The “Leadership Academies” – a blog by Ron Isaac

He writes:

Ron Isaac posted this message on Basecamp.

Is the Leadership Academy Blessedly Doomed?

Would you rather have open-chested heart message practiced on you by a 25 year-old ambitious ex- sales associate whose surgical credentials consisted of a few weeks’ crash course, a glance into a “Cutting Open People For Dummies” manual and the nod of a mentor whose medical background featured pail-emptying duty in a nursing home, or would you prefer a duly-trained physician with hands-on experience in an operating room? 


Would you treat your loved ones to an airline flight through an electrical storm at 30,000 feet on a plane piloted by a hobbyist whose “wings” were awarded from a crackerjack box after a simulated aviation ride in an amusement park? 

Ridiculous? But no more absurd than what has become the Department of Education’s routine and favored means of principal recruitment in the last 10 years or so since it launched the abominable Leadership Academy ( a.k.a. Leadership Infirmary ). 

Young adults, typically with no prior supervisory experience and often after a less than three-year stint as a teacher, are thrust into leadership roles of high responsibility and almost total power. The DOE does not insist that these recruits possess credentials in school administration. 
And the Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principals Program (APP) ( the principal of the Far Rockaway school, whose allegedly monstrous exploits have been exposed in newspaper reports, is an alumnus) evaluates their trainees on a “Pass or Fail” basis.  They will judge their future subordinates, however, on an unreliable “value-added measure” of data that is vastly more stringent and unforgiving. 

These elite Leadership Academy cadets are, let the record show, required to stick out a course of study that is about as long as an average annual vacation.  Some of them may be guided, in part, by real or imagined idealism. They either are quite fresh out of college or, bored and restless after plugging away at some unrelated job, may be answering the call of curiosity to check out the burgeoning “be my guest…anybody can do it” profession of education. 

The Leadership Academy has made principalships an entry-level job. It’s existence may be the most egregious example of the abrogation of standards in city government. 

Instead of having any background in an academic specialty, child psychology, teaching methods and curriculum, scheduling and programming, budgeting, or relationship skills, the majority of these awesomely unsophisticated Leadership Academy graduates are appointed straight and cold to the helm of a school. 

And they often do so with a chip on their shoulder and a lust to conquer the thriving culture of the school. It’s bad enough that these principals are usually so transparently immature, they have been indoctrinated by the Leadership Academy into being defensive, even proud of being blank slates. As consenting adults they tend to join the cult of “reform”, with its strictly enforced set of mandated beliefs. 

The main pillar of wisdom, as it has been drummed into them, is that veteran educators are defenders of “business as usual,” that tradition is rooted, indeed synonymous with dysfunction, that the legacy of unionism has corrupted their motivation, and that they are enemies of that cure-all and very lucrative magic known as “reform” . This philosophy has bludgeoned public education mercilessly. 

When a people have the humility and enough awareness to realize that they are ignorant, it can go a long way to correcting the damage from original error.  But it takes the kind of individuality and strength of character that the Leadership Academy immunizes its participants against. It “protects” them from self-criticism, and when they take over as principal, this comfort zone is never violated by the DOE, which unconditionally backs even those principals who have made learning nonviable, murdered staff morale, estranged parents and crashed their schools into the gutter. 

The Leadership Academy is an extravagant waste of money and a major cause of catastrophic attrition in the ranks of master teachers. Their rate of retirement, discharge or transfer is at least triple that from schools that have not been saddled with a Leadership Academy principal. 

Hardly any current principals were on the job a decade ago. Institutional memory is rapidly fading. And the price of imposing these new brainwashed and battle-virgin principals, at full salary, on hundreds of tiny newly created schools is prohibitive. But the fiscal tag is dwarfed by the astronomical cost to quality education. The sacrifice of educational opportunity is a very tangible expense. 

There are Leadership Academy graduates of, having their own mind, are stellar, and there have always been tradition-bound principals who have been dismal. But both are exceptional and neither contradicts the rule. 

Chancellor Farina has identified “joy” as a key to effective learning and all-around fairness as the watchword of management. They are impossible dreams unless the Leadership Academy is abolished. Mayor DeBlasio can score a monumental victory by blasting the Leadership Academy from the landscape of public education once and for all. 

Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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