White median wealth is now 44.5 times higher than black median wealth. EPI News
Bayside (District 26) is a lovely community abutting the Nassau border: single family houses, lawns, streets lined with towering majestic trees with among the lowest poverty rates in the city (7%).
Brownsville(District 23) is a hardscrabble inner city neighborhood; the crackle of gunfire is commonplace, the local precinct leads the city in handgun violence, unemployment and foreclosure rates top the city, the poverty rate is 38%.
Five times the rate of Bayside.
In Bayside 65% of students received passing (Level 3/4) scores on the State
English Language Arts (ELA) tests in grades 3-8 while 29% passed in
On the just released School Progress Reports in Bayside the grades were,
A – 15 Schools
B – 11
C – 1
D – 0
F – 0
In Brownsville the grades were,
A – 2 Schools
B – 0
C – 7
D – 7
F – 5
How can we account for these dramatic differences in Progress scores?
Under the Progress Report methodology schools are compared with other schools with similar demographics called peer groups.
Is it the quality of the principals and teachers? The fact that Bayside has more senior teachers and a low teacher turnover rate? Or, heavens forbid, the impact of poverty?
One dramatic difference is socio-economic status: poverty.
The Progress Report methodology has changed from year to year and both employees and parents give little credence to their accuracy, although employees know the impact of the scores can be fatal.
While the system is deeply flawed poverty cannot be an excuse.
High quality teaching occurs in both Bayside and Brownsville.
Unfortunately mediocre teaching in high socioeconomic status schools (SES) can have less impact; the results on standardized tests can still be exemplary. In Brownsville and other low SES neighborhoods the quality of the teaching is crucial; to overcome the pathologies of poverty a teacher needs extraordinary skills.
Under the current Open Market transfer system teachers can hop from school to school and higher achieving teachers move from lower to higher SES schools on a regular basis; a flawed Department policy that punishes the lowest achieving
Teachers and principals, as colleagues and collaborators, can be the value-added that increases achievement.
An attitude: it’s Brownsville, what do you expect, is an excuse that is unacceptable.
Teachers must acquire those extraordinary skills that will make the difference.
Teachers have to learn to accept criticism, to be able to respond to questions, to
alter, change and modify their practice. If a supervisor questions a practice
the answer can’t be running to the union rep and claiming harassment.
I heard a teacher complain, “Why can’t the principal leave me alone, I know
what I’m doing.” A colleague responded, “Yes, but do the kids know what you’re doing?”
At NBC Education Nation teachers constantly said they wanted to be
“respected,” yet, when a teacher suggested that peer review become
part of any evaluation system teachers complained, “It’ll be a popularity
Respect and professionalism require responsibility. Responsibility means ownership of your practice.
I was listening to a teachers’ room discussion. A supervisor suggested that he
video a lesson, the teacher and the principal would independently view the
video and then watch it together. Another teacher complained, “He can’t do
that, call the union.”
The teacher answered, “Why would I call the union, I want to get better,
what’s wrong with discussing my lesson with the principal and being able to
watch the lesson together?”
Poverty is a reality, not an excuse.
Kids come to us with their baggage and teachers have the responsibility to
adjust what we do, to hone skills, to map curriculum and create cultures of learning be it in Bayside or Brownsville.
As “respected” professionals and unionists we have an obligation to work together, with colleagues and school leaders to grow as teachers and improve our schools.
If we use poverty as an excuse and the union as a shield we doom the future of