Friday, April 11, 2008

Get Tough! But Pass Everyone

That's how Joanne Jacobs characterized a piece I wrote about the thrust of our faculty meetings, and the line has stuck in my mind somehow. Apparently, though, this line of thought is far from unique to my building. A New York Times story exposes some of Chancellor Klein's favorite methods of juking the stats.

Did you fail your English class? Don't worry. Write a few papers, and it'll be as good as new. Who cares if you slept through the entire semester? Will the AP even notice you've plagiarized the entire paper? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

I once happened upon a "makeup class" paper from an ESL student of mine that was clearly plagiarized. But Ms. History, the head of the social studies department, had given it an "A." I found the kid in her classroom, pulled her out, and told her privately I knew she didn't write it.

"You're not going to tell Ms. History, are you?" begged the kid.

I told her I wasn't, since she'd already gotten away with it. But I let her know that I would've failed her, and if I could see it, another teacher might see it too. Did Ms. History let her pass knowing she plagiarized, or was she just incapable of differentiating between the work of a professional writer and that of an ESL student? It's a question for the ages, I suppose.

But now that principals are "accountable," they need to get those graduation stats up. And while Mr. Bloomberg can simply ignore dropouts, "accountable" principals don't have that luxury. They have to get those stats up or they're fired. Still, Chancellor Klein says things are just fine:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, in a statement, called credit recovery “a legitimate and important strategy for working with high school students.” He said there was “no indication” that the practice “has been abused more in recent years.”

“If credit recovery is not conducted properly, just as with any other required course, we will take appropriate action,” he added. “We do students no favors by giving them credit they haven’t earned.”

But city officials acknowledged that credit recovery programs are neither centrally monitored nor tracked.

So as usual, we should simply take the word of the administration. Though they don't actually monitor or track the programs, they will abide no nonsense. Fortunately, if any nonsense occurs, they won't ever find out about it. That way, they don't have to worry about "accountability," which, like taxes, is for the little people.

So kids, don't worry about failing those classes. There appear to be few consequences for cutting the entire semester:

At Franklin K. Lane, a large high school in Brooklyn, an advertisement for credit recovery programs offered last year urged students: “If you failed a class, don’t despair ... turnaround your 55 into a 65 in 6 weeks!!! Ask your teacher for details!!!”

Adam Bergstein, a teacher who is head of the school’s union chapter, said the six-week program, which consisted of six classes, had troubled teachers.

“A 55 could be indicative of anything from a 1 to literally a 55 average,” he said. “It’s not a mere nudge ahead; it could be an astronomical leap.”

“It undermines the whole concept of teaching and grading,” Mr. Bergstein continued.

It does indeed. But if you live and die by statistics, people need to cheat. It's regrettable that people are living and dying by statistics, but it's even more regrettable that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, who advocate credit for the nebulous concept of "seat-time," talk so tough while enabling and even encouraging rampant cheating.

Related: Eduwonkette, Inside Schools, The Chancellor's New Clothes, Joanne Jacobs

Thanks to Rhoda and Schoolgal
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