Bayside, Brownsville and the Fallacy of School Progress Reports: While Department School Assessments are Deeply Flawed Poverty Cannot Be An Excuse.

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
public schools.


6 responses to “Bayside, Brownsville and the Fallacy of School Progress Reports: While Department School Assessments are Deeply Flawed Poverty Cannot Be An Excuse.

  1. Substitute the words “due process” for “union” and you will have a more accurate idea of the union’s role in disputes, but its purpose is not limited to grievances. The UFT prides itself on fostering excellence in education. It has Teacher Centers to provide ongoing training to teachers wishing to improve their skills. It negotiated with the City a policy of mentoring new teachers, and it has a Peer Intervention Program for experienced teachers in need of help.
    Having served in schools in rough neighborhoods for the first seven years of my teaching career, I can understand teachers wanting to transfer to less challenging settings. As it is, 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years. Isn’t it better to allow teachers to choose a different school than to burn out all together?


  2. I want to get better too. I do not want to have to give up my rights to a professional and safe work place to become better. The Union’s purpose is to insure a safe and professional enviorment for teachers. Teachers do not have input into the populations of our schools and neighborhoods. We should not be held responsible for city planning. To expect any employee with a choice to choose work in a dangerous neighborhood is unrealistic. Teachers must challenge any new policies that have not been reviewed by the Union. Why after all of the past deceptive practices of the Board should we trust the new initiatives? Without union input how can a classroom techer decide if taping their lessons will be used to make them better or if it will be used against them in the future? How do we know it will even help the teacher get better?


  3. The comments about videotaping, accepting criticism, etc. imply that teachers want to be left alone. However, the current “Get the bad teachers!” climate has created an environment that is so toxic that the truest between teacher and administrator required for these incidents to occur in a beneficial way, is absent.

    Peer review CAN be a popularity contest when it is known to the reviewing peers that a principal doesn’t like a certain teacher. Dance to the principal’s tune and you keep yourself out of the spotlight.

    Videotaping CAN become a weapon if the principal suddenly decides you make too much money or if her daughter’s BFF is a new TFA and needs a job.

    All these “improvements” require the belief that those in power are actually looking to HELP, but these days, encounters with administrators is more like encountering the Spanish Inquisition, which is why teachers are so resistant and suspicious.


  4. Way too simplistic, Peter. Very disappointing.


  5. Really,it’s so nice to write about these issues from the comfort and safety of retirement. As a veteran teacher, I have seen the damage done to young teachers in this new era of gotcha! I work with a young teacher who is terrorized by our principal. She spent $30,000 to go to TC and is treated like a two year old. New teachers are afraid to put a toe out of line. You explain to me how this helps teaching? I and I hope my colleagues will reject any contract that has new responsibilities in it. I’m already up to my eyeballs in new responsibilities. You and your group have made teaching a nightmare. I don’t need a stick shaken at me to do a good job. I do a good job because I have self respect and I am a professional. This blog increasingly is ridiculous and out of touch like the union you tout for. You wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the classroom under this new regime.


  6. Michael Rosenthal

    “Poverty is a reality, not an excuse.” Exactly, it is not an excuse it is the REASON for failure. Excuse implies that teachers are the agents of the problem. The standardized exams you use to compare the two areas are CURVED. A 3/4 on the ELA doesn’t demonstrate mastery of any particular topic or skill it represents how students performed relative to other students. Students in high poverty areas come into school with a host of academic deficiencies relative to their non poverty peers. How are schools in area facing “the pathologies of poverty” ever going to compete against those that do not?


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