A friend toured a school with a “good reputation,” a school with a record of high student achievement, he reported the instruction was “uniformly mediocre.” Under the school report card system in the high schools credit accumulation and Regents pass rates are the sole determinant of school success, once again, zip code prevails.
A number of summers ago I sat in a classroom in Queens and listened to Jim Leibman, the former accountability tsar as he explained the report card system. According to my notes he described a bell shaped curve, 5% of schools would receive an As and Fs, 10% Bs and Ds and the middle 70% grades of C.
In the current iteration 95% of elementary and middle schools received an A or a B and 75% of high schools received As or Bs, basically making the report card a meaningless document.
If we were to superimpose on a map of the city: closed schools, chronic absenteeism, unemployment, foreclosures, high rates of asthma, hypertension and obeisity, hand gun violence and poverty, not surprisingly the overlap is dramatic.
These data are not excuses, we must provide effective, high quality education for all children, and, the failure to do so cannot be excused by neighborhood.
I served as the teacher representative on many SURR review teams. At Canarsie High School I saw classes of about twenty kids (34 on register), teachers reported about fifteen kids attended regularly and passed exams, about fifteen dropped by once a week, and the others were on register but they had never seen them. Most of the teachers were hard-working and dedicated.
Under the current school closing/new school re-staffing Article 18D of the UFT contract calls for at 50% of the new school teachers to be selected from “qualified” applicants from the closing schools. In reality principals are encouraged to hire Teach for America, Teaching Fellows and new applicants. The “hard-working and dedicated” teachers at the Canarsies find themselves in the ATR pool.
The annual summary of SURR reports, published at the end of each SURR season, (unfortunately not online) points to the failure of school and district leadership.
School closings and the creation of new, small high schools, and the phase-out of large high schools is a failed policy. It is unfair to the kids in the closing school, unfair to the teachers who are stigmatized by the process, and, unfair to parents and the community that plays no role in the process. The Department must development a more nuanced policy, a policy that includes parents, communities and school staffs.
On January 26th the governing body of the Department of Education, the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) should table the proposed school closings and order the Department,
1. In consultation with city-wide parent and advocacy organizations and the teachers union to development an evaluation tool that of both normative and summative, a “findings and recommendations” document that will guide schools.
2. The evaluation tool described supra shall be submitted to the State Department of Education for an independent review, the SED shall review the tool and issue a final tool to be utilized in the assessment/evaluation of schools.
3. The education committees of the City Council, the Assembly and the Senate shall be informed regularly of all school assessment/evaluation progress, or lack thereof.
The PEP is referred to as a “rubber stamp” for the Mayor, I urge them to force the Chancellor and the Mayor to confront the realities confronting our children and families rather than mechanically closing schools,
… public spending per child goes up after children reach age 6, despite considerable research showing that younger children enjoy especially significant benefits from early-childhood education.
Why does the Mayor and the Department fail to acknowledge the impact of poverty, Richard Rothstein writes,
Mythology also prevents educators from properly diagnosing educational failure where it exists. If we expect all disadvantaged students to succeed at levels typical of affluent students, then even the best inner-city teachers seem like failures. If we pretend that achievement gaps are entirely within teachers’ control, with claims to the contrary only “excuses,” how can we distinguish better from worse classroom practice?
Poverty, in essence zip code, must not be an excuse, however, it is a reality. Schools are part of a larger community and if we expect all schools to be successful, to close the achievement gap, the Mayor and the entire political community must go beyond the simplistic policy of closing schools.
Rothstein points to, “Modest social and economic reforms, well within our political reach, could have a palpable effect on student achievement. For example, we could,”
- Ensure good pediatric and dental care for all students, in school-based clinics.
- Expand existing low-income housing subsidy programs to reduce families’ involuntary mobility.
- Provide higher-quality early childhood care so that low-income children are not parked before televisions while their parents are working.
- Increase the earned income tax credit, the minimum wage, and collective bargaining rights so that families of low-wage workers are less stressed.
- Promote mixed-income housing development in suburbs and in gentrifying cities to give more low-income students the benefits of integrated educations in neighborhood schools.
- Fund after-school programs so that inner-city children spend fewer nonschool hours in dangerous environments and, instead, develop their cultural, artistic, organizational, and athletic potential.
None of this is utopian. All is worth doing in itself, with the added benefit of sending children to school more ready to learn. Educators who are unafraid to advocate such policies will finally call the hand of those politicians and business leaders who claim that universal health care is too expensive but simultaneously demand school reform so they can posture as defenders of minority children.
PEP members, be brave, advocate for all children, throw off the insult of “rubber stamp,” make us proud!