Sunday, February 15, 2015

Not-So-Bright Future for Ohio

In the Mocking Education Reformsters business, it is hard to stay ahead of the curve. I thought I was being pretty sassy last summer when I concocted a "Memo to Three Year Old Slackers" in which I suggested that it was time for toddlers to get off their butts and start the serious business of Pre-Pre-K, or when I suggested that since we were checking to see if five-year-olds were ready for college, we might as well have them fill out applications. but my mockery has been left in the dust by reality. Sometimes real live reformsters can create programs far dumber than anything we could imagine.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to BRIGHT.

BRIGHT (previously "New Leaders for Ohio Schools")is "a bold effort to recruit, train and place committed leaders to head high-poverty public schools" across Ohio. It's a partnership between the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Business Roundtable, and the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. Oversight of the program is proudly provided by a board including Ohio's senate and house leaders, the Ohio state superintendent, and Ohio's great man-child of a governor. Which is only right, because it would take more than just one large organization to come up with a plan this dumb.

The website credits the 2012 report "Failure Is not an Option" from Public Agenda. This report was reviewed by Mark Paige for the National Education Policy Center, and I'm not going to work through that whole review for you. The basic executive summary of the Public Agenda paper is this: if you have a really super-duper principal with awesometastic programs in place, you can totally fix poor kids and their poor school without having to actually spend money doing it. The basic summary of the NEPC review is... well, they gave it one of their coveted Bunkum Awards. Specifically, the "Do You Believe in Miracles" award. Will you be surprised if I tell you Public Agenda's funders include the Joyce Fundation, the Broad Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates?

So that little piece of unicorn farming is the basis for this shiny new program. So how does BRIGHT work?

Indeed the landscape in Ohio and across the country is replete with examples, going back twenty years, of "traditional" leadership training programs – some have worked; most have not. Recent pension reforms enacted by the Ohio General Assembly are triggering the retirements of scores of school administrators across Ohio, creating a unique opportunity for Ohio to attract the best and the brightest as school principals.

Yes, all our traditional training methods suck (but we have no ideas about how to fix them, or what is wrong, really). But we have a great opportunity because our stupid reformster ideas in Ohio are driving our school leaders right out of the profession. This is totally not a sign that our reformy ideas are dopey failures; all those departing leaders just don't get how awesome we are.

Who should be signing up to work the miracles? Well, the inaugural class will be selected from "diverse professions." If you've got a bachelor's degree and any sort of leadership experience, step right up. This job is tough but (and, yes, I am quoting here) it's "the toughest job you'll ever love." So, this is just like Peace Corps work, I guess. I have had friends and former students serve with the Peace Corps, so I'm a bit torn about who's being insulted by this appropriation of the old slogan, but at the very least this does not speak well of a bold, innovative new program that somehow couldn't come up with original ad copy.

How will it work? Well, this first group will be placed in a third world country Ohio public school for a twelve-month internship, "working and learning under the mentorship of an accomplished school principal and an executive-level business leader." Why business leader? Because the program isn't just about fast-tracking your way to a principalship, but simultaneously earning an MBA!!

Seriously. BRIGHT's own copy calls principalling a 24/7 life, but apparently somewhere between the 24 and the 7 there's room to do coursework (sixteen of them, in four modules) for the Fisher School's program, which requires three days on campus a month.

What cool things will you do while you're learning how to principal and becoming a certified Master of the Universe? Well, there will be "intensive personal assessment and development experiences such as team-building exercises; 360 feedback surveys; site visits to high-poverty, high-minority, high achieving schools across the country; and learnings from your assigned master principal and outside business mentor – all focused on reinforcing the leadership competencies to be instilled in all BRIGHT Fellows." I am particularly excited about the learnings. I think one of the best things about my teaching job is the many learnings I give to my students. But still-- the chance to actually visit a high-poverty school, all full of minority students! Doesn't that sound ecxiting?

Oh, but what are these leadership competencies of which you speak?

That particular list is hosted on the Ohio Business Roundtable site, which makes sense considering it includes things like Change Leadership and Drive for Results. In fairness, it also includes Caring for Children. I'm intrigued by the Instructional Leadership item, which is explained as "Is able to recognize and coach teachers in constructive efforts to improve teaching effectiveness." First, I do hope that a principal will be able to recognize teachers when he sees them. Second, I'm wondering how this super principal will be able to provide instructional coaching when he has never done a day of teaching in his life, nor taken an education course, either. I think I should drop by the Business Roundtable and offer to tell them how to do their jobs, too.

BRIGHT has just hired a president, Dr. Thomas G. Maridada, formerly a Michigan Superintendent of the Year and more recently working for the Children's Defense Fund. BRIGHT also has several partners including the Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus school systems, as well as New Leaders and (you knew this was coming) TFA.

When all is said and done, our insta-principal will emerge with a fast-tracked certificate and a shiny MBA. He will owe the state of Ohio two years of work as a principal-- it is not entirely clear whether he will have to find his own job or if he will be placed. The state prefers that the insta-principal go to work at a high-poverty school, but it appears that any Ohio public school will meet the requirements.

So, to recap-- we're going to take somebody with a bachelors degree and no experience, let them intern at a school for a year while simultaneously doing grad school work, and at the end of the year, he will go be a principal at some troubled school, where his awesome leadership skills and great MBA-ness will allow him to turn every student into a success without having to spend more money.

I suppose this was inevitable. TFA was providing us with insta-teachers and the Broad Foundation has been cranking out insta-superintendents. There was a real market niche for people to quickly become principals without having to mess around with all that actual experience or training (or actually committing themselves to principalling as their lifetime career). After all, who better to supervise undertrained, inexperienced TFA temps than an undertrained, inexperienced pretend principal. Ohio has stepped into the gap to fill that need.

The one mystery I was not able to solve-- BRIGHT certainly looks like an acronym, but I can't discover what it stands for. Big Reformy Initiative for Getting Highplaced Temps? Business Revenue Interests Getting Hard on Teachers? Whatever it is, I'm sure it will be a great stepping stone for some future business whiz, and a disaster for some poor school.


  1. I was reluctant to comment because I have had a fairly crappy two weeks at my school and my thoughts and feelings are pretty dark. But as I read on, I discovered that there will be some Ohio teachers in my same predicament. I love how reformers on either side of the reformation aisle always know better than those of us in the trenches. I am currently stuck between an administration that wants the alternative school I teach in to be a mini version of the regular high school and my colleague who pretty much doesn't want to do any teaching at all just a lot of touchy feely team building and field trips to places that no one wants to go to. My dream school would be to meld these two together where our students would become community leaders (ok maybe not leaders, but positive members) and life-long learners. That is success to me, but not my colleague and not my administration. People who are not teachers working in the field every day just don't get it. I would love to pursue my love of history with a Masters and maybe even a PhD, but I don't get rewarded for that accomplishment. I do get rewarded when I pass a test that the district and our state says makes me a highly qualified teacher, a test, not my real content knowledge or my ability to relate my knowledge to my students. Go figure. Wow two years and you get an MBA, no thanks.

    1. I love the idea of encouraging students to become involved as community leaders. Keep on trying to do what you know is right. Maybe the tide will turn soon.

  2. Peter, your "Memo to Three-Year-Old Slackers" you link to in your second sentence is one of my favorite readings of all time. A perfect gem.

  3. Apparently its not an acronym. On their (no traffic) Facebook page their logo is Bright New Leaders for Ohio's Schools

  4. O! M! G! I am totes in! Tank u so much for teh recommendation. This program looks osum! How do I sign up?

    Seriously, I am tempted to apply to see how far down the rabbit hole I could get.... my J.D. might temp them, but I imagine that I should probably leave my teaching experience (and definitely my union contract negotiating experience) off my resume. And I imagine the fact that I have set foot in Ohio twice -- TWICE -- will be a huge selling point. In fact, I was there just last week. For a whopping 20 hours in Dayton (I had court).

  5. Hey, look into the work history of the new CEO - Thomas Maridada. When he was the the Superintendent of a school in Michigan (City of Pontiac) he appointed his old friend as assistant super - who went on to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the mostly impoverished students of that district. Is this really they guy who should run a program designed to place leaders in educations roles? He personally has a terrible track record. I wouldn't trust that guy to work as a gas station clerk, nevermind the fact that his role impacts the future of thousands of children.

  6. I worked under Maridada as a teacher for several years, and under Sledge for one. I knew them both as consultants before they were hired at my former place of employment. I have to say, Maridada did a great job as superintendent in terms of turning learning around, and when he left, things went downhill, probably because the programs he put into place put us into debt, which eventually led to the district dissolving. So while his ideas are great and make a difference, I question his business sense and capabilities to understand finances. Sledge never came across as crooked. He must have been able to hide it well. He, too, was a solid administrator, but then, I have to wonder when his crookedness started, and if he was like this before Pontiac. It's definitely possible.

  7. Has anybody done post research to see how many if the Bright Fellows have stayed on as principals and how many quit? If still there, what has their impact been? I know several who couldn't take it and left...