Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Backlash Starts

The day after Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein released 1,224 public school report cards based upon a complex formula of increased performance on test scores and oblique comparisons to a few other "similar" schools, a backlash from parents has started.

The NY Times reports that some parents of students in schools with sterling reputations are hopping mad that some of these schools received less than sterling grades from the Department of Education in the latest DOE assessment.

Many schools that received accolades in last year's Department of Education-sponsored Quality Review assessment received mediocre or downright bad grades in the latest progress-based DOE assessment.

Many schools where students regularly do exceedingly well on No Child Left Behind assessments were also given mediocre grades. Some were even given F's.

The NY Daily News looks at one school - PS 35 in Staten Island - where students ace the standardized tests (86% of students pass the reading test, 98% pass the math test) and reports that the school received a failing grade because

Schools are judged on whether student test scores were higher in 2007 than the prior year. At PS 35, where kids had among the best scores, only 35% showed improvement in reading and only 23% in math.

Because scores were up across the city in 2007, PS 35 actually earned negative points when compared both with the city and its peers. Its average rating came to -0.239. That was multiplied by 55 to give the school -13.1 points.

There you have it, folks - a school where 86% of the kids pass the reading test and 98% pass the math test is "failing" because it only showed 35% improvement in reading and 23% in math from 2006 to 2007.

On the face of it, that assessment is ridiculous.

Sure, PS 35 could have improved more in their reading test scores, but should the school really be labeled "failing" and become a candidate for closure because only 86% of students passed the reading test and only 35% showed improvement on the test from 2006 to 2007?

Should PS 35 be considered failing because only 98% of students passed the math test and only 23% showed improvement on the test from 2006 to 2007?

I think most rational people would say that PS 35 should not be labeled a "failing school" under such a misguided assessment.

Yet Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, obsessed with data and intent upon shaking up the school system as much as possible before their autocratic tenure comes to a merciful end (three Department of Education reorganizations and counting!), have decided that it is perfectly rationale to say that PS 35 is a "failing school."

Presumably the closure notice will come later in the year, the principal will be fired and half the staff will be dumped into the system-wide substitute teacher pool.

And the education reformers and their supporters - folks like Errol Louis at the NY Daily News and the editorial boards at the Times, Post, News and Sun - will all cheer and say "Hurrah!!! Those lazy educators who are hurting our children are being held accountable by the mayor and the chancellor!!! Now we know which teachers should be fired and which teachers should be given merit pay and which teachers should be placed on notice that if they don't shape up, they'll follow some of their colleagues into career oblivion!!! Hurrah!!!"

And a school like PS 35 - where students overwhelmingly meet proficiency, where 35% of students showed improvement on the reading test and 23% showed improvement on the math test in 2007, where 86% passed the reading test and 98% passed the math test - will be closed.

What a victory for education reform!

Heckuva job, education reformers!

Heckuva job, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Klein!

You've really showed the nation how to proceed with education reform.

Label schools where 86% of students are proficient at reading and 98% are proficient at math as "failing" and close 'em.

That'll bring "real reform" to the system.

POSTSCRIPT: The NY Post reports that while all 1,224 public schools in the city received grades under the DOE's new progress-based assessment initiative, the city's 60 charter schools did not.

According to the Department of Education, charter schools "don't measure student, teacher and parent satisfaction using the same Department of Education survey" as the other public schools, therefore they cannot be held accountable under the same progress-based assessment initiative.

Charter school advocates say charter schools already have a "high level of accountability built into charter school contracts" and that should be enough.

Yet if charter schools are so doing so well at educating students, why shouldn't they be held to the same accountability standards as regular public schools?

If regular schools can be placed in a pool of "similar schools" and rated according to overall test score achievement and yearly progress, then so can charter schools.

The fact that they were not held accountable under the same progress-based assessment standards is not a surprise, however.

Some of the city's new small schools - part of the mayor's vaunted "small schools initiative" - were also not given grades under the new DOE assessment.

It seems that all public schools are equal but charter schools and small schools opened by the mayor and the Gates Foundation are created just a little more equal than others.
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