Why Haven’t We Fixed Schools? The Fed, the State, the Board and the Department Have Failed the Neediest Kids for Decades, and They Ignored Successes.

June 2011 Graduation Rate – NYS

Graduation under Current Requirements

All Students: 74%

Black Students 58%

Hispanics 58%

College and Career Readiness

All Students: 34.7%

Black Students 11.5%

Hispanics 14.5%

From NYSED Nov Regents Agenda

Our kids only get one chance at school and we are failing them, we have been stumbling for decades. By “we” I mean our elected officials, the leaders of education at the state and local level, and, yes, some principals and classroom teachers.

On the surface the increase in high school graduation rates looks impressive, however, the college readiness rates are appalling, and claims of closing the achievement gap in the testing grades (grades 3-8) are illusory.

Aaron Pallas, in his Hechinger Report Blog  asks,

Has the achievement gap in New York City decreased over time? What happened to the achievement gap when the state of New York, recognizing the flaws in its testing system, raised the “cut scores” defining proficiency on its tests in 2010?

Pallas conducts a hypothetical analysis of the data,

My conclusion? There’s been no shrinkage in the test score gap between 2006 and 2012, a period in which many of Bloomberg and Klein’s reforms have begun to reach maturity. If the only purpose of their reforms were to close the achievement gap, this flat-lining would indicate that the reforms were dead on arrival.


Some among us applaud, “see, the Bloomberg-Klein reforms were a failure,” yes, their claims were inflated, however, look at the data preceding the “reforms.”

Using the Regents Competency Exam (RCT), an exam at the 8th grade level, high school graduation rates were in the 30-40% range in scores of high schools and many had Regents Diploma Graduation Rates in the single digits! If I remember correctly Taft had only five Regents Diploma graduates in 2003!! Not five percent – five kids.

Kids only have one chance at school.

We owe them the best possible education.

For kids living in communities plagued by the pathologies of poverty, for kids from immigrant families, school may be their only hope, the only chance of bettering lives. Two or three decades  ago unskilled and semi-skilled jobs were plentiful and provided a good living, now those jobs are gone, either “exported” overseas or replaced by automation.  Jobs today require a level of skills beyond the reach of too many kids.

David Conley, the leading national expert on College and Career Readiness, starts at the bottom of defining career readiness:

Work Readiness: Meets basic expectations regarding workplace behavior and demeanor, i.e., coming to work on time, every day, following instructions from supervisors, etc.

Job Readiness: Possesses specific knowledge necessary to begin an entry level position, i.e., basic literacy and numeracy and computer skills, etc.

(Check out David Conley’s superb PowerPoint here)

Even using Conley’s very basic criteria many kids are not work ready and certainly not college ready.

Schools were, before Klein, during Klein and currently under Walcott, not succeeding primarily due to “poor leadership at the district and school level,” according to the State Education Summary of SURR reports.

Unfortunately the attempts to create effective leaders through the department sponsored leadership programs have been spotty. The prior system, work your way up the ladder, from teacher to assistant principal to principal did produce school leaders who at least administratively knew how to run schools, although many failed as instructional leaders.

Yes, some schools and clusters of schools have been successful in sea of mediocrity.

Why are they successful? What can we learn?

I am not saying we can “scale up” a successful school, I am saying you can examine the underlying principles.

You usually find school leaders who are respected by staffs, parents and students and lead by example. Who mobilize staffs to work in close, constant, reflective collaboration, and, are not shy to prod and demand excellence from both staffs and students.

You usually find diverse, committed staffs that thrive working in teams and working with a “hands-on” school leader.

You usually find some type of external support organization who can provide quality professional development for teachers and parents that reflects the needs of the teachers, and  can make judgments about individual and school effectiveness.

You usually find school leaders who are known and respected in the communities in which they work.

If you are a kid attending a school that is succeeding, one of the islands floating among mediocre schools, you may go on to college and career and prosper – if not, you stumble, perhaps for life.

It can’t  be a matter of chance…

One response to “Why Haven’t We Fixed Schools? The Fed, the State, the Board and the Department Have Failed the Neediest Kids for Decades, and They Ignored Successes.

  1. The Bloomberg years of reorganization upon more reorganization put more funds into schools but failed to support instructional growth. The DOE created lots of new schools but the new principals tasked to lead them had limited instructional capacity. We continued to weigh the cow instead of feeding the cow and when the cow’s weight did not increase we pointed at the teachers until the scale was found to be broken. Principals without supervision are allowed to supervise failing schools for way to long before being removed. Who is overseeing the New York City principals these days? The more instructional capacity we build into the system the more success we will see. This means ongoing PD for both teachers and supervisors, quality curriculum and the time to implement it.


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