Education Is Not a “Reality Show,” Assessment Should Drive Decision-Making, Not Be Used to Punish Schools.

 We live in a society that is dominated by the quest for “winning,” whether the “winning” is in the world of sports, or reality TV shows or in the stock market. Schools are no different.

For years we ranked and published reading scores by school. The newspapers dutifully interviewed the “winner,” usually some small elementary school in District 26 and the “loser,” some school in Brownsville or the Bronx. The “winners” and “losers” were defined by zip code, and, poverty. The “winner” was a school surrounded by expensive private homes and the ‘losers” were at the center of some of the poorest areas of the city.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was an attempt to create a national assessment of school progress. The goal of NCLB was for all students to reach proficiency by 2014, and, each state, in grades 3-8 was required to test students, and measure Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward that goal.

Schools that failed to make their AYP were in jeopardy of interventions that could lead to redesign, closing, conversion to Charter status or being run by private management organizations.

The problem: some States establish equal steps for each year while others created “tiny, baby steps” in the early years and “giant steps” in the later years .

While the “baby step” States crow about meeting and exceeding AYP, grades on the “gold standard,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were poor. A sharp discrepancy shows the failure of NCLB.

NCLB is a “photograph” of school data at a particular time. Unfortunately since the only measurement is proficiency, the location of the school, the zip code, is frequently the determining factor.

A growth model is a more complex, but, a more meaningful measurement.

The NYC School Progress Report is an attempt to combine proficiency and growth.

Unfortunately it is deeply flawed.

As Diane Ravitch shows schools that are SINI (Schools In Need of Improvement), schools in jeopardy of closing, received grades of “A” and “B” on the DOE Progress Reports, and, conversely, highly successful schools, as defined by NCLB, received grades of “D” and “F.”

The NY Times reports on a “persistently violent school,” clearly in chaos, and receives a grade of “A.”

Norm Fruchter in an Education Week article cogently points to the difference between audit and inspection.

The teacher union leader, Randi Weingarten also rebukes the DOE assessment tool and encourages urges improvements (

We need a system that produces meaningful data about schools, data that will be understandable to parents and can inform decision-making within schools.

Whether on the national level or in NYC punitive assessment of schools does not improve schools. All schools want to be “winners,” we need a system that is highly transparent, that involves all the stakeholders, that is guided by the school district, that offers the opportunity to build capacity over time, and, yes, has consequences.

A lame duck Mayor with no oversight is not the answer. Hopefully the State legislature, with input from the entire school community, can create a system which makes us all “winners.”


One response to “Education Is Not a “Reality Show,” Assessment Should Drive Decision-Making, Not Be Used to Punish Schools.

  1. Hi ‘Ed,’

    I came across your blog, and I really like your style and focus. Sorry to send this to your comments…I wasn’t able to find a direct contact.

    I work at a place called The Open Planning Project, or ‘TOPP.’ We’re a non-profit connecting technology and social change. I am writing because we’re looking for a full-time blogger for Schoolblog.

    What is Schoolblog, you may be wondering? It’s THE information hub for all things related to education in NYC. It just doesn’t exist yet. Hence our need of a blogger. I’ve pasted the job description below. Schoolsblog will be to schools what Streetsblog is to streets. A place for people to go to read, share, discuss (argue? decide?) how to improve the city’s education system. The blog will be an alternative (and more community-engaged) outlet to mainstream media.

    This person will probably have some journalistic/blogging background, and s/he will almost definitely be a former teacher or principal. Someone who can speak to on-the-ground experiences with some clout (and insight) and who can distill policy and news for a readership of parents, teachers, and DOE officials. Part of the challenge will be figuring out just what’s not right in NYC’s schools and how to make it better. I don’t think our funder has a really clear dogma he’d like to promote, so it will be legitimate journalistic work that’s somewhat exploratory at first.

    I am writing to invite you to apply for the position, and to ask you to share the opening with anyone else who might be interested in blogging about schools. I have included a job description below.

    I realize this comes a bit out of the blue, but if you’re interested, hope to hear back from you.

    Best for the new year,

    Vanessa Hamer
    The Open Planning Project


    Schoolblog Blogger

    Schoolblog is a key news and analysis provider for education policy and school experience in New York City. Schoolblog is an information hub for teachers, principals, parents, and education experts. Schoolblog takes on issues that the mainstream media either ignores or mangles, helping readers figure out how to fix the city’s schools. The only problem? Schoolblog doesn’t yet exist.

    We are looking for a talented writer/editor to start and grow Schoolblog.

    We are beginning a strategic campaign to improve New York City’s schools, and Schoolblog is key to the effort. This position calls for a strategic thinker with a strong knowledge of the problems schools face. Your understanding of and passion for the subject matter will make all the difference. By building Schoolblog, you will improve the on-the-ground experience for the city’s teachers and students.

    Your Mission

    Establish Schoolblog as a respected, insightful information hub for those interested in NYC’s schools. You will generate content for Schoolblog, such as:

    · News and policy analysis

    · Excerpts and links to interesting stories from NYC and elsewhere

    · Photos and anecdotes about education happenings around town

    · Coverage of press conferences and events

    · Expert interviews and Q&A

    · Original research, reporting, and investigation

    You Offer

    · Experience as a New York City education insider (probably a former teacher or principal)

    · Strong understanding of education policy

    · Excellent writing and research skills, as evidenced by writing samples

    · Clear, informal written voice (laced with wit and charisma)

    · An interest in how blogs and other media can be used strategically to highlight problems and find solutions

    We are looking for a professional who is responsible, organized, and self-motivated.

    We Offer

    A strong, limber non-profit with the resources you need to help the project fly. A team you can count on, including a full-time sysadmin, designers, and other bright and passionate peers. Freedom from fundraising. Competitive salary with great benefits (all the basics, plus flexible hours, free lunch and five weeks vacation). You could work in our beautiful West Village office, or you could work remotely.

    About Us

    The Open Planning Project ( uses technology and new media to help solve pressing problems. Part of our organization builds software with high public value, and the other part engages people in the issues affecting their communities.

    For example, we produce, the flagship news outlet for the New York City Streets Renaissance, a campaign for livable, healthy streets and public spaces. The campaign has revised the city’s approach to street and transportation planning. We aim to do the same thing for New York’s schools.

    To Apply – Please send a resume, cover letter, and two writing samples to

    This position is full-time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s