Incoherence at the Top: Decisions Impacting Children Must Be Made Be Based on Sound Research and the Experience of Long Time Educators, Not Policy Wonks Who Experiment on the Underserved and Voiceless.

“College Readiness” is the concept du jour. The Center for NYC Affairs is hosting a panel to discuss the issue on June 21st.

City University defines “college ready” as receiving grades of at least 75 on the English Regents and 80 in the Algebra 1 Regents. Using these criteria NYC high school graduates are woefully unprepared .

In New York City, 21 percent of the students who started high school in 2006 graduated last year with high enough scores on state math and English tests to be deemed ready for higher education or well-paying careers.

To make matters even worse the racial/ethnic achievement gap is staggering,

The new calculations, part of a statewide push to realign standards with college readiness, also underscored a racial achievement gap: 13 percent of black students and 15 percent of Hispanic students statewide were deemed college-ready after four years of high school, compared with 51 percent of white graduates and 56 percent of Asian-Americans.

The policy wonks at Tweed decided that to increase “college readiness,” schools should be “encouraged” to offer more college level courses – Advanced Placement classes, Chemistry, Physics and electives that must be pre-approved by Tweed. Offering “college ready” courses is “incentivized” by increasing a school’s Progress Report grade if schools offer these courses.

A principal’s dilemma: should I offer Advanced Placement, Chemistry and/or Physics even though my kids don’t have the skills to pass?

Should I extend Chemistry over two years? Should I not offer Earth Science because I don’t get “college readiness” credit?

Should I offer what is in the best interests of kids or the “best interests” of the school?

What is the evidence that taking a “college level” course for which a student is not prepared will increase college readiness?

The Department ignores the deeper questions: middle school students with level 2.0 scores on state exams are “graduated” to high schools -these kids are 3-4 years below grade level. The Department just announced that even students held over in middle school with scores in the level 1 category will be moved to high schools.

Teacher attrition rates are the highest, highest by far, in middle schools.

Few graduates of the Department leadership programs were experienced middle school teachers or supervisors.

A recent study (June, 2009), “Putting Middle Grade Students on the Graduation Path” by Robert Balfonz at John Hopkins is an excellent study – rather than listen to an extremely experienced researcher with pragmatic policy recommendations the Department looks for a “quick fix,” trying to “incentivize,” a synonym for “coerce” principals to offer so-called college readiness courses.

Who makes the decisions at Tweed these days?

There is research that explores whether students with disabilities show greater academic progress in integrated (special education and general education) settings. Some claim the research supports discouraging self-contained classes and encouraging integrated settings. (See research here and here)

The placement of students is determined by an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a legal document, constructed by the IEP team – frequently a school psychologist, related providers, teachers and approved by the parent.

The Special Education Reform Plan makes radical changes,

* articulating students (entering K, 6th and 9th grades) will be assigned to “home zones” rather than to available seats regardless of the school.

* weighted student funding, funds following the student, will now include Special Education students, in lieu of funding classes.

* the weighted student funding formula will “incentivize” placing students in self-contained classes to part time placement in integrated setting (20-60%) by sharply increasing funding for this category and decreasing or flat funding for all other categories.

The Department justifies the change by pointing to research that Special Education students in integrated settings have higher academic achievement than students in self-contained settings.

The problem is the research does not track students initially placed into self-contained classes who are moved to integrated setting. Certainly the research does not track students who are placed in integrated setting in spite of the recommendation of the IEP team.

The Department argues that students in integrated setting outperform students in self-contained classes. Did you notice that basketball players who are six feet, six inches tall or more usually score more points that players who are five feet nine inches or shorter?

Students should be placed in appropriate setting depending upon their disability, not based on “advocacy” or “aspirational” research.

Once again, who is making the decisions? Policy should be based on peer-reviewed research and years of experience in teaching and leadership positions within an urban school system.

I fear that decisions are being made by amateurs … and the lives of kids are being unnecessarily damaged.

Sad indeed.


2 responses to “Incoherence at the Top: Decisions Impacting Children Must Be Made Be Based on Sound Research and the Experience of Long Time Educators, Not Policy Wonks Who Experiment on the Underserved and Voiceless.

  1. Pingback: When Policymakers Are Clueless « Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. If indeed children do better in high income areas would this not be an argument for increased welfare benefits? Increase income in these areas and the children will excell.
    Raise high the roofbeam.


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