After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:
The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.
The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.
Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?
About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.
For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.
The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?
A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?
Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.
Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?
A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?
On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.
Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.
Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?
The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?
If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.
What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?
Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?
Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.