The New York City Public Schools have achieved an important milestone — As of the past school year, seven out of 10 students graduated from high school.
Considering that little more than half a decade ago the graduation rate in New York City, was barely 50 percent this is a remarkable achievement reflecting improved present academic performance and future standard of living for tens of thousands of students. New York City is the nation’s largest school district. Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña should be congratulated for achieving such success.
Looking to the future, we must acknowledge that the hardest work is still ahead of us. As compared to the 70 percent who graduate who are largely female, white and Asian, the 30 percent who fail to graduate are largely male, African Americans and Latinos.
Designing systems and strategies that will enable these students to graduate as well is a challenge on par with the Manhattan Project. It will take the best available talents from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to solve.
In other words, the New York City Department of Education is an organization perfectly designed to graduate 70 percent of its students. Those who suggest that simply doing more of the same since it’s working don’t understand the nature of organizations. Doing the same thing in the hopes of achieving better results is what the Education Dept. did for years to little effect. It’s now time for a significant overhaul if we’re ever to graduate 100 percent of our youngsters with some sort of postsecondary learning possibilities.
Here are some suggestions to consider for a school system redesign:
- Reward success and penalize failure. Giving failed schools more money violates this basic principle of effective organizational redesign.
- Failed organizations don’t reinvent themselves. That’s equally true in the private sector. Blanketly ruling out school closings is a serious mistake.
- Make everyone responsible and accountable for student success. No other metric matters
- Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.
- Rather than combine schools, we need to create more new schools. No other strategy in the last ten years has yielded more effective student learning results.
- Reduce teacher load. Teacher teaming and blended instruction are but two successful approaches that will accomplish this.
- Partner with the private sector by encouraging them to establish more successful schools for our children. Competition breeds innovation.
- Reform the central office. Schools cannot reform themselves until central does their business differently and stops micromanaging them.
These eight suggestions do not represent the only way to create a new school system structure capable of succeeding with all students. But they do represent a good start. It’s past time to begin this work.
Eric Nadelstern is a professor of practice in educational leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University and former New York City deputy chancellor for school support and instruction under Bloomberg.