Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cashing Out On A Golden Opportunity

Nobody was hoping more for a successful launch of the Kriner Cash era at Memphis City Schools than we were; however, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s stumbled out of the gate.

The greatest evidence of this is that at a time when the message should be about philosophy and priorities, it is instead about people and patronage.

It was only two weeks ago that we asked how Superintendent Cash would invest the good will from his honeymoon period. He’s perilously close to squandering this golden opportunity to effectively communicate his vision for the district and to create support for his strategies.

Miami Mafia

Instead, we’ve seen time spent explaining why he’s bringing someone from Miami with a controversial past to run security for the schools and to set up a district police department, a preconceived – not to mention expensive - program in search of a justification.

We’ve seen the creation of several positions paying more than $100,000, which is now attracting the attention of some county commissioners critical of raises in Shelby County Schools.

We’ve seen the salary for the head of security increased about $65,000 and the head of academic affairs increased more than $35,000.

We’ve seen the district athletic director removed despite an overwhelmingly positive review, spurring the school grapevine to work overtime on possible reasons for the appointment with most of the betting centering on it being an effort to send a Valentine to Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton.


We can’t attest to the accuracy of such swirling reports at the district, but if there was a dollar for ever rumor there these days, Memphis City Schools could make up the cut in its budget by Memphis City Council. We can attest to the fact that in the public sector, if you are spending your time explaining why you did something, you are losing ground. Right now, Supt. Cash is losing an awful lot of ground, and more importantly, he’s losing the most precious thing he has – time – time when he should be introducing his approach and unveiling his plans to the community.

We’re sure he’s got a crowded schedule, speaking to group after group and to people wanting to plead their case. While it’s tempting to feel that you are getting your message out, it’s worth remembering that the number of viewers of television news on just one channel on one night is greater than every one he’s spoken to since his arrival.

Inside the district, despite rhetoric about accountability and transparency, little seems changed, and it appears that he’ll have to deliver this message with a sledge hammer to change the culture of the central office. Although the district continues to horde public data and to base funding priorities on race and political considerations, we think it’s too early to be dismayed, because the new superintendent does in fact seem firmly committed to two crucial traits – accountability and transparency - that need to be injected into Memphis City Schools from top to bottom.

Numbers Games

Meanwhile, this week, the Tennessee Department of Education engaged in its annual defrauding of the public with its news release about improving state schools. Part of the report dealt with Memphis, saying that 119 Memphis schools are in “good standing,” belying the fact that there was no mention of how many are not meeting state benchmarks and are hidden in the safe harbor designation provided by No Child Left Behind.

The city schools district said the number of schools in safe harbor won’t be released by the state until November, and it’s hard to imagine that officials there don’t have some idea of the number now. After all, they have the option of appealing the findings.

The primary question to us is whether the state reduced the number of questions that had to be answered correctly for students to be considered “proficient.” It’s our understanding that there were some decreases, pointing out again that proficiency is defined by the state in a way that’s at odds with any other common understanding of the word. Essentially, Tennessee Department of Education considers anyone who can make about a D on the test to be proficient.

Spinning The Results

Tennessee Department of Education has claimed – with a straight face, no less - that our state’s students are among the top 5 in the 50 states in eighth grade math and reading, fourth grade reading and math, and high school reading.

It’s an incredible claim, especially when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) ranks Tennessee #40 and puts its percentage of proficient students in the range of about 25 per cent (compared to about 90% according to state education officials).

Regardless, this week’s results were hardly a cause for celebration, so we’re pleased that this year, Memphis City Schools’ reaction was more calibrated than in previous years. It was good news that 11 schools were removed from high priority status, it was good news that 20 high priority schools are improving, but it was bad news that nine fewer school were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and bad news that 18 more schools were targeted this year than last year (meaning that a total of 34 schools could be designated as high priority next year).

Getting The Message Right

One high-ranking wag at the city district had predicted last week that the results would not be damning, “because everybody in Nashville (at DOE) wants nothing to do with Memphis City Schools and if things got worse, they might actually have to do something here to help.” That said, we were encouraged that the disastrous interim superintendency of Dan Ward didn’t do more damage.

Right now, among many members of the media, the buzz on Superintendent Cash is turning negative with suggestions that “it’s looking like more of the same.” We’re unwilling to adopt this attitude, but we also are convinced that he needs to work on his message and work consistently to get it out.

Unless he does in the next 2-3 weeks, his all-too-short honeymoon will officially be over.


Anonymous said...

Here's what I didn't like about Cash. When he first got here a few weeks ago, he made some bombastic statement about bringing change. I just remember sitting there in front of my TV thinking "have we been so conditioned to pathetic politics and management, that we can't even recognize form from substance." Cash just seemed like a Herenton clone.

I get really tired of saying this, but goddamn, why do we always have to suck. We can't even pick a school superintendent.

Anonymous said...

In the CA report today regarding the firing of Weedon we hear from Dr. Cash that the problem ws the personnel records were incomplete, so he fired him. Rather than find out why others didn't do their job he fires the victim of the incompetence of others in the district.

Where do we go next??

Zippy the giver said...

Well, I guess we'll have to see what happens when the rubber meets the road and be prepared to FIRE him if the rubber doesn't meet the road, as we should be prepared to do with any civil servant, including MCS administration.
So, the state lowered the standards so that "stupid" is the new smart. That will come as good news to many of the total failures to be what was called for in their lives. We were already aiming low when "adequate" was good enough.
Man, I'm getting so tired of fighting to get that mess straightened out I'm about ready to "get in where you fit in" down there on Avery.
We might need the National Guard to go down there and tip them out of their chairs.

Zippy the giver said...

When are we going to wake up and realize that the state wants nothing to do with Memphis and that we are wholesale ignored?
When are we going to look at the reality on the ground that MCS SUCKS HARD, and that if MEMPHIS doesn't do something about it and take matters into MEMPHIS own hands about the accountability and low bar, NOTHING will be done?
Why are we still waiting on momma to come hold our hands or excuse our mess?
Memphis is a NATIONAL TRAVESTY that will not look into the mirror.

Every person in Memphis with clear thinking that knows what is really happening, make an appointment to go down there and speak with someone that can actually do something about the problems at MCS.
I think that when thousands of appointments show up on the calander, they will know we are willing to move our feet into the field of battle and that requires a commitment to do battle. I don't believe they are wiling to do battle with reason. I think they rely on fear, intimidation, and complacency.
They have to go!

Ed reformer said...

I've often wondered why the national media hasn't flocked to the bluff city to see for themselves what it is we're doing to get 9 out of 10 of our youngsters to master those pesky quadratic equations and timeless Shakespearean literary pieces - all the while, the rest of the states have difficulty getting just half of their pupils to gain such wisdom. Perhaps it's in the water - those pristine Artesian wells. If so, I should think the rest of the country would surely want some too.

Anonymous said...

The threat level coming from this blog is rather surprising. Give Cash time.

By the way, Cash only discovered that Weedon's personnel file was incomplete AFTER he fired the guy.

And now, knowing the truth, he has promised an investigation. It seems thaT MCS is more messed up than even Cash realized seeing as how he's been blindsided.

Smart City Consulting said...


We thought we were making the point that some of the culture that he's confronting will take time to change, but we were also making the point that he's wasting the most precious time that he'll ever have on things like Weedon.

It's time to focus on the big picture and not worry about people down in the bureaucracy and create the perception of cronyism and patronage in the first months of his leadership.

We're just strongly recommending that he get on message. THE real message.

Anonymous said...

Cash says he's all about accountability. How can you fire someone without even bothering to find out what the guy's evaluation was or asking the questions to get the right information? Didn't he know when he took the job that records at city schools are a shambles? Any way, why would you fire someone because his superiors didn't evaluate him, even if he thought that? There's something else going on here.

Anonymous said...

How's he spending all this money to bring in his friends from Miami while the schools are telling City Council they can't live without every dolar of their money.

Zippy the giver said...

Who he fires and how he fires them is up to him and he seems like a reasonable bloke, he's also got some pretty good consulting going on. I think he knows what he's doing.
There is more to the Wheedon thing than meets the eye. There is no way he would fire someone over a missing record unles , that being the ONLY reason, he would be fired.
Really, we're going to have to give the guy some time. The crap and culture down there is so evil and guileful that I doubt ghe has ever run into so much of it in one place. It's so bad that it's worse than any description that anyone has ever given it. It is actually unfathomably evil, corrupt, and hell bent on staying in power to the cost of all other things, it's already costy Memphis' children a quality education. How much more xenaphobic can a culture be, wait, I don't want to know, this is bad enough for me.
Too bad those "backyard personal nuclear weapons" were just a Saturday Night Live skit, because we may need one to get rid of them.
Wait till he realizes that he'll have to fire EVERYONE down there to make a lasting difference.
There is another way, but, I'm not telling yet.
When has the hype ever been true?

Melvis said...

MCS is failing miserably, I should know, I am a teacher. If you have not taught in a Memphis City school in the past 10 years- you really have no idea how much trouble our city is in. We are in deep doo-doo- code red.

The school I teach at actually changes the grades that teachers submit for report cards. They CHANGE the grades so that everyone passes. I am serious. This gives the students a free pass to the next grade- for which they are not academically prepared- which will result in failure.

These kids are the ones getting cheated, mostly by their own uneducated and uninvolved parents. Add an administration that does not really are about the well-being of the kids and you have a recipe for a lifetime of misery, Memphis. These kids will be adults soon, criminals soon (if not already), in jail soon.

I have no idea how to fix this mess after years of optimism and trying everything I can to help our city. Dr. Cash cannot fix this. Our city is in a crisis of severe magnitude. Ignore it and you are a fool. Ignorance is not bliss, it is ignorance.

Zippy the giver said...

I'd like to congratulate you on being smart enough and the first to break the code of silence regarding what teachers know about the internal workings of MCS.