Dear Chairman Chang: Don’t Close Schools, Bad Science Does Not Make Good Schools.

 

David Chang
Chairman
Panel on Educational Priorities
Department of Education of the City of New York
 
Dear Dr. Chang
 
For many years I have served as the teacher representative on State Education Department Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams. The staffs were always surprised that their school had been designated as a SURR school, and, the State designation process is complex .
 
Each year at the conclusion of the SURR weeklong site visits the State publishes a summary of their findings. Leading the list of the reasons for school failure is always “Lack of District and School Leadership.” I agree.  I found district leadership distant and uninvolved and school leadership preoccupied with discipline and management minutia. Staffs were hardworking, frequently without guidance and specific direction.
 
As a student of physics you understand that some physicists are engaged in the study of theoretical physics while others in the applications of the theory, in applied physics.
 
Education is much the same. Robert J. Sternberg  has challenged long held views on the concept of intelligence.
 
Dr. Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of (Successful) Intelligence contends that intelligent behavior arises from a balance between analytical, creative and practical abilities, and that these abilities function collectively to allow individuals to achieve success within particular sociocultural contexts.
 
Steven Pinker explores the brain and language and explores essential questions.
 
Have scientists really reconstructed the first language spoken on earth? Are there genes for grammar? Can chimpanzees learn sign language? And some are from our deepest ponderings about the human condition: Does our language control our thoughts? How could language have evolved? Is language deteriorating?
 
As teachers we try and utilize, to convert the theoretical realm into the realm of the classroom teacher, the application of theories is what we do.
 
A graduate of James Madison high School, Robert Solow, and a Nobel laureate in Economics developed an economic growth model.
 
 The idea behind Solow’s vintage capital growth model is that new capital is more valuable than old (vintage) capital because capital is produced based on known technology and because technology is improving
 
The Department’s decision to close schools simply ignores both the theoretical and the applications of the basic theories.
 
We can identify children in early grades who are at risk of dropping out of school yet we continue to cluster these students into large high schools, cite the high schools as failures, and close the schools.
 
Children designated as Special Education learn in ways different from other children. Their learning is slower and frequently requires longer periods of time. The Department calculates graduation rate data by clustering all children, regardless of their disability. Large high schools are the depositories of much larger percentages of children with disabilities than the newer small high schools. In fact, for their first two year Department policy was not to assign any Special Education children to new small high schools.
 
The input, larger percents of children with learning disabilities produced outputs, lower graduation rates. When the Department created schools and added “new capital,” children without these disabilities, not surprisingly the output was higher graduation rates.
 
The data from the large high schools reflects the larger numbers of Special Education youngsters and in lower graduation rates in the prescribed four years. However, graduation rates rise in year five, six and seven.
 
The Department has done a poor job in both setting transparent metrics for measuring levels of success or lack thereof, for choosing to cluster children with disabilities in large high schools, for failing to provide targeted assistance to schools with challenged populations, for ignoring research pointing to the early identification of children at risk of failure.
 
Just as the SURR school State Reports point to the failures of district and school leadership the current iteration of school closings point to the failure at the top, the failure of school district leadership.
 
I urge you to table the motion to close schools and direct the Department to spend the next few months carefully reviewing school assessment and evaluation tools, this exploration should take place in a transparent setting with the full involvement of parents, teachers and the community.
 
The current hostile atmosphere is toxic to good education.
 
Yours truly,
 
Ed in the Apple

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