Thursday, December 02, 2010

The First Joel Klein Generation

I'm an English teacher, so perhaps my math is not so great. But, if it's correct in this case, I'm thinking that current ninth graders would have been the first children to spend their entire elementary and middle school careers in schools run, ultimately, by Joel Klein. So let's look at the current ninth graders and see if we can give credence to the claim that New York City schools improved dramatically and unequivocally under Klein.

Today, during a meeting at TMS2, I listened to a ninth-grade teacher lament the state of her freshmen. Looking over some curricular goals, she said that she liked the high expectations, but expressed concern that so many of her students needed well over an hour to read a short story or needed explicit instruction in how to write a complete sentence. High expectations are all well and good, but these expectations seemed, to her, to be quite far from what her students could realistically achieve in the six or so months that remain in this school year. For some of her students, she explained, it would be quite an accomplishment to write a coherent paragraph.

Why, one might ask, is one faced with ninth-graders who can't tell a subject from a predicate or define what "plot" is? After all, if expectations had been raised, if tests had been relentlessly given to be sure that students were meeting or exceeding them, if social promotion had been ended, if teachers were being held accountable, wouldn't we, over the eight years that Klein has served, have seen an appreciable difference in our current ninth graders? What explains the state of the class of 2014?

Could it be because Balanced Literacy is at best one philosophy among many and at worst a complete sham?

Could it be because teachers were forced to teach to a test that reinforced low rather than high expectations, and this test became the be-all and end-all of literacy instruction?

Could it be because teachers were in many cases explicitly disallowed from teaching high-quality texts?

Could it be because the vaunted gains are illusory and that, for many students, real academic success remains far out of reach when they find themselves at such a disadvantage in high school?

It will always be true that students who come from even slightly more privileged families and/or are taught by the creatively subversive teachers will have something of an edge. But the students we're talking about today are coming from schools that were most directly targeted by the Klein/Bloomberg "reforms," and were targeted the entire time these children were in school. Why doesn't there seem to be a difference?
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