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Educational leadership and mission creep?

As President of Teachers College, Columbia University1, Dr. Susan Fuhrman recently faced criticism on two fronts. First, there was significant criticism (and even a quiet protest at graduation) over the decision to award the TC Medal of Distinguished Service to New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. According to one petition to stop this award,

As Chancellor, Tisch has committed New York State’s public schools to high stakes testing, and has personally advocated for standardized test scores to be used for promotion, school closures, and teacher bonuses. These policies are devastating our schools and the teaching profession.

Additionally, and more directly, Fuhrman was criticized for her role as a member of the board of Pearson, the mega education corporation that generates huge amounts of revenue as a direct result of the emphasis on standards and accountability. Pearson is viewed by many as the enemy of public education.

To her credit, Fuhrman addressed these concerns in a memo to the TC community. Yet, many in the TC community still question Furhman’s decisions as the leader of an institution committed to public education “demonstrated through its commitment to social justice, its respectful and vibrant community and its encouragement and support of each individual in the achievement of his or her full potential.”

Like Teachers College, the USC Rossier School of Education is widely considered one of the top schools of education in the United States. Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher is the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education. She is a very well-respected Dean of this highly ranked institution whose mission ”is to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally and globally.”

USC Rossier and their Dean have engaged in some “interesting” arrangements and partnerships recently that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. USC Rossier became the first school of education to offer a fully online Master of Arts in Teaching degree.  This degree program is offered in partnership with 2U, the company formerly known as 2Tor, Inc.  The Executive Chairman of 2U, and one of its founders, is John Katzman.  Katzman has a long history in the for-profit education sector, which mostly started when he founded Princeton Review. Katzman recently penned a piece for the Huffington Post in which he outlines his vision for bringing free market choices to education.
  2. Dr. Gallagher, the Dean of USC Rossier, recently accepted a position on the new advisory board of Amplify, an education technology company headed by Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Schools. Amplify is an education division of the News Corporation which is owned and operated by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is a well-known critic of teachers unions and public education.
  3. The Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals (GREAT) Act is a bill that would dramatically reshape teacher preparation  and lower the standards for entry into the teacher preparation market. According to Anthony Cody,

The bill boasts support from the New Schools Venture Fund, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand For Children, Teach For America, TNTP, NCTQ and many more “reformers.” … This bill reflects groundwork that has been laid by Gates Foundation-funded non-profit advocacy and policy groups such as the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has been highly critical of our nation’s schools of education.

So, USC Rossier and its Dean have strongly associated themselves with individuals and organizations deeply committed to efforts to privatize public education.

On one hand, they should be applauded for not standing still and for engaging in efforts that may not even be in the best interests of the organization itself (see e.g. move #3 above).  On the other hand, while each decision individually may be justifiable, collectively, they start to raise some questions about mission creep.

Ultimately, for me, these developments raise questions I’ve been asking lately about the obligations of leaders of organizations as representatives of the organization as a community with a particular mission.  These questions are related to questions I’ve been asking about whether or not schools of education can or even should be engaged in advocacy work, even if it is clearly related to the mission of the school.

I’m eager to hear from my fellow education professors about this. How would you feel if your school of education and your Dean did what USC Rossier and Dean Gallagher have done? And, to the K-12 educators who might read this (both of you!), how would you feel if your principal or superintendent engaged directly in partnerships with individuals and organizations that you think are in opposition to your own personal and professional values?

  1. NOTE: I am an alumnus of Teachers College, having earned by Ph.D. there in 2004. I did not sign any petitions []

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4 Responses to “Educational leadership and mission creep?”

  1. Stuart Ciske says:

    Interesting points. As a state department of education worker, we get inundated with offers for “partnering” from many companies, vendors, institutes and programs. I am glad to say we only partner with those that very closely align with our department mission and can provide a statewide benefit or targeted benefit that fits our goals.

    I personally would question any close association or partnering with an outside entity that does not reflect our agency mission, especially if an agency leader was appointed to a BoD. While one can applaud for not standing still, does one deserve applause if the direction taken is at odds with the longstanding mission and goals of a said school, department or university?

    For me, academia is (once was?) a last bastion of independent thinking and “sifting and winnowing” as we say here in Wisconsin. These entanglements do bother me as it appears Schools of Ed are now more about chasing dollars and advocating ideas more than seeking answers to our problems.

  2. Paul R. Wood says:

    It bothers me to see any institution being about “chasing dollars” than what is best for students/children. Sure you have to make money to grow and continue but at the cost of crossing over and flattening your mission? Methinks too many double standards. I think it is important to stay true to your mission along with the companies you align yourself with as Stuart says above. Somewhere we need to stand firm.

  3. Scott McLeod says:

    When I saw the announcement about the GREAT Act, I wondered “Why on earth would USC education faculty support a bill that essentially gets rid of colleges of education?”

    I know that there are many Teachers College faculty that are diametrically opposed to what President Fuhrman is doing. So far they have been unsuccessful with their opposition.

  4. Jenny says:

    As one of your K-12 readers, this is an interesting question. Especially when considered about a principal or superintendent. When I’m honest, I think if I liked and respected that person I would probably be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt if they formed such a partnership. If I didn’t like them I would probably be immediately pissed off. Does that play out when considering Ed schools? Does one’s previous feelings towards the school or dean factor into one’s response?

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