"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oligarchs On the Move to Choose Houston Superintendent

As Dunc inserts himself in the New York City schools battle on the side of Bloomberg and his continued privilege of choosing and dismissing members of a puppet School Board, what was to be a public search for a new Superintendent in Houston just went private:

The Houston school board hopes to keep the public from finding out who is in the running to be the next leader of the state’s largest school system until the field is narrowed down to a single candidate.

Houston Independent School District trustees agreed Thursday to keep secret the names of the candidates who interview for the superintendent’s job because the best candidates want their privacy protected, the trustees said. The decision is at odds with a request from the city’s largest business organization, the Greater Houston Partnership, which called for a transparent search shortly after Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra announced earlier this year that he will soon step down. . . ..

And here is the real story posted by Caroline Grannon on Saturday at Examiner.com (from an fearful insider). As you can see, the tentacles of Bloomberg and the School Deformers are struggling to get another urban school system in their grip in order to apply their preferred brand of cultural eugenics to the black and brown children of Houston:

The Wolf at the Door: Are school-reform radicals hijacking the Houston Independent School District's Superintendent process?

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has avoided becoming just another urban system in perpetual crisis. Its leaders have encouraged racial and political moderation and incremental reforms. The district pioneered magnet programs, and continues to offer families a host of specialized, high-quality choices, particularly at the high-school level. Its students outperform school districts which have opted for radical reform in most categories of the recently published National Assessment of Educational Progress comparisons.

Now some members of HISD's nine-member elected school board want to change course and adopt drastic measures. They want Houston to follow in the footsteps of school districts like Philadelphia, Washington D. C., New Orleans and New York City by choosing a new superintendent in the mold of Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein [chancellors of D.C. and New York City schools, respectively].

According to HISD board member Paula Harris, HISD has gone as far as it can under the current model of reform; now it needs a change agent to “shake up” the district, which she labels a “monstrosity.” Natasha Kamrani, wife of the CEO of YES PREP charter schools, has repeatedly mentioned both Rhee and Klein as the kind of leader HISD should pursue. Harvin C. Moore IV, a founding member of the KIPP board and its longtime treasurer, is another supporter of uprooting reform.

The school board selected the firm Heidrick & Struggles over four competing firms to manage its superintendent search. This is a sign the school board's reform-radicals may have their way. Heidrick & Struggles has a history of directing districts to candidates advocating charter schools and subcontracting to private agencies, specifically in Philadelphia and Buffalo. Heidrick & Struggles also has close ties to the charter-school movement and to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mayoral control approach in New York City.

Richard Greene, a managing partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago headquarters, was recently the chief operating officer for the KIPP national foundation. KIPP plans a $100 million expansion in Houston. KIPP and its junior partner, YES PREP, hope to use this private money to create a separate school district of 21,000 students cut from the heart of HISD.

The Heidrick & Stuggles board of directors includes two high-level Bloomberg allies. Robert E. Knowling is the former founding CEO of the New York Leadership Academy, Mayor Bloomberg’s factory for churning out new principals who see things his way. Richard Beattie heads up New Visions for New Schools, a partnership nonprofit supporting Bloomberg's reforms in some New York City schools.

Beattie is also chairman of the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett law firm, which provided free legal services in arguably the most important school-finance suit in New York City's history. This suit brought several billion dollars in extra state funding to the city schools, which aids the big-spending mayor who has upped school spending by five billion bucks in five years.

One major candidate for Houston mayor, Councilman Peter Brown, has called for creating a mayor-controlled district from the inner-city portions of HISD, allowing more suburban areas to carve out new districts.

Heidrick & Struggles and school board members have emphasized that this search would be open and transparent, without a predetermined outcome. HISD Board President Lawrence Marshall has promised “100% transparency.” The firm has held 30 community and stakeholder meetings to come up with a job description and list of qualities the next district leader should have. The list turned out to be highly amorphous, including just about every imaginable positive quality one could desire in a political leader.

HISD's board is replacing Dr. Abelardo Saavadra, the first Hispanic to hold that position in a district where 60% of students are of Hispanic origin. Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg recently derided Saavedra for his lack of political savvy, and some on the school board seem to agree, nearly pushing him out last year.

Saavedra had a tendency to announce his policy proposals well ahead of time, and hold town-hall meetings all over the city before finalizing his decisions. In some cases, as when he sought to reduce transportation for magnet students this past spring, Saavedra was opposed by organized groups of parents and his proposals were nixed by the school board. This sort of popular revolt will not be a problem for future superintendents if advocates of mayoral control have their way.

Once Heidrick & Struggles presents its candidates to HISD's board, parents and teachers' organizations will have limited, if any, influence on the final decision. The search firm and the HISD board have decided to issue the name of only one finalist.

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