‘Promotion in Doubt’ is a notice to parents of children who are not getting passing grades that they will not be eligible for promotion unless they attend a summer school class in order to catch up and pass a test on the subject matter involved. It is game playing really and the system knows it. It seems highly unlikely that a few weeks of additional school will prepare the children for successful test results…but apparently it does. It must be magic.

The key to leadership is knowing what you don’t know. Someone in a leadership position who doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know, is not a leader.

Despite all kinds of political “solutions” to the problems of public schools, few in elected office over the past 40 years have known what the true problems are about. That failure has caused the continued deterioration of our public schools until they are where we are today – functioning badly.

If it seems to you that there are so many mistakes in so many areas of life – General Motors and the failure of the ignition switches, exploding airbags and the failure to report them, the inability of the Federal Government to properly launch the Affordable Care website, the fence-jumpers who end up in the White House despite the Secret Service, the confusion over Ebola safety measures, the IPhones that bend – the mistakes go on and on. Consider this: if you don’t educate your children for 40 years, they grow up making lots of unbelievable mistakes. It is not an accident. It is the result of a poor education.

Maybe not knowing and being stuck with the responsibility causes leaders to hire people they know…hoping they will have the answers. Maybe President Barack Obama hired Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education because he is a Chicago guy and Mr. Obama hires Chicago people first – who else does he know?

Arne Duncan  U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
Duncan led the poorest performing big city education system in the nation. And so in the way of the long gone ‘Peter Principle’, failing in Chicago wins him the chance to lead the nation’s public school system. Of course, things get worse.

When you don’t know what you don’t know you make that kind of hire.

Take NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio. In the circus that was the Mayoral race last year Mr. DeBlasio was last of the five candidates in the polls until one by one the other candidates knocked themselves out of contention and he was the winner. During the countless debates, he showed little or no expertise in the matter of NYC schools. His big moment – seeking a tax increase on corporations to pay for an expansion of Pre-K – was about a tax increase not education.

Photo of Carmen Farina
Carmen Farina
NYC Schools Chancellor
What we know was that DeBlasio had a friend who had spent 40 years in NYC schools rising to become a Deputy Chancellor before retirement eight years ago. That friend tried to educate him on the mad, mad world of NYC schools. That friend is Carmen Farina. Like Duncan she had no success at all when as Deputy Chancellor she was put in charge of running the system under long-time chancellor, the corporate lawyer Joel Klein.

Klein, recognizing that the key to failure was in each classroom, turned the system over to Ms. Farina and her colleague, the better known Diana Lamm. And how did they improve the performance of each teacher in the system? Did they finally provide the kind of comprehensive professional development program that so many teachers desperately need and want.

No. They did the exact opposite.

In a move described by teachers in the system at the time as totally debilitating and infuriating, they attempted to dictate to teachers every single move they made in the classroom: what was on the walls, when a teacher could sit down while teaching (never), how to teach the coursework line by line, even when to go to the bathroom.

Lamm left during the course of events due to some essentially undisclosed difficulties. Farina was totally in charge.

The program was a total failure.

Farina chose to retire with a $199,000 annual pension.

And now in another friendly example of the Peter Principle – if they fail give them a bigger job – she is now Chancellor of New York City schools.

Picture this: An elementary school in one of the boroughs.

Grades Pre-K through Fifth. Lots of kids…actually 33 in each classroom.

One long-time Principal. Four Assistant Principals each assigned to one of the grades..one taking Pre-K and Kindergarten, one Principal taking second and third grade. Guidance counselor. And a District manager.

Many teachers seem to be struggling every day. Many seem complacent and teaching out their time until retirement. The problems with the Common Core don’t stop.

There are problems with a school made of up African-American and Hispanic kids…one-third of the children are of the Muslim faith. One of the Mothers would like special food offered to the children who are Muslim. There is no money. There is no money for official notifications or phone calls to parents of children with problems.

77% of all the children failed their official tests in Language Arts and Math last year and again this year-to-date.

There are lots of Promotion in Doubt notifications.

No one from downtown has come to visit.

There’s no question that Ms. Farina knows the system. As teacher, principal, superintendent and Deputy Chancellor she has been through it all. No question. But she had her chance to fix it and she failed. She retired eight years ago. After a year on the job, she clearly has no idea of how to make important changes that succeed.

Recently, she removed more than one-third of the active Superintendents throughout the system.

Half of her eight newly appointed School Superintendents have been Principals of failing schools. She knows them. She knows the record. They got a big new job anyway. She said they were there because they were totally supportive. Why not?

Farina is a deeply devoted and concerned professional. She works hard, cares for the kids and can be charming and warm and full of energy.

She means well.

She is not the problem.

Photo of Joel Klein
Joel Klein
The problem, as her ex-boss Joel Klein says in a forthcoming book, is that teachers are not properly prepared to teach and walk into their first classrooms already lost and bewildered.

New curricula will not change that…no matter how well they eventually come to understand what to teach…they will never learn how to teach it. Half of them will give up and quit before their first five years is over. One-third of them have been there for ten or fifteen years and manage to get by. The rest are living out their time until their pensions.

It’s true in New York – and in every city and State in the nation.

Carmen knows this but says little or nothing about it. She should. She should become the voice that breaks the silence.

“Bad teachers” has become a watch-word. There are more bad plumbers, dentists, building contractors and electricians than there are ‘bad’ teachers.

But when all is said and done the NYC public school system will continue to play the ‘Promotion in Doubt’ game. And little will change.

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