Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

N.Y.C. Reforms Rely on ‘Insecurity and Fearfulness’

December 18, 2007 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Regarding your In Perspective article “N.Y.C. District’s Management Theory: More Power to Schools” (Nov. 28, 2007):

If there is anything that most New York City school professionals and parents, not to mention kids, say to me is that they’ve never felt so intimidated, powerless, and deprofessionalized. That your article’s author and I should travel around to city schools and discover such different systems is thought-provoking.

Under the current chancellor, Joel I. Klein, New York City schools have experienced at least three major destabilizing overhauls, each undoing the last. Clearly, this is either a plan gone awry or “on purpose.” Here’s my theory: At the heart of the city’s strategy of reform is a belief that insecurity and fearfulness, not empowerment, produce results. Trust produces laziness, while the expectation that Big Brother is watching brings out the best in us.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of such a philosophy, it’s not, to quote the article’s title, “more power to schools.” Even if you mean “principals” and not “schools” (which, after all, include more than principals), it simply isn’t so. I was a principal in New York City for a long time (from 1975 to 1993), and there are few freedoms principals enjoy today that I didn’t have a decade ago.

I respect the flattering words of David Weiner, the principal of Public School 503 in Brooklyn, in your story, but do you think he or others would dare to tell less complimentary views about the new regime? Were you able to find a single critic among those who work for the city’s department of education, not just from the usual outsiders?

All this reminds me of the stories folks used to tell (and still do) when they came back from visiting an authoritarian regime, stories about smiling children and happy workers. “Eventually the State will wither away and democracy will flourish. But first they need to shake them up, send a message,” we heard. School systems have always been mini authoritarian regimes; alas, they still are, only more so.

Chancellor Klein’s oft-quoted remark about lighting a fire under the feet of professionals is a telling choice of words. The phrase comes from the world of torture.

Deborah Meier

Steinhardt School of Education

New York University

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the December 19, 2007 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Reforms Rely on ‘Insecurity and Fearfulness’

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: June 15, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 8, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 1, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 11, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read