SSO and ARIS: Will Support Result in Accountability? Will the Carrot and the Stick Make for Better Schools?

Late Tuesday night the laggard principals will be signing on to the DOE website and selecting their School Support Organizations. In some schools a lengthy process has involved teachers and parents while in many the principals alone made the choice. The DOE website does state that the principal should consult with the School Leadership Team (SLT), the DOE will take their word for it.

The choices: four current Regional Superintendents will sponsor groups around, in three cases, vague eduspeak themes, the fourth will adopt Core Knowledge, a nationally recognized program.

The three hundred plus schools in Empowerment have had mixed experiences. Most of the networks include schools scattered around the city, in three, four, and in one case five boroughs. Many of the networks include schools reflecting all grades. Some schools love the independence while others are struggling, and a few drowning.

The Partnership Support Organizations range from well established programs, Success for All and Middle Start to universities to current Gates intermediaries with extensive school support experience, such as New Visions for Public Schools

Ultimately the core question: how much does it matter?

All schools will be measured by the new Department inspection and audit system. Regardless of the support organization the accountability system will drive a School Progress Report culminating in letter grades: A to F.

The heart of the accountability system will be a warehouse of student data called the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, ARIS.  Beginning this August and phased in over a year, by August 2008 the system envisions parents, with passwords, can access detailed info for their child and their child’s school. School personnel can access extremely detailed data dealing with individual children. Cynics fear the purpose of the system is to measure individual teacher achievement: the beginning of merit pay?

Most schools have participated in the first phase of the system – the inspection. Inspectors, mostly from the Britain-based Cambridge Education, have visited schools, written up the results of the visit and the reports are posted on the Department website – although currently it takes two or three months to post the report. The visit is carefully spelled out to the principal prior to the visit.

The October visit to Canarsie High School was quite critical, and, in March the State Education Department cited the school as a School Under Registration Review (SURR). Hundreds of Reports are posted on school DOE webpages.

The audit section of accountability will be the School Progress Report. The Report is an attempt to evaluate a school with a particular numerical score based on “average pupil progress.” While the Report is a work in progress, currently 55% of the score will be pupil achievement data, with the School Quality Review (SQR), attendance, school safety and parent and staff survey results also factoring into the Report.

The current Department “roadshow” is attempting to explain the accountability system to principals – a seventy plus powerpoint slide presentation is dense,fascinating, thoughtful and enlightening – will it resonate in the classroom?

How will the support organizations support the extremely complex accountability metric? Will a dense accountability metric result in more effective instruction? Isn’t the movement to support organizations an abrogation of the responsibilities of the chancellor?

Chancellor Klein is fond of claiming that his intiatives are in the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education – yet the system is more segregated now than it was thirty years ago. How does threatening schools with an “F” help students?

Is the hope for the system encapsuled in ARIS and accountabiltiy or in Mayor Bloomberg’s Poverty Commission initiatives?

The “rubber hits the road” in each and every classroom: a teacher and their kids … will the hundreds of millions of dollars invested by Klein improve pupil achievement? or, will it be yet another failed plan cast into the educational dustbin?

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