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Senior editor of The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs Clara Hemphill examines the numbers-based evaluation of schools and offers proposals for improvement.
As a teacher for 25 years, Community School Board member (District 30) for 21 Years, and active parent of 2 former public school students, I agree with Diane Ravitch in her current evaluation of what Joel Klein is doing in NYC and Arne Duncan is attempting for the whole country. Read her latest book! Speak to knowledgeable parents whose opinions are ignored by Klein, and learn how schools cheat to get acceptable data.
When I was young my late mother was secretary at the nearby Methodist church. The kindergarten had a "bring your pet to school day" once a year, with a "best pet" contest. At the end of the day every pet won a blue ribbon: fuzziest coat, curliest tail, longest legs, loudest bark, and so forth. The kiddies were thrilled because they didn't know any better, but you have to wonder whether these grads are quite that naïve.
The numbers chase often corrupts the core mission of education. It forces administrators and staff to present everything in a favorable light. The substance of education has become slave to the "measurement" format. I work in NYC's District 75, a citywide district for students with the most severe cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities in the city. The vast majority of our students are "untestable". Most of our students are from the lowest socioeconomic rung of the ladder. We, as teachers, are asked routinely to fabricate "data" and tell a story about our students that is just not true. This bit of theater preserves jobs and pensions. The administration blames it on District 75 who blames it on Tweed who blames it on the State. Its a tremendous waste of staff time and taxpayer dollars when creating nonsense documents takes precedence over working together to deciding what we are going to teach and how we are going to teach it. I'm all for measurement, efficiency accountability but what we have now is absurd. Let's buckle down and work hard to get results for the students and families that we serve.
Your description of the school progress reports is fairly accurate in theory, but in practice the reality is much worse. Since peer groups are determined largely by test scores, nearly the entire progress report score ends up being dependent on test scores (not just the 40% or whatever the DOE officially says it is). If the tests are flawed, which they are, all the fancy statistics based on them are just as flawed, and the grades end up being nearly random. Also, the fact that they are based on only one year worth of data means that one good or bad result, be it how many students graduate in a given year or how they do on the global regents, or whatever, can end up having an enormous impact on the overall grade. It's a nice idea, maybe, but poorly executed.
I'm glad the problem with relying too heavily on test scores was mentioned. An excellent teacher in my school was denied tenure by the superintendent based on the scores of the eighth graders he taught last year for the three months before the test. This despite the fact that he is recognized by colleagues as an excellent teacher and the principal recommended him for tenure.
I think Diane Ravitch has been on the show saying that she now _opposes_ the Bloomberg/Klein testing regimen.
That testing scheme is exactly what you'd expect from not-very-creative wealthy individuals who measure everything by the numbers (dollars in their cases).
A British study (out of Cambridge, I think) has found that the Arne Duncan style testing approach just doesn't work. People find ways to work around them (like killing off under-performing grades). Teachers teach to the tests.
As for holding people accountable like professionals -- When was the last time somebody at WNYC was judged on the basis of test performance?
Was _anybody_ on Wall Street held accountable? Hell no! They were rewarded for corruption and incompetence.
The city is closing all kinds of specialized support programs, such as schools for students in detention, students returning from detention, and schools for pregnant and parenting students. And this is being done without increasing supports for these kinds of at-risk students in the regular schools that now have to take them in. This puts principals throughout the system under additional pressure without taking into account their efforts to educate these students with extensive needs. I’m all for holding principals accountable, but we have to also give them credit where credit is due.
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Brian Lehrer leads the conversation about what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives.
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