Mindless Accountability and the Subprime Mortgage Debacle: Ignoring Poverty is a Cruel Hoax …


If Joel, Arne, Michelle and Andres were lounging and sipping, and you were a fly on the wall, they would agree that the keys to improving student achievement are teacher quality and school leadership and the major impediment: teacher unions.
For decades the problem in urban, inner city schools was simply covering classes. Salaries were low and teaching was not fashionable. In the last decade salaries have risen, 43% in the last two teacher contracts in NYC, teaching is attracting a different cohort of teachers, as evidenced by Teacher for America and the Teaching Fellows Program.
Data systems allow teachers to differentiate instruction and, in time, allow school systems to differentiate teachers, to identify effective, less effective and ineffective teachers, and, to align pay scales to teacher effectiveness.
ARIS  provides a wealth of student achievement data that is readily accessible to school staff and ACUITY provides periodic predictive assessments to inform instruction. This wealth of student achievement data will, in time, allow management to develop tools  to measure student achievement by individual teacher.
The next set of contract negotiations will be “interesting.”
Leadership programs are no longer left to the universities but actually run by school systems, i.e., the NYC Leadership Academy, or contracted to like-minded not-for-profits, such as New Leaders for New Schools NLNS) or the Scaffolded Apprenticeship Model (SAM).
Charter schools offer union-free environments as a counter balance to unionized schools, and higher charter school achievement provides arguments to reduce the power of unions and the limitations of union contracts.
In NYC Joel has skirmished with the union, lost some battles and won others, some think he is winning the war. In Chicago Arne, with some criticism, foisted his agenda onto the school system. In Baltimore Andres is popular and quietly building consensus  while in DC Michelle went to war with the union, although she may be backing off a bit. Different leadership styles, the same agenda.
On some days UFT/AFT President Randi Weingarten stands arm in arm with Mayor Bloomberg to advocate for the stimulus package, even though the package contains substantial discretionary funding  for Arne  to direct to his favorite programs.
 Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have a $650 million kitty he can use to fund “innovative” states, school districts, or non-profits.
Will Arne decide to fund Community Schools, as advocated by the AFT, or data development programs as advocated by Joel and his homeboys?
We may have forgotten that in August, 2007, Repesentative George Miller released a 400 plus page draft of his proposed changes to NCLB. Miller was pilloried, from the right and the left, by the unions and the states, and his draft never gained any traction.
Miller appears to be a strong supporter of Duncan and sees the stimulus package as a launching pad  for re-energizing a “new” No Child Left Behind.
Miller fully expects Congress to continue increased support for programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, state data systems, and probably even Secretary Duncan’s new “race to the top fund,” which is aimed at rewarding states and districts who are boosting student achievement.And, in our brief conversation, Miller really stressed the importance of state data systems, and emphasized that they’re also a big priority for Duncan. Some educators, including in Miller’s home state of California, are wary that state data systems could be used to tie teacher pay to student progress, but it sounds like the education chairman views them as a good way to measure student learning and wants to press full steam ahead.

The reauthorization of NCLB, under whatever the new name is, offers a once in a decade opportunity. Whatever direction the new law takes will be with us throughout the Obama years. My fear is that the attractiveness of “mindless accountability” will have traction. 

I agree that teacher quality and leadership are crucial, however, we cannot simply ignore the impact of poverty. We can identify schools and kids at an early age whose chances of school success are slim.  Recent chronic absenteeism studies, both nationally and in NYC point to early childhood grades where frightening percentages of kids are “chronically absent” during a school year. Why? What is the relationship between poverty and school attendance?

Another study shows that kids living in housing projects have significantly lower test scores and graduation rates.

Part of the data approach should be to replace the free lunch form metric with a school poverty index to determine the flow of Title One funding.

High concentrations of schools with kids with high asthma rates, AIDs, teenage pregnancy, incarceration, temporary housing, foster care, etc., all contribute to lower school achievement. Schools divert resources to deal with the social issues surrounding the school.

Michelle Rhee argues

“With these kids, my kids, their neighborhoods did not change, who their parents were did not change, the violence in the community did not change, their diets did not change. What changed were the adults who were in front of them every single day in school. And that made every bit of difference.”

No Michelle, it does not make “every bit of difference,” teacher quality without addressing the surrounding community is an uphill treadmill .. .  a chimera.

Promising school success, and ignoring poverty, sounds like the current subprime mortgage debacle.


One response to “Mindless Accountability and the Subprime Mortgage Debacle: Ignoring Poverty is a Cruel Hoax …



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