Will Shame and Guilt Improve Schools? The School Progress Report As Klein’s “Branding Iron”

 The rumor that the Department was going to paint the school’s Progress Report grade in twelve foot day-glo letters on the sidewalk in front of the school is probably not true. The Supervisor’s Union (CSA) has opposed the branding of the progress grade on principals’ foreheads (does any school still read the Scarlet Letter?)

After two years of buildup the crescendo has arrived … today,  Monday, with great fanfare the letter grades will be released.

I have attended innumerable workshops/meeting on the construction and analysis of the School Progress Report metric. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) rubrics are all about moving kids from Level Two to Level Three – a system embedded in zip codes. The Progress Report is an improvement – in addition to test scores student progress, attendance, parent and teacher surveys are part of the calculation – but – a foundation issue – so what?

We are pointing to schools and identifying “winners” and “losers,” instead of providing targeted assistance to individual schools.

I was talking with a Principal:

“How are things going?”

“Not to well – I’ve been arguing with Tweed about my proposed Progress grade – without much success” 

“What’s the problem?”

“Our entering classes are almost all below standard in ELA and Math with a host of other issues – gang members, language deficits, poverty, the typical inner city issues … the school a few blocks away is a ‘limited, unscreened’ school – they pick their kids … almost all entering students are above standard  … and Joel lauds them with accolades and I’m told I might be removed …”

“Do your kids make progress?”

“Absolutely, but not enough … I think I’ll spring for breakfast for the staff on Monday … they’re going to be really depressed.”

This situation is occuring again and again in school after school around the city (see NYTimes)

There is no question that some schools have succeeded spectacularly in spite of all the odds. A highly supportive school district administration, the school leader, the teachers, a high level of collaboration among staff members, a climate of self-criticism, and, of course, adequate resources are the essential qualities (see Norm Fruchter, Urban Schools, Public Will  for examples in the real world).

Unfortunately too many schools are overwhelmed by the issues that confront families and spill over onto schools.

Progress Report grades, bonus pay for teachers, or for kids, are not answers.

In fact Tweed is perpetrating a cruel hoax. The hodgepodge that is Children First is a trompe d’ oil, an illusion.

An avalanche of data will not improve schools – it is simple educational three card monte.

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