Gypsy Principals, Gypsy Supers, and Engrenage: 3 More Superb Things to Know

Education reform doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Unfortunately, we will have to know what doesn’t work and why before we can get to what I call ed reform for growth. Changes in instructional policies and practices that can get us back to widespread literacy (hint we aren’t actually even trying to teach reading effectively) and create graduates who have knowledge and skills employers actually want to pay them for. Or who can create their own jobs because they have the spirit of genuine innovation and the deep expertise to fuel it. Maybe then we can look back on these dark days of the Common Core Deception and laughingly play a new game.

I’m calling it the “You knew you had a Gypsy Principal when [ Fill in the blank]. I’ll start. You know you have a Gypsy Principal when they announce at their first meeting with parents that they are there to be a Change Agent. And then in almost the same breath, they mention “while I am here.” In other words, they are just passing through to impose radical change in classroom practices and to gut the transmission of the cultural knowledge of the ages. No sticking around long term to deal with the real consequences of such mind arson. The willingness to impose such policies and practices on a school then becomes the resume empowering stepping stone to a bigger school or a central office job. More money. Bigger title. And once you become a vision enforcer at these central offices committed to change, layoffs due to budget shortfalls are for the classroom teachers. You have successfully joined the protected class of visionary, enforcing, overcompensated for what you know and do, bureaucrats.

There is a slight variation of this game we can see in school districts all over the US. ” You know you have a Gypsy Super when [ . . .]” For the Gypsy Super version you look at the instructional practices and philosophy of the school district they are coming from. Then compare it with what was going on in the school district that just hired them. Usually based on a sales pitch to the school board where the candidate miraculously Knew Just the Right Things to Say to fit with the Board’s current concerns. The previous school district will always have a more radical version of outcomes-based education (OBE) than the new school district. The old district thus provides the operational game plan for what is about to happen to the schools, teachers, and taxpayers.

Like it or not. Consensual or not. Unappreciated, ambiguous, misunderstood terms like “effective schools” or “continuous improvement” abound. Not known to the school board. But a required understanding and commitment to act for anyone with an advanced education degree. Especially an Educational Leadership doctorate. Created specifically to be in a position to enact the John Dewey/Professor Bode political vision for education.

So here are some specific examples of the Gypsy Super phenomenon. Please feel free to leave comments or send me a covert email if you have a district or super you think also qualifies. These are just examples I currently have my eye on where I have read the plans in the home districts and new districts. Fulton County, Georgia and Cobb County, Georgia (large school districts in the metro Atlanta area) hire new supers from Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Dallas, Texas. Looking at those districts we can see the practices and policies that made up Transitional OBE in the old William Spady/Spence Rogers template from the 90s. New names. Broken Up but still same function and overall outcomes.

So what happens then in Charlotte and Dallas? Well, miraculously enough, if we look at Washoe County, Nevada (Reno) we find a plan where Charlotte’s new Super laid out the vision, mission, Core Beliefs, and Theory of Action. All together it looks strikingly like the Transformational form of OBE from the 90s. Likewise, when we read the new Dallas Super’s Destination 2020 Plan from May 10, 2012 we find much of the same plans we just saw in Washoe. And the announcement this is to be transformational. And the reliance on principals to be the adopters and enforcers of these reforms on classroom teachers. In fact the Dallas plan says principals only have ONE YEAR to prove they can move teachers to a student centered approach. And the super came from Colorado Springs which had a more radical version of OBE than Dallas already in place.

Colorado school districts always do. It was where the various forms of OBE were piloted in the 80s and 90s. It has the ed lab, McREL, which hatches and renames many of the OBE core principles. Especially when notoriety strikes. It also has something called the Colorado Partnership for Educational Renewal that also drives radical views for politicizing the purpose of education.

And engrenage? I borrowed that new to me but most excellent term from a British think tank worried about the piecemeal steps that together shut down economic growth in the name of maybe, possibly, influencing the environment. Radical ed reform in the US is based on changing the nature of our economy so I have to keep my eye on Green Growth as well. Lucky me. They define engrenage as gearing. It is the process by which a body, local, state, national, or international, racks up laws or policies or regulations that appear separate and stand alone and harmless on their own. They actually fit though perfectly with other measures also being adopted. You end up with something you would never have gone along with if you could have seen the whole picture.

The whole picture I operate from since I have the guidebook. Transformational OBE presented itself under its own name in the 90s. The popular outcry prevented the adoption in the US although it did get adopted in other countries then. It’s back under new names and pieces, engrenage style. Being pushed and adopted by Gypsy Supers and their cooperating Gypsy Principals.

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