical review, which extends to alternative designs for subjects protection in this experiment and in others that might follow with similar treatments.

Do you have University contacts with expertise and experience who would comment on this? Is offering the parent the option of opting out of a $1500 income supplement for her student's school compliance (and 2 for twins in half of DCPS middle schools!!) a sufficient fig leaf for ethical review?

I mean to be droll, but it is these experiments that lack seriousness. If they were other than demonstrations for the benefit of the promoters, wouldn't they also include more than a single treatment schedule? Doesn't the absence of blocking within schools--presumably to avoid student, teacher, and parent resentment -- demonstrate at once knowledge of and an effort to hide deleterious side effects of treatment?

Chief Media Compliance Officer

True Progress Reporter

Spin Specialist (multiple vacancies)

Testing Tester (Permanent Position!)

Chief Student Incentivizer

Education reformers idolize Michelle Rhee, but she doesn't have the slightest clue about leading organizational change. She may be well-intentioned, but she is just too inexperienced and it shows. Her handling of difficult situations shows her tendency to draw too much attention to herself and script me-versus-the-world showdowns in which no one, including the children of DC, will win. Here are two examples of classic mistakes she has made and how a better manager might have handled things differently.

First, the case of the textbooks in the warehouse, an anecdote she enjoys repeating. Rhee found a warehouse full of new textbooks that should have been delivered to classrooms but were sitting gathering dust. She tells this story in public to explain just how bad the situation is in DC and to embarrass the district, to let them know she will tell their secrets and shame them into doing what she wants. She should never have told this story, not even once. No one needed another anecdote to prove that the DC system is deeply troubled. As the new boss brought in to make big changes, she needed the support of as many open-minded employees as possible. Telling tales of your district's failures with a kind of perverse glee does nothing to advance your efforts.

What she should have done is keep the embarrassing discovery to herself, let the warehouse staff know that she knew what was happening, and demand that they get the books to the classrooms. Then, when the new books arrived, she should have called the press to talk to the teachers with the new textbooks, never even mentioning the delay or her role in fixing the situation. Tell the warehouse staff "great job" and, looking them straight in the eyes with a somber nod, "keep up the good work." The end result would have been the same, but she would not have embarrassed anyone.

Furthermore, she would have had a very embarrassing story to hold in private over their heads for as long as she needed the ammunition. In the meantime, she might have negotiated with textbook publishers to ship future pallets directly to schools and work on a plan to cut back on warehouse staff for a cost savings. She could have kept that plan in her back pocket or mentioned it only if future deliveries were unsatisfactory, perhaps let word of the plan slip out as a rumor, just to keep staff motivated. Then, she should swear at a warehouse staff meeting that she would never fire "our dedicated warehouse staff." Machiavellian perhaps, but that is how it is done in the real world. But no one ever had to hear the textbook story except Rhee could not resist telling it. Beginner mistake.

Second, the case of the teacher contracts. Rhee has taken a divide and conquer approach proposing one contract for early career teachers and another for later career teachers. Her problem is that she enacted the "divide strategy" without having a "conquer tactic." When she tried to divide her enemy, they regrouped stronger than ever. She should have quietly negotiated a deal with a group of early career teachers so she could have been sure of a quick win due to grass-roots support. But without a plan for a quick victory, she was doomed to fail.

She never had to take the approach she did. She should have enacted a pilot plan for all new teachers to participate in a bonus plan. She should have taken the entire cash bonus pool and divided it among the new teachers, union contract or not, with payouts starting immediately. In the second year, when the reality of real cash rewards has taken hold, she could offer to extend the pilot plan to teachers with less than five years of experience. By then, the way the economy is going, she will already have a good reason not to provide anyone base salary increases, contract or not. She would never even have to extend the plan to higher paid teachers who, denied participation in the cash payouts, would be far more inclined to retire early, thus saving enough money to pay for the bonuses for the new hires. Over time, she could negotiate regular base salary increases and the popular bonus payouts as an OR choice, not an AND choice. Those who had earned the bonuses would find a way to drown out the dissenters who had not. In five short years, all of the teachers with less than five years in the system would already be in the program. That is the way it is done. Instead, Rhee telegraphed her punches and, swinging wildly as she stumbled back, wound up in the corner, against the ropes. Beginner mistake.

Rhee is the Sarah Palin of Education Reform: young, a quick study, attractive, and "just what the [Education Reform] party needs." She is full of interesting stories, feigned disgust, high-minded optimism, and she has a real a go-getter spirit. But instead of quietly enacting changes and forging the just-between-you-and-me deals that could make real change last and work, she has drawn too much attention to herself, alienated all of the employees including the good ones, and managed to turn every little argument at the bar into a gunfight in the street. She's a gunslinger all right, a real maverick. But she ain't much of a good shot.


Very interesting points. Maybe we need a job title called, "Maverick in Training."

I want to sound some support for Rhee, DCPS, and what's going on in DC. In the interests of disclosure, I'm a former DCPS teacher who has many friends and former coworkers still working as teachers, a few who work for central office, and lots of former students still in the system.

So a few points:
1. The Critical Response Team, from what I understand, is actually a really interesting idea - parents or teachers call with problems, and they fix them. It's essentially a high-level customer service position. That's the kind of transparency and community support that is, I think, a really good thing. If someone thinks this is a bad idea I would be curious to know why.

2. DCPS really did (does?) need some huge change. Central office was absurd. If Dante and Kafka got drunk one night and created a hellish bureaucracy it would have been 825 North Capitol Street. Every school had its horror stories - teachers not getting paid, rushing to central office after school only to find that everyone had gone home already, calling with a question that not only could no one answer, but no one even knew who was supposed to answer it.

3. Rhee isn't the first person to try to change DCPS, but she is the first one to have as much power as she does. DCPS, like many urban school districts has chewed up and spit out its share of well-wishers. One super quit in the middle of the year after suffering a nervous breakdown. We called in one boss from the military, and he couldn't do much.

I'll be the first to say, and have said in conversations with folks around here, that Rhee has often been too heavy-handed, even alienating potential sympathizers, and Machiavelli in DC while I think your summation of Rhee as a Sarah Palin clone is ultimately unfair, a number of your points are well-taken. She could have done a lot better on a number of PR fronts, mostly internally but in some instances externally. But I'm far from convinced that we'd be better off with someone trying to unwind the Gordian Knot of DCPS. And while Eduwonkette and you folks in New York have convinced me that there's a lot of nonsense going on in NYC, I'm also not ready to see Rhee and Klein inextricably linked.

A few thoughts:

Field Marshall General in charge of Teacher Assessment, Evaluation, and Termination

Senior Director in charge of All Senior Directors

Chief Thinking Officer

Senior Chief Officer for Creativity and Risk-taking

Chief Executive Officer for Test-Taking Strategies

Diane R

Machiavelli - could you get this to the editorial staff at the Washington Post?

Seriously, they are very supportive of her and it's not evident why. If they investigated some of the comments that teachers make on their articles about Rhee they might get a more complete and realistic picture of what's going on in the schools than they get from Rhee.

Would you rather have administration building people visit schools frequently or rarely leave the admin building?

Would you rather pay them $$/hour to drive a car, or $$/hour to do work, read reports, make phone calls?

Having a driver seems like a good idea to me for the same reason why you have admin assistants who handle basic office work/screen calls, etc: it makes the people they work for drastically more efficient.

Have you jumped the shark? I miss data. :(

Juan Gonzalez's column largely follows your May 27 post on staffing at Tweed (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/eduwonkette/2008/05/in_nyc_tis_the_season_for_sacr_1.html). Essentially everything you said there about DOE headcount trends was factually inaccurate and could have been caught if you fact-checked. I elucidate below but first should add that job openings posted on the DOE web site, many of which have been listed for months, are subject to the hiring freeze, to possible elimination through budget reductions, or, in a few cases, are privately funded.

Also, for the record: since the mayor gained control of the schools in the summer of 2002, the number of staff working in the "central office" (e.g., Tweed, 65 Court St) has decreased by 445 as of April 2008, from 2,822 to 2,377, a 16% decrease. Further reductions are expected as part of the current budget mandates.

During the same time, the number of staff working in field offices supporting schools has decreased by 7,479 as of April 2008, from 10,066 to 2,587, a 74% decrease.

Also during this time, the number of staff working in schools has increased 11,229, from 124,077 to 135,306, a 9% increase.

Your May 27 column, which cited an 18% increase in central staffing since 2004 (as did Juan’s column) and specifically called out increases in human resources (you alleged a 57% increase), accountability (321%), and new school/portfolio (157%).

1. While it is true that the DOE administration headcount has grown slightly since 2004, your analysis omitted changes to the headcount of administrators in regional and field offices. Considerable headcount reductions were achieved due to restructuring that took place over the past several years. Administrative headcount under the Central Office budget code (UA 453) grew from 1,984 positions in October 2004 to 2,350 positions in February 2008.

At the same time, the FY05 budget included 2,643 positions in regional positions (“Regional & Citywide Instructional and Operational Administration,” or UA 415). By March 2008, that figure was down to 2,298 positions, representing a headcount reduction of 345 positions, with some previously existing positions transferred into the Central office, accounting for most of the increase in the UA 453 budget code.

In sum, the total administrative headcount for the DOE increased from 4,627 positions (1,984 central + 2,643 field) in October 2004 to 4,648 positions (2,350 central + 2,298 field) in February 2008. This represents a net headcount increase of 21 positions (less than 1%), substantially lower than the 366 position increase (18%) you claimed.

2. With regard to Human Resources, the apparent increase in the number of positions reflects the merger of two budget codes (Division of Human Resources and the Center for Recruitment and Professional Development). In October 2004, DHR had 235 positions and CRPD had 89 positions, for a total of 324 positions. In February 2008, the newly merged DHR code included a total of 381 positions (including 7 vacancies). This represents an increase of 17.6%, not the 57% increase you claimed. DHR has since reduced headcount by 20 positions.

3. In October 2004, the Office of New Schools had 14 positions. In February 2008, the budget code for the Office of Portfolio Development reflected those 14 positions, plus 16 positions transferred out of the Division of Instructional Support, along with 3 positions in the Office of New Schools in October 2004 that were uncounted then because they were vacant. An apples-to-apples comparison would therefore show growth from 33 positions in October 2004 to 37 positions (including 4 vacancies) in February 2008. This represents an increase of 12%, not the 157% increase reported by Eduwonkette.

4. The Division of Assessment and Accountability has grown since October 2004, but not nearly at the pace you claimed. In October 2004, the Division had 19 positions. Since that time, 5 positions were transferred into Accountability from regional Teaching & Learning offices, and 8 positions were transferred into Accountability from the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction’s budget code. This represents a real baseline of 32 existing accountability-related positions in October 2004. As of February 2008, 48 additional positions were created in the Division of Assessment and Accountability, for a total of 80 positions. This represents growth of 150%, a large increase, but well below the 321% increase that you claimed.

Private School Tuition Rehabilitation Coordinator

Morgan, the idea of a Critical Response Team sounds good as long as there is trust that the administration will respond in good faith. In the absence of trust, it's hard to imagine a teacher calling with a complaint, however well justified, without fearing retribution.

Good point, Dave. My gut reaction was to man the class war bunker, but your point is well taken. Can't we feel a smidgen of resentment, though? ;)

I'm kind of feeling Chief Air Traffic Controller for the Tower of Babel as a job title. And I think David Cantor should apply. Take a gander at the logic above:

4. The Division of Assessment and Accountability has grown since October 2004, but not nearly at the pace you claimed. In October 2004, the Division had 19 positions. Since that time, 5 positions were transferred into Accountability from regional Teaching & Learning offices, and 8 positions were transferred into Accountability from the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction’s budget code. This represents a real baseline of 32 existing accountability-related positions in October 2004. As of February 2008, 48 additional positions were created in the Division of Assessment and Accountability, for a total of 80 positions. This represents growth of 150%, a large increase, but well below the 321% increase that you claimed.

Let's see. "In October 2004, the Division had 19 positions." Okay. "Since that time, 5 positions were transferred into Accountability from regional Teaching & Learning offices, and 8 positions were transferred into Accountability from the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction’s budget code. This represents a real baseline of 32 existing accountability-related positions in October 2004." Unless the DOE has mastered the art of time travel, "since that time" means that these positions were transferred after October 2004. Therefore, they have no bearing on the DAA headcount as of October 2004. The claim that eduwonkette made wasn't about "accountability-related positions"; it was about the staffing of the Division of Accountability and Assessment. The staffing in that division has indeed increased from 19 to 80, which is a 321% increase. If the DOE didn't reorganize twice a year, maybe it could keep better track of its staffing levels.

The real scandal is how all these positions have been gobbled up into Accountability -- exemplifying the fact that teaching and learning in our schools has now been consumed by testing and more testing.

What has not yet been mentioned is that all the District Superintendents are now working out of the Accountability office and reporting to Jim Liebman -- who has no background in education --rather than to the Deputy Chancellor in charge of instruction, and are spending 90% of their time on the road, coaching schools OUTSIDE their districts on how to improve test scores.

New Job Title: Master of Media Spin & Twististics

Rhee's kids go to my son's school, Oyster Elementary.

Nearly every day I see her, and her police drive and DC unmarked vehicle bring her and her kids to school. They park illegally in the center of the small U, blocking traffic in a way that would get any other parent a ticket. Other times the driver stands in the no standing zone across the street waiting for Rhee, again where other parents would be ticketed even for standing.

The fact that I am paying for that vehicle and driver is maddening. The fact that they are parking illegally is frankly abusive of position.

To Dave commenting on Oct 10, Rhee uses this driver to ferry her kids to school. She isn't visiting the school.

Is having a DC government driver and car take your kids to school "official business"?

TL, do you have a source that proves this? You will need to substantiate what you said.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Lemony Snicket: TL, do you have a source that proves this? You read more
  • TL: Rhee's kids go to my son's school, Oyster Elementary. Nearly read more
  • JA: New Job Title: Master of Media Spin & Twististics read more
  • leonie haimson: The real scandal is how all these positions have been read more
  • Anonymous: I'm kind of feeling Chief Air Traffic Controller for the read more




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