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Education Wed Mar 23 2011

The Core Principles of Terry Mazany

Could you blame the interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Terry Mazany, for looking forward to the end of his tenure? CPS cannot be a pleasant place to be. Families are leaving the system; federal rules have hamstrung decision making; an ideological war between pro-privatization and pro-public schools advocates uses it as a battleground. When Mazany was appointed by Mayor Daley after Huberman's somewhat sudden resignation, I questioned the appropriateness of the choice, given his limited background in school administration and lack of classroom experience.

As of right now, I think Mr. Mazany has proven me wrong. While not much time has passed, he's shown moxie and thoughtfulness, acknowledging the shock to the system caused by "silver bullet" solutions like Renaissance 2010 and wedding accountability to meaningful standards, not just high-stakes tests.

Of particular interest to me is this outlining of principles Mazany provided in a PowerPoint

presentation to the school board; you can find an image of it here at Substance:

Principle #1: Increases in student learning occur only as a consequence of improvements in the level of content, teachers' knowledge and skill, and student engagement.

Principle #2: If you change on element of the instructional core, you have to change the other two.

Principle #3: If you can't see it in the core, it's not there.

Principle #4: Task predicts performance.

Principle #5: The real accountability system is in the tasks that students are asked to do.

Principle #6: We learn to do the work by doing the work.

Principle #7: Description before analysis, analysis before prediction, prediction before evaluation.

Some of these are kind of management theory-y sounding so escape me; but in general these principles are promising, and point away from high-stakes testing and quantitative measures and towards qualitative, practical, and comprehensive measures. The hard drive to be teaching to tests to create some kind of facsimile of accountability arguably does more to undermine the quality of education than either the supposedly arthritic union rules or the imputedly reckless privatizaton schemes. When more reasonable, and more importantly more accurate, standards are developed, the hardening positions of both sides of the debate can start to soften, and a real exchange can displace cutthroat attacks.

Without necessarily approving of all his policy positions (mostly because I don't know them all), Mr. Mazany deserves praise for this re-orientation; and at the very least a tip of the hat for taking on such a thankless damn job.

Disclosure: The Chicago Community Trust funds the Community News Matters grant along with the John S. and James L. Knight foundation. Gapers Block is a grantee. Mr. Mazany was the CEO of the Trust at the time of his appointment.

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