Thursday, July 25, 2013

On the "Worst" Schools

A link at Gotham Schools today declares "The worst schools in Buffalo, as in NYC, are routinely flooded with the neediest students." I went to the link in question, which repeatedly described the Buffalo schools as "failing," including the quotes. In fact, the article clearly stated the city and  Reformy John King were "stacking the deck" against these schools, counting even students who'd attended only one day in their failure rate.

My question to Gotham regarded which standard we were using to label these schools "the worst?" Standardized test scores? The graduation rate? Are we absolutely certain that if we placed the same kids in other schools they would do better, and by do better I mean graduate sooner? Would that kid with only one day of attendance have excelled at some Doug Lemov-approved miracle school where the papers got distributed faster and the kids marched quietly from one side of the room to another?

Isn't it harder to graduate when you have learning disabilities or arrive in eleventh grade with no knowledge of English? I sometimes teach kids who arrive at 20 years of age with no knowledge of English and one year to graduate. They tend not to. Does that make me the worst teacher? Could Eva Moskowitz get that kid to graduate on time? Would it be a good idea to, say, give incoming students with no English a year of intensive immersion before issuing that two-inch thick biology textbook? Could we actually do things to help homeless children who move around from shelter to shelter, school to school, before we label the schools they pass through as failures?

Reformy John King, Andrew Cuomo, and Mike Bloomberg don't think so. Like the kid in The Sixth Sense sees dead people, they see bad teachers. In fact, the director of that film, after producing films of increasingly lesser quality, has hit a new low by focusing on reformy things and writing a reformy book. Someone tweeted to me a few days back, "I see deluded people."

As long as we blame the schools, the teachers, the neighborhoods, and ultimately the kids, our reformy ways will get us nowhere. And if you don't think we're on that path, with teachers no judged nationwide by junk science, ask anyone who's spent this last endless decade with Mike Bloomberg, "Does reformy mean better?"

So, do low test scores not speak to poverty, to lack of English, to learning disabilities? Is the simplistic reformy mantra of "no excuses" universally applicable? Are these, in fact, the worst schools?

What does this say about us, and by no means only Gotham, when we accept such a definition without question? And what are we saying about ourselves, our kids, our neighborhoods, and about those kids, their families, and their neighborhoods when we do such things as a matter of course, and close their schools and fire their teachers as a result?
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