This is the kind of thing I think of every time someone starts making noise about how teacher careers should live and die by merit, how pay should be tied to performance, and managers should be able to fire "bad" teachers instantly, at will.
You know. Just like in the "real world."
And then I think of guys like Darnell Earley.
At this point, you can find Earley's story everywhere (this coverage at eclectablog is a good one).. He's the man who poisoned the Flint, Michigan water supply so that he could save some bucks. And he did it almost single-handedly, because Flint is just one more city where, gosh, the only solution was to suspend democracy and appoint a local Czar to run the place.
Earley failed. By every conceivable measure, he failed. Even if you use the heartless metric of Saving Money, he has failed because the costs of cleaning up after the poisoning of an entire city will be huge. And that's before we even talk about the lifelong cost to the children whose health, talent and abilities have been stolen by lead poisoning. So let's be clear. Darnell Earley failed.
And his punishment was...?
Well, of course, we already know. His punishment was to be hired as the Czar for Detroit schools-- yet another place where the People in Charge decided that democracy had to be terminated.
For poisoning one feifdom, Earley got a new one, with a new hefty salary. And he is failing there as well. Detroit schools are such an appalling, unsafe miserable mess that teachers have been walking out, performing sickouts. How bad is it? The sickouts aren't even organized by the union-- they are just the actions of ordinary classroom teachers who have had enough.
In a meritocracy, Darnell Earley would be out of a job already. Not only would he be out of a job, but he would be unemployable.
Flint and Detroit schools aren't just about the failure of Darnell Earley (and a whole bunch of other people who have utterly failed at their jobs, all the way up to the governor). They are a real life full-on test of the current reformster theory of management.
Here's how it's supposed to work. You identify the very best people. You sweep democracy out of the way (because democracy let's the Wrong Sort of People have a say) and you put the Better People in charge, and give them free rein, making sure they don't have to deal with unions and government rules.
Here's how it actually works. A city poisoned. A school system in collapse. And leadership that can't tell the difference between merit and grotesque, dangerous, life-threatening incompetence. And because democracy has been suspended, no mechanism by which anybody can say, "Hey, wait a minute" or "Before we leap into this, let's talk about X" or "Convince me your plan is a good one."
Darnell Earley and all the politicians who helped enable and cover his incompetent butt are going to feel a ton of heat, and they should. But the rest of us should make note-- this is not the last time we're going to see this play out. When you substitute politician-appointed Czars for democracy, either in a city or a school system, this is what you get.
In the meantime, policy makers and thought leaders don't get to talk about meritocracy until they're willing to apply it to other members of the ruling class.