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Nagging Questions About New Leaders Survival Rates

Fast_company Britney Spears may have fallen from grace, but, nearly eight years in, New Leaders For New Schools is still everybody's darling. It's expanded to nine cities including New Orleans.  It's found ways of generating federal funding.  It's avoided public discussion of its possible weaknesses that befell its close cousin, Teach For America.  Hell, even Barack Obama loves it.

But all is not as perfect as its press would suggest.  The organization has chewed through a lot of senior staff.  To my knowledge, the organization has never allowed or published an independent evaluation of its efforts.  And, though you'd never know it from reading any of the organization's promo materials, New Leaders don't always succeed in getting and keeping jobs. 

Erin_rocheJust recently, for example, things have been going heroically wrong for a New Leaders principal in Chicago named Erin Roche (pictured) who took over a mixed-income neighborhood elementary school three years ago. He's just been let go by his school -- much to the surprise and dismay of some more parents who started sending their kids to the school in large part because of the new principal's focus on instruction and achievement.

The details in Chicago are still coming out (here), and I'm not suggesting that New Leaders is all bad.  But it occurs to me that it would be nice to know -- ideally from an independent source -- what the placement and survival rates are for New Leaders.  Being brilliant instructional leaders with an unrelenting ambition to raise student achievement is wonderful.  But they have to get -- and keep --  their jobs much longer than the usual for the model to make any sense.  In Chicago, relationships with teachers and community members, as well as school safety, seem to have gotten lost along the way. 

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Man, what a drama fest. I started reading the comments and had to stop. It was too much like reality. If parents are given control by the school system this is what is going to happen in today's society. I have worked for what we call a turn around principal here in Virginia for the last three years. Some of the complaints about personality could be leveled against her but, she was hired by the superintendent and the state. After parents saw test sores come up they forgot about the personality. They had to, they didn't hire her.
It is hard to be in leadership and make difficult changes. It is even harder to do and still keep everybody happy. The fundamental truth of school reform seems to be, change the context of the school and you change the school. When new families began attending the school the context Mr. Roche was hired under changed. Did his mission change? Who knows. But, if they can't sight poor reviews with significant documentation and time for improvement under an action plan they haven't got a chance when it goes to grievance. He will probably be able to sue for a chunk of cash.

This posting touches the tip of the iceberg on the efficacy of many nonprofit school improvement providers. In a way it's an extension of that Garrison Keilor article on public education so many nice people seem to dislike. To the "nice people... failing these kids" nonprofits are often the preferred provider. And like the nice people, substitute MBA for Phd and their "grand poobahs... stand up and blow... speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results... ought to be thrown out..."

Alexander, you need to write more about the need to bring this issue to the fore.

There's much more hammering that needs to be done on the the importance of determining the objective value added by the new philanthropy and their investees. Tax free status is no excuse for the lack of performance reviews - even at a subsidized price, and even for services that are provided free to an education agency. If these services were subjected to NCLB's SBR requirement, many of these nonprofit groups have even less research that Bob Slavin and others (including yours truly) said of the publishers that won the Reading First market.

It's not all nonprofits or all of the New Philanthropy's nonprofits, but it's most of the New Philanthropy's nonprofits. If I am incorrect, the nonprofit and foundation managers and media relations staffs should post all the program evaluations - third party or internal - in a comment below. Alternativel, they might explain why evaluations havent been done, and why they are loathe to open up their books to researchers and reporters.

Given the whole (Social) "Return on Investment " rhetoric espoused as a justification for the New Philanthopy's existence and its grant making strategy, even one unevaluated investment is unacceptable.

Readers interested in more on the topic might go to: http://siiwonline.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=105520

Obviously not knowing anything more than what I read ikn the newspapers, I can't overlook the contrast between a New Leader principal who "went heroically wrong" after an unrelenting focus on instruction and achievement, in contrast to the New York Times article you linked in your last post. That grad of an elite training program supposedly has turned around a hardcore school in the Bronx, but he did so through restoring discipline and order. Ask teachers who they will follow, and overwhelmingly we'll support the leader with the guts to restore order. Ask teachers whether we have more faith in instruction as the focus of school reform or whether we should first restore credibility, and again the vote will be overwhelming.

I also couldn't help but notice the contrast between the Times principal who asked everyone what he could do to help and who demonstrated respect for everyone with the NPR report on Michelle Rhee decribing how she rushes into schools without even saying hello to the security guards.

thanks for your insights, john.
i'm not saying that other principals always do better, or that i could do it.
or that it's always about restoring discipline.
just that we need to make sure that the ideas that sound good -- TFA, new leaders -- are good. in this case, to me that means getting and keeping jobs as well as doing good things while there. no word so far from NL about their view on things, not that they need to respond necessarily.

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