Last week, the Sun-Times published an Op-Ed I wrote which pointed out the faults of the new CPS Independent Schools Principal (ISP) program, which will free some principals from oversight by CPS network chiefs. Networks are the subdivisions by which CPS divides and manages principals and their schools.
CPS’ chief education officer, Janice Jackson, responded to the Op-Ed in the Monday Letters section. I’ve heard good things about Ms. Jackson from people I respect. They tell me she listens well and is uncommonly candid. Unfortunately, her response does not reflect those qualities.
The Emanuel administration has several distinct strategies it uses to respond to its critics. The one used most often is one I refer to as the replace-the-critique tactic. It goes as follows:
- They completely ignore the legitimate argument made by the critic.
- They create a weak parallel argument against the mayor.
- They create the illusion of rebutting their critics by rebutting their own anemic parallel argument.
They use this strategy relentlessly with the press. Unfortunately, most reporters never notice or address the switch.
The rebuttal attributed to Jackson kept so close to the replace-the-critique strategy that I wondered which overpaid waste-of-tax-dollars staffer in the Emanuel press office contributed to the essay. Each argument they rebutted was an argument of their own creation, and had little to do with the critique I put forth.
For example, in her replace-the-critique rebuttal Jackson stated she believes her “conversations with many principals interested in the ISP program” is a sign of the appeal of this program. However, I never argued the program doesn’t have “appeal.” I argued that it is bad for the system as a whole. Indeed, I know several principals who are jumping at the chance to apply for the program in order to leave their networks. However most of them cite overbearing and incompetent network leadership as the source of the problem; not network affiliation itself. Ms. Jackson did not consider the possibility that principals’ interest in the ISP program is a testament to the failure of several of CPS’ own appointed network leaders. The solution to this situation is to ensure that skilled and competent educators lead networks–not to entice effective principals to leave those networks while principals who need support are left with the least effective network leaders in the system. I happen to belong to a network with a chief who consistently creates opportunities for principals to learn from one another. Every network should have such a skilled and competent leader.
In her second replace-the-critique rebuttal Jackson states, “The strongest components of the ISP program seem to have been missed entirely” by my op-ed. She then points out that ISP principals will be brought together in a professional learning community to learn from other ISP principals. In response I respectfully redirect the chief education officer to the text of my essay because it appears as if she “missed entirely” the strongest component of the argument against this program. It clearly and explicitly states, CPS’ approach to principals segregates “the top performers from the colleagues who need them most.” So while the “top performing” principals in the program may have an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack and learn from one another, the principals who have the most to learn will be cut off from ISP participants who have the most to teach.
If a majority of players on a football team complain about their coach, you don’t respond by letting the five best players practice separately with someone from management. If practice is organized correctly, the best players on the team elevate the performance of everyone on the team. CPS’ problem is that many of its district leaders have no idea how to organize practice, or manage a team.
To be clear, my three main critiques of the ISP program are:
- The program does not appear to offer increased autonomy (see first op-ed).
- The program side-steps the problem of incompetent network leadership by giving a few principals freedom from that leadership, while keeping the leadership in place for everyone else.
- The program separates struggling principals from the colleagues they need the most.
In summary, CPS’ administration did a good job rebutting their own criticisms of themselves, but they have yet to prove effective at rebutting mine.
Again, to anyone concerned about the overall health of our system, the ISP program makes no sense; and neither does the administration’s “rebuttal.”