Bureaucrats who can’t be trusted around children

In the annals of amazing young musicians, Avery Gagliano is making herself quite the niche.

In the annals of timid, heartless school administrators who think the purpose of students is to be abused with idiotic rules, and preen about “zero-tolerance” policies that take plastic knives away from eight-year-olds and suspend first-graders, this is some kind of new low, and deserves note.  Jemea Goso, are you are just personally clueless and heartless? More likely the cowards you report to, who won’t take responsibility for this, have nailed your feet to the floor so you can’t do your job.

You would all be merely ludicrous, if you weren’t dangerous to kids.

Update 9/IX:  DCPS has quite a different version of events. My instinct (no more than that at present) is that they are having an elevator-video moment of reflection and damage control since the Dvorak story was published, but it’s possible Dvorak just pooched the story and the family didn’t tell tell her the truth. These versions cannot both be true.

Update 10/IX: Dvorak replies.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Bureaucrats who can’t be trusted around children”

  1. There's no bureaucrat like an education bureaucrat! I'm reminded of Robert Maynard Hutchins's famous comment, still as true as ever: "Academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so small." Small comfort to learn that it's as true in middle school as it is in colleges and universities.

    1. And we (where by "we" I mean the ostensible public will as express by the deeply corrupt set of laws and regulations surrounding public education in the US) are only making things harder. If that young virtuoso's test scores don't contribute to a precise year-over-year improvement in the school's standardized test scores, the principal, administrators and many of the teachers at her school could be fired. (Even though absolute levels for schools in my state, Vermont, are pretty decent, the requirement for perpetual improvement means that — according to education department estimates — every school in the state will be classed as "failing" by 2017.)

  2. There’s a legend about the first day of school of Carl Friedrich Gauss, that shows how it should be done. The kids are aged seven or eight, and are supposed to have already learned at dame school to read, write and do simple addition. The teacher checks this – they all say, yes Sir, we can add up. So he tells them to add the numbers from 1 to 100. (So far this is terrible teaching, designed to put the poor kids in their place and establish his authority as alpha male). They take their slates and settle to it, squeak squeak. After ten minutes or so young Gauss lays down his slate, and folds his arms. The teacher warns him not to fool around. No Sir, I have worked it out, Sir, really. A the end of the hour the teacher collects the slates. All but one are of course wrong. Gauss has got it right : the method is to fold the series in two, 1 to 50, 51 to 100, and match them up: 1 +100, 2+99 etc. He has even written out the general formula. At this point the bad teacher becomes a good one. He recognizes that he has been gifted not a bright child, but a one-in-ten-million great talent, takes him aside for spacial coaching, and hands him on quite soon when he has taught all he knows.

    It’s a legend, that is improved history. It’s not likely that it all happened in one day, but it is certain that the genius of the son of a village carpenter was recognized and nurtured. It could so easily have gone the other way, and it is to be feared that it very often does. For every Gauss, Picasso and Avery, there are several equal talents smothered by jealousy and ignorance.

  3. The WAPO article says "Unfortunately, Avery’s parents can’t afford private school tuition."

    Here's a recommendation for Avery's parents:

    (1) Make a list of the ten best private schools in DC, Bethesda, and Silver Spring.
    (2) Take each of them a copy of the package you made up for Deal, documenting Avery's achievements and academics.
    (3) Go home and enjoy a good lunch while you wait for the doorbell to start ringing.
    (4) Soon you will be visited by Headmasters and Admission Officers, carrying recruiting brochures and scholarship offers. They will probably also be offering other off-the-books inducements.

    That's the way it works for star athletes, and in the culturally enlightened area where Avery lives, it will work just as well for her.

  4. Look at it from Jemea Goso’s point of view. If they allow one internationally acclaimed piano prodigy to accrue ten unexcused absences, they will have to allow every internationally acclaimed musical prodigy to do the same thing, and then where are you?

  5. M O'H – The story may not be exactly as reported by WaPo. See here: http://dcist.com/2014/09/kaya_henderson_responds_….

    As a fellow Berkeley resident, currently with a kid at the high school, I can attest that this sort of mechanical decisionmaking is not unique to that school system. After a handful of unexcused tardies (which are sometimes the result of teacher error or a sub who doesn't know the students), we get a letter from BHS informing us that our daughter is officially truant, citing specific state law that we're in violation of, and mandating that we come to a meeting at the school. As we did with our son, we ignore it, and there's never been any further consequence. If I remember right, this was an initiative of our current AG, Kamala Harris. And of course it makes no distinction between kids being tardy because they have to walk across a large campus and kids who are perenially absent because they're hanging out by the BART station. Because that would open the door to segregation, racism, classism, and all the other isms where it's really hard to truly solve the underlying problems but easy to write rules that apply the same mechanical rigid formulas to everyone.

  6. On the update: the official statement doesn't really hold together. If the absences were properly excused in the first place, there would have been no automated letter to send (assuming that that's what happened) because there would have been no 10 unexcused absences. So at the very most charitable, someone completely neglected to send through some really obvious, simple paperwork.

    For me the crucial tell is "We believed our communication with the family as recently as August 25 clarified that Avery’s absences had been excused." If you're still clarifying last year's attendance situation — and whether you're going to be prosecuting the family for it — at the end of August, then that does not bode at all well for the same set of issue in the coming year.

    And the victim-blaming and utter lack of remorse — we did everything right, the family simply misunderstood us and didn't tell us about their plans, and the reporter lied about what we did and used the wrong terminology — suggest that going back without a lawyer on retainer would be really unwise.

  7. I don't think there's any solid evidence that any bureaucrat refused to excuse the girl's absences, only that an automated system failed to recognize them as excused. If you want to blame the school district, blame them for not entering the right data in a timely way. This job was probably left to some inexperienced clerk who didn't know how to handle it.

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