Is New York City Headed Toward a Collaborative School System Eschewing Testing for Project-Based Learning or Using Tests to Batter and Punish Schools? Schizophrenia Abounds

As the opening of school approaches CityandState, an online website hosts an Education Summit. The guest speaker was Richard Carranza, the chancellor, I blogged about his presentation here.  and included an audio of his presentation.

The chancellor announced a new initiative, Edustats, and gave a brief discussion.

Yesterday the City Council conducted a hearing on excessive testing and I signed up to testify. The chair of the committee, Mark Treyger, is a New York City high school teacher on leave.

The council has oversight responsibility; in a mayoral control city the council has no authority over schools; except, to hold public hearings.

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to give exposure to the 38 high schools that have a waiver from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Regents Examination requirements. The waiver schools only require the English Regents; students present in-depth research papers in Social Studies, Mathematics and Science. The state has been renewing the waivers since the 90’s; the current waiver is for five years. The schools are part of the Performance-Based Standards Consortium , a not-for-profit run by the estimable Ann Cook, The Consortium functions as sort of a somewhat independent cluster within the larger school system. Numerous chancellors and commissioners have approved the waivers, some reluctantly and not without external political pressures.

Laura Chin, the # 2 at the Department of Education testified at the hearing and mentioned Edustats, the new Department initiative; Treyger pressed her on the program. The Department will require periodic assessments, the Executive Superintendents will review the results with Superintendents, and Chin described the process as similar to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Comstat system. Borough commanders meet with precinct commanders and review data, detailed crime statistics, and grill the precinct commanders: what have they done to respond to statistical increases in the crime data? Why isn’t it working? The precinct commanders despise the process: public shaming with the threat of job removal. While the precinct commander can move patrol cops from one area to another schools can’t prevent evictions or provide food for families or more racially integrated schools.

According to Chin every school would create an Instructional Leadership Team to address the Edustats results. (Don’t we already have School Leadership Teams?)

Chin responded to questioning describing the system as a benign “in-house” self-assessment.

In my testimony I described Edustats as educational “Hunger Games.”

For decades school districts have been implementing similar approaches. They are all based on a fallacy: given proper “motivation” and “information” all teachers can raise all test scores. A flawed belief system: there is a “magic” bullet that will raise test scores.

Teachers assess data every day.

Who is absent, late, crying, sad, wearing dirty clothes, hungry, addressing these “data” is a key part of the teaching/learning process.

Every lesson we teach contains “tests for understanding,” we ask questions, we call on volunteers and non-volunteers, check student work, we give quizzes, written work, we re-teach in another format, we are constantly searching for the proper “tool” that will help the student learn and be able to apply the concept.

Schools are complex entities, they attempt to build cultures of inquiry, cultures of collaboration, cultures of caring. The hierarchy can support inquiry-based school cultures. Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversation” explores the power dynamic in schools and how school leaders can engage in meaningful dialogues with teachers.

School leaders can observe lessons with the goal to evaluate by finding flaws or engage in a two-way dialogue with the teacher.

The chancellor has been emphasizing removing bias and culturally relevant-sustaining education they may remove obstacles to effective teaching and learning, and may not.

The most effective predictor of test results is parent education and income.

The New School Center for NYC Affairs study, “A Better Picture of Poverty” identifies in-school and out of school “poverty risk load factors.” Our current school management structure fails to deal with the social/emotional side of the equation, fails to address factors beyond the classroom that impact the student within the classroom.

Sean Reardon and his colleagues at Stanford have released a massive study, asking “how intertwined are racial segregation and economic inequality?” The study may enable us to more finely attune our approaches to improving academic outcomes in schools.

The de Blasio administration has been working with the teacher union to create collaborative, school-based strategies.

The Bronx Plan negotiated between the teacher union and the Department is designed reduce teacher attrition in the most at-risk schools as well as built stronger school cultures. (See description here)

Over 100 schools are part of the PROSE initiative, an opportunity to create school-based innovative programs that requires change to Department regulations or contract provisions. (See PROSE application here).

The council hearing was ironic, on one hand the # 2 at the Department described a process that can easily deteriorate into “test and punish” and at the same hearing students, teachers and school leaders in Consortium schools described in detail schools in which deep investigation leading to the production of a project reflecting the research instead of a single test. The process takes months of teacher-directed work and requires the student to defend their project before teachers and critical friends.

Should we push to expand the number of Consortium schools? Can the Consortium strategies be applied to elementary and middle schools? And, the elephant in the room, can you scale-up these concepts?

The Department seems to be in a schizophrenic cauldron. One part of the Department working with the union in creating bottom-up approaches to teaching and learning, another part reverting to the “test and punish,” testing-on-steroids approach to teaching and learning.

It will be interesting to see whether the Reardon data is applicable to New York City and what it tells us about our schools.

Data should drive policy: the question: whose data and whose interpretation of the data.

One response to “Is New York City Headed Toward a Collaborative School System Eschewing Testing for Project-Based Learning or Using Tests to Batter and Punish Schools? Schizophrenia Abounds

  1. Pingback: Peter Goodman: Is New York City About to Double Down on High-Stakes Testing? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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