Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rating Schools

I was at a meeting yesterday where school ratings were discussed. We've all seen a variety of ratings used, and most of them are terrible. Those of us in the city all remember the report cards, largely based on test scores. Of course these ratings are ridiculous. For one thing, the only thing test scores are absolutely correlated to is income. For another, the tests are ridiculous, constantly manipulated by geniuses in Albany to show whatever it is they want to prove this year.

Now there are Quality Reviews in effect. These are people who walk around demanding absolutely the same thing of absolutely every school. A biggie this year is the inquiry team. If your school has low test scores, the only thing that will make them better is an inquiry team. If your school has high test scores, you need an inquiry team so that you can find out how they can be higher. Also, you'd better have rubrics on your bulletin boards, because the only way students can learn from a bulletin board is if there is a rubric attached.

So now, thanks to the quality review, a lot of city teachers are spending various periods of time in inquiry teams and writing rubrics to hang on bulletin boards. Doubtless this will save the world. Meanwhile, things that actually improve education are ignored utterly.

How about class size? NYC continues with the highest class sizes in the state. The only reason they aren't higher is the UFT Contract, and leadership hasn't moved to lower it in five decades. Of course leadership would tell you this is so they can get those fabulous raises we enjoy. I personally can't remember getting a fabulous raise lately, and am sitting around waiting for money I earned in 2010, money I won't get until 2020. And then there's the CFE lawsuit, blatantly ignored by both city and state.

Of course it isn't solely union leadership at fault here. Our esteemed governor, who leadership seems to like because he hasn't tried to kill us this year, can't be bothered. Mayor de Blasio can't worry about it either. At a school level, principals are scrambling to keep up with nonsense like quality reviews and observing every teacher in the building four times. Principals have to pay teachers out of their own budgets. Where are they gonna get the money to reduce class sizes? It's not like they can have billionaire-studded galas like Eva Moskowitz does.

But as a teacher and parent I value reasonable class size. I'd happily rate schools on it and give principals an incentive to enable it. Then there's PE. My school, like most city high schools, offers it only every other day. I hear some don't bother with laws and offer it once a week, if at all. PE should be every day, and ought to give kids a chance to blow off steam. We ought to let our children know that their physical health is something we care about. We ought to give schools that offer 5 day a week physical education credit for doing so.

Are there music and art programs? Are they five days a week, or are they treated as virtual lepers, every other day like PE? Are we seriously expecting PE and music teachers to effectively work with up to 250 students at a time? Are we expecting them to be able to assess them reasonably? Are we going to delude ourselves into thinking that teachers can offer individual assistance under such circumstances?

How about rating schools on individuality? Do the schools have special programs that really help kids or enhance their lives? Do they think outside of the box? Or do they just follow whatever rule book is in vogue this year and spend all their energy chasing their proverbial tails?

If we're gonna rate schools at all, we might as well encourage them to service our children rather than Bill Gates. What do you think we need to know to evaluate our schools? 
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