New York City Schools and Performance Management

After more than eight years, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein recently resigned. Since the announcement, much debate has taken place about the impact he has had in New York, and about Cathie Black, the successor appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. During Klein’s tenure, NYC saw important gains in student achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. Will Black be able to maintain those gains?

The Good: Under Klein, New York has seen gains in graduation rates and NAEP scores

Klein put in place tougher promotion guidelines for students in 3rd through 8th grade, implemented a rating system for schools with real implications for those that persistently failed, worked with the teachers union to make changes to seniority transfer rights, and tested out monetary incentives for teachers, principals, and students. As noted by Bob Schwartz, academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and cited in the New York Post), schools under Klein experienced “the most dramatic and thoughtful set of large-scale reforms going on anywhere in the country.” New York City’s graduation rate for regents and local diplomas increased from 31,000 graduates in 2002 to ~50,000 in 2009. And as Klein noted in his farewell letter, “At CUNY colleges alone, the number enrolled as first-time freshmen has increased by more than 9,000 students (from 16,000 in 2002 to 25,500 in 2009), with Latino and African-American students leading the way.” NAEP scores in New York schools increased 11 points in 4th grade reading and math, compared to a 1-point increase in the rest of the state and a 5-point increase nationally.

The Bad: Incoming Chancellor Cathie Black Already Faces Opposition

As incoming Chancellor Cathie Black steps into her new role, parents, educators, and education experts are engaged in a debate about the merits of her appointment. In November, a group of teachers and other stakeholders protested her appointment by attempting to apply in-person for the position she was vacating – chairwoman of Hearst Magazines – stating their lack of news experience shouldn’t make a difference. Will Black be able to overcome the doubts of others, while maintaining the gains made by her predecessor? No way to know quite yet – but she certainly faces an uphill battle.

The Bold: The Center on Reinventing Public Education Points to Four Courses of Action for Districts to Improve Talent Management

In November of 2010 the Center on Reinventing Public Education released “Talent Management in Portfolio Districts,” a review of New York City and Washington, DC to examine how these “portfolio districts” who oversee a range of school types (district, charter, whole-school reform models, etc.) are changing the way human capital is managed. CRPE identified four courses of action that they suggest districts take to transform talent management:

  1. Assign talent strategy to a senior reform executive

  2. Distinguish strategy from routine transactions (thinking holistically about how a talent management system can meet human capital needs vs. executing on administrative human resources items)

  3. Redesign policies and practices to support flexibility and performance

  4. Change the culture to focus on performance

CRPE points to changes in New York under Joel Klein, such as renegotiation of its teachers’ contract to give principals more authority over hiring, as examples of effective practices in shifting from a bureaucratic view of talent management as a simple staffing function to a view of talent management as a “core leadership function.” CRPE notes that making such changes often requires a culture shift and involves significant public scrutiny and resistance. Will Cathie Black be able to continue pushing such actions forward? Will other systems follow suit? Can’t say yet, but it’s good to see the field honing in on practices that show promise.

No one can say for sure what the transition will hold for New York City schools. We wish Cathie Black the best of luck, and hope that she and others will continue to build on the legacy that Klein leaves behind. As the New York Times article (linked above) notes, more work remains to be done.

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