Saturday, May 07, 2016

At George Washington Campus, I Learn Opt Out NYC Needs Help

Last night I went to George Washington "Campus." Now there was a big sign in front of the school, etched in stone no less, that said George Washington High School, but that wasn't what it was. It was a "campus," because that's what I read it was.

Now I'm a little naive, I guess, from years of working in one of the few high schools that wasn't destroyed by Michael Bloomberg, so I kind of wondered what the hell George Washington Campus was. Was it a college? Was it a place where students hung out and sat on the lawn? Who knew?

In fact, I asked one of my colleagues, who used to be a cab driver what and where it was. I was trying to decide whether to take the train there or drive. He assured me if I drove I would find a space, so that's what I did. By a small miracle, a car pulled out of a space a block away from the "campus" as I was driving around. A friend I met there came in a cab, and her cab driver had trouble finding the place even though he had it on GPS. So I'm guessing the campus is not that famous.

Why am I talking about this place in a piece with "opt out" in the title? Good question. Our friend Michael Bloomberg thought the best way he could help schools get better was by closing them. Actually that's not precisely what he did. What he did was break them up into smaller schools, hiring four principals instead of just one, and having four sets of rules instead of one. This was better because Bill Gates said it was, until he decided it wasn't. But having already imposed his will on the NYC district, it stayed imposed, as do so many ideas that emanated from Bill Gates' abundant hind quarters.

The effect, of course, was to downplay any notion of community schools (thus downplaying any notion of community, valued by neither Gates nor Bloomberg). Parents now had "choice." They could go to the Academy of Basket Weaving, the Academy of Coffee Drinking, or the Academy of Doing Really Good Stuff. Of course by the time they got there the principals who envisioned basket weaving, coffee drinking, or doing good stuff were often gone, and it was Just Another School, or more likely Just Another Floor of a School, as there were those three other schools to contend with. (Unless of course Moskowitz got in, in which case it was A Renovated Space Better Than Your Space.)

Last night I learned that middle schools in NYC also are Schools of Choice. I don't know exactly why I learned this last night, because my friend Paul Rubin told me this months ago. I think I need to hear things more than once before they register with me, though. Anyway last night I heard from someone who told me that one of the schools her daughter might attend required test scores as a prerequisite. So if her family had decided to send their kid there, opt-out may not have been a good option.

I live in a little town in Long Island. My daughter went to our middle school, as did every public school student in our town. We are a community, and our community's kids go to our community's schools. If I opt my kid out, she goes to that school. If she scores high, low, or anywhere in between, she goes to that school.

That's not the case in NYC. And by requiring test scores from tests that ought not to even exist, these schools effectively deny the right of many students to opt out. So the question becomes, if the tests are not appropriate, and if even bought-and-paid-for tinhorn politicians like Andrew Cuomo say these tests ought not to count, why the hell are we counting them?

And the next question is, is there anything we can do about it? Opt-out brought us these mild, but not insane, modifications from Andrew Cuomo, even though he happily takes suitcases full of cash from the reformies. It also brought us Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, who I went to hear at George Washington Campus last night. Dr. Rosa impressed me by being consistently Not Insane, even in one instance where I disagreed with her.

If we can have an educational leader who is Not Insane, is it possible we can work toward a middle school admission policy that is also Not Insane? Because for me, and I freely acknowledge I may be in the minority here, I feel that Not Insane is the way to go with educational policy.
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