It should surprise no one that closing schools are linked to poverty. (check out “poverty by zip code” and locate your school). Yet the feds, the State Commissioner, the Mayor and the Tweed gang continue to close “failing” schools, many of which are large high schools. The replacement small schools do not serve the same population – especially special education students. (see Jackie Bennett, Edwize article here).
The justification for the closing/opening policy was sharply rising state test scores, wrong, Chancellor Tisch destroyed the claims of the city when she exposed the state test score fiasco, the tests had been “dumbed down.”
For decades the New York City high school graduation rate was about 50% – kids left schools because the economy was replete with semi-skilled jobs, not necessarily jobs requiring academic skills. A shop teacher in my school taught a small motor repair course, with a 100% school dropout rate! The kids got jobs working in local boatyards for $30-40 an hour.
Now low/semi-skilled jobs have migrated off shore and even auto mechanic jobs require computer skills. The State Education Department licenses 48 professions – ranging from acupuncture to veterinary medicine and the New York Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services (DLS), oversees the licensure, registration, and regulation of 29 occupations throughout the state. DLS licenses over 800,000 individuals including real estate brokers, notaries, private investigators, and appearance enhancement professionals. High school diplomas are crucial and post secondary education essential.
While the NYC Department of Education lauds rising graduation rates these rates are highly questionable. Credit recovery, a euphemism for the handing out of credits for no or little effort, teachers marking the papers of kids they teach and “softer” state standards have all degraded the value of a diploma.
The State Ed guys and gals provide scoring guides for each Regents exam with “anchor essays,” student essays with grades assigned by the state. I sat around with a group of teachers who all graded the anchor essays lower than the grades assigned by the state.
Double and triple remediation is commonplace for students entering community college and the percent of students deemed college ready is appalling.
The current inflated rates are probably closer to the decades-old 50% rate.
Opponents of the current administration at times seem joyful – there is nothing to applaud.
A Gingrich presidency would argue for a voucher alternative to public schools.
In a handful of schools kids thrive – exemplary teachers and school leaders can “best the odds,” In a small high school with which I am familiar the teachers designed a rigorous, Common Core-based curriculum – with 90- minute English blocks for the first two years. Kids enter at the 2.2 proficiency level and graduation rates are in the mid-80 percent range. And, BTW, they do almost no Regents review!
You cannot clone highly effective school leaders or smart, creative collaborative teachers. The current system abjures real collaboration, the core driver is threats: threats of school closings, of poor Quality Review grades, of “D’s” and F’s” on Progress Reports and soon to be inaugurated teacher numeric grades based on student achievement (value-added) and Danielson-driven observations.
Urban school systems have failed to adjust to the changing world that surrounds them. David Rogers in his 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Bureaucracy in the New York City Schools (1968) described a massive bureaucracy that failed to respond to external pressures, and, self-destructed.
In 1970 the new “magic bullet,” the Holy Grail was decentralization – derogate decision-making to locally elected school boards – empower communities. The result was a Gresham’s Law of Education – the worst, most corrupt school districts drove out the effective school districts.
Mayoral control, lauded as tying the success of the mayor to the success of schools has been disaster in New York and Chicago – mayors and teachers and communities at each others’ throats.
David Tyack and Larry Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia are on target,
… the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence …. reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.
I increasingly hear teachers and critics of Tweedom whine, “Let’s wait until we get a new mayor in 2013, s/he will straighten things out.”
We may not have time.
The right wing ideologues argue why not have a market-driven school system – grant every parent a voucher and let them use it to “buy” education, whether public or charter or private school?
The clock may be ticking: what can we do to move past mayoral control?
Symbolic Actions from Tweed and the Union:
The Department can abandon the ATR pool and the Union can negotiate the implementation of the new teacher evaluation law. If all teachers are evaluated by a management-union agreed upon system excessed teachers can be assigned to new schools as in the past. “Bad” teachers will be weeded out by the evaluation system.
Supporting Not Closing Schools:
The early identification of struggling schools and the placement of these schools in a Chancellor-like district with strong supports would be far more sensible. Yes, the result may be the closing of some schools, but, the decision would be at the end of a transparent process.
The Chancellor’s District was a labor-management collaboration. Union staff worked with Board staff – they were invited to principal meetings, they had a seat at the table. Teacher Centers, the education arm of the Union provided professional development.
Trust has to be at the core of labor-management relationships.
For the union the fight is for short term survival- the work is for long term survival.
For management a realization that in the eyes of the public the message chiseled above the entrance to Tweed harkens back to Dante, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”
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