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A distorted perspective.

We write in response to Maisie McAdoo's account of the New York Annenberg Challenge ("Buying School Reform: The Annenberg Grant," January), lest its distorted perspective and erroneous data mislead Kappan readers. We write because we are researchers deeply involved with the small schools movement in New York City, and we were appalled by McAdoo's representation of reform New York style.

The experience that McAdoo cited of starting a school in the New York City school system is an anomaly and represents a worst-case scenario. For more than 25 years, New York City teachers and other educators and stakeholders have created new small schools. Well over 100 of them now exist. Most were begun six years ago, but together they have received the support of eight chancellors, three board of education presidents, three mayors, and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

The board of education and local districts have passed resolutions creating these schools and have funded their development. Collaboration with the UFT allowed the new small schools to hire teachers appropriate to their mission. In fact, the change in teacher hiring is now a school-based option for all schools in the city and one of the most innovative hiring policies in the nation.

Very few of these schools have failed. In fact, over the last 15 years, many of them have regularly appeared in media features about the city's best public schools and have been profiled on the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour as schools that work. McAdoo's account correctly points out that, despite good intentions, not everyone can start a school; that schools can't be started under just any conditions; and that starting a school is a lot harder than many think.

McAdoo writes that the New York Networks for School Renewal (NYNSR) sponsors assigned schools to their networks. Our research indicates that 50% of the networks were formed independently by the schools themselves. In other cases, there were varying degrees of negotiation between schools and sponsors. The network idea is highly innovative, and the fact that there is a range of school knowledge and capacity among the networks in the project is a demonstration of the project's commitment to equity. Not only the most innovative schools are represented in the project, but rather a cross section that more closely represents the city's schools.

Indeed, if there are lessons to be learned from this project, then it is most important that this developmental range be represented. Having a reform movement with only cutting-edge schools is no great accomplishment, leaves no deep impact, and has dubious replication value. What is significant about the networking is that schools are inventing and relying on the possibilities of networks and using them in ways that meet their varying needs, whether to transcend principal isolation, to engage in cross-school peer reviews to improve instructional quality and student performance, to develop standards for student achievement, or to provide a cohesive internal structure for the restructuring work of large schools.

Finally, there is the issue of systemwide change. The NYNSR Annenberg Challenge represents a school-by-school, network-by-network, bottom-up approach to systemwide change. Compare New York to other cities, in which you find mostly top-down approaches. The New York reform stems from the successes of many schools and many school-based reformers, it has been expanded to other schools less advanced in their journey, and it argues for a differentiated school system that is consistent with the ideas of the current chancellor and his deputies. It builds on the wisdom and experience of practitioners who have a successful track record with some of the most vulnerable students in the school system. As a school-by-school, network-by-network reform, it embraces and respects local context and autonomy, ensuring that New York's diverse local communities are to varying degrees actively engaged in the education of their children.

Has the project provoked a debate with others in the system? Of course. Has it raised uncomfortable questions of power, control, school autonomy, standards, quality, access, and school size? Of course. But aren't these questions that deserve public debate, systemwide review, and careful analysis? Has the debate gotten hot at times? Of course. Has it generated conflict? Of course. Otherwise, it wouldn't be real change; otherwise, the public would not be informed. This is, indeed, the democratic way. - Norm Fruchter, Institute for Education & Social Policy, New York University; Nancy Barnes, Lang College; Michelle Fine, Graduate Center, City University of New York; Jacqueline Ancess, Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, Suzanna Ort, and Martha Rodriguez, National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Pedro Pedraza and Melissa Rivera, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY.
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Title Annotation:response to Maisee McAdoo, 'Phi Delta Kappan,' January 1998, p. 364
Author:Fruchter, Norm; Barnes, Nancy; Fine, Michelle; Ancess, Jacqueline; Henning-Piedmonte, Valerie; Ort,
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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