Ravitch v. Rhee Fills Summer Lull

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In the quiet days of August, after summer school ends and before principals return to work, followers of education issues and news found it a good time to rehash ongoing debates, ourselves included.

WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show re-aired interviews from leaders of different schools of thought regarding education reform. First up, Michelle Rhee, the former Washington schools chancellor and the founder of Students First, on the occasion of starting a New York chapter, studentsfirstNY. You can hear the interview here:

Next, the show aired a taped interview with Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and author. The discussion focuses on school performance and the frustration some teachers feel about standardized testing. You can hear it here:

The Rhee versus Ravitch showdown also appeared on CNN this week. In an interview, Ms. Rhee decried the results of a study that ranked the United States 25th in education internationally and said one of the most important fixes to education was to improve teacher quality.

But, in an online rebuttal, Ms. Ravitch argued that the rankings did not take into account the most serious factor affecting performance.

Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations. As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Ms. Rhee does say in the interview that there is a "very significant digital divide in this country. We can't allow kids who have more resources to do better academically and those who are worse off to be lower performing."

In more local news, Jie Zhang was named the interim acting principal at Stuyvesant High School at the beginning of this week.

As Al Baker reported, she replaced Stanley Teitel who resigned last week amid a continuing cheating inquiry.

Ms. Zhang said that cheating was “not acceptable” and that she would not tolerate it. She also said she would enforce the existing policy that bars students from taking cellphones into school. She did not elaborate on what measures she would take, but students have said the school has had a relaxed attitude toward the citywide cellphone ban in schools, allowing students to bring them inside as long as they do not openly use them.

“It is my expectation for my children to have integrity,” Ms. Zhang said, “and that is what I will expect of Stuy students.”

Gothamist reported on Thursday a disturbing find. Students' medical records and report cards were left on the curb outside Public School 316 Elijah Stroud. The report says the pile of documents found behind the Prospect Heights school included "medical, test, attendance and transfer records dating back to the late 1970s." The maintenance crew cleaning out the school denied any knowledge of how the papers ended up unshredded, curbside.

"We don't know anything about it," one worker told Gothamist. Another added, "For damn sure we don't know anything about it!"

Don't forget that SchoolBook has updated its schools data, and the pages for all public schools now have the latest available information. That includes:

Grades 3-8 English language arts and math scores for 2012
Parent survey results
2011 Regents exam results
2011 graduation rates
2011 SAT scores
2011-12 official public school enrollment, broken down by race.

Because these numbers changed, so did the SchoolBook indexes, which rate schools on a 1-9 scale for performance, satisfaction and diversity. You can find out how the indexes are derived in our “Behind the Numbers” post and in our Frequently Asked Questions section.