Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reforminess Doesn't Work, and Wishful Thinking Isn't Much Better

I'm kind of disappointed to see stories like these anywhere, but reformy Chalkbeat linked to it this morning, so I read it. This piece contends that Chancellor Carranza is "fixated on race." That's a pretty strong way to put it. "Fixated" suggests near-obsession, as opposed to concerned. The implication of the story is that the chancellor cares only about race and doesn't give a golly gosh darn about school quality.

Because "college and career ready" is a thing, the writer goes to it, and suggests that "420 of the city’s 525 high schools" had failed to prep half their students. That's an interesting statistic for a number of reasons. The first that comes to my mind is the relative size of high schools. My school has 4600 students, and does well, while another might have 200 and do poorly, and I mean by any standard.

"College and career ready" is some bizarre formula about getting 75% on this state exam and something else on another. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicator of future student performance, and we're seeing this come up as the test for schools like Stuyvesant is all over the news. The writer has still harsher words for the union and the mayor:

Because no single shortcoming dominates here, no quick fix is possible. Neither de Blasio, who is in charge of the system, nor the de facto commander of the classrooms, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, seems to care much.

I haven't been particularly happy with the DOE, ever, and I've been disappointed more than usual lately. My reasons have nothing to do with those of this writer, though. I do not, for one moment, believe de Blasio doesn't care about public schools. And while Mulgrew may be many things, he's far from the "de facto commander" of the classrooms. I'm the de facto commander of my classroom, and if you aren't the same with yours, well, maybe you work for Eva Moskowitz. The statement blames Mulgrew, but implies those of us who do the work every day don't care much either, perhaps at Mulgrew's urging. That's not only insulting--it's also ridiculous.

The writer acknowledges poverty in the piece, to his credit, but kind of dismisses efforts to deal with it. The writer suggests we need to improve standards across the board, and suggests that efforts to integrate schools will somehow distract from it. However, the writer offers no plan to accomplish this. There are a whole lot of active plans in place to do this, the most prominent of which is charter schools. As we watch Eva graduate 20% of the kids who began with her, and hire her 19-year-old non-college graduated son to teach at Moskowitz Academy, she fails to impress.

Reformies never want to address root causes of student failure, the most glaring of which is poverty. This is particularly ironic in NYC, the most liberal area of the state. Even as Andrew Cuomo runs ridiculous ads about how he will protect health care, he enabled the IDC, which has blocked universal health care for years. Cuomo runs commercials about his free college plan, but it actually funds fewer than 4% of our college students, and rejects 70% of those who apply.

The fact is a lot of our students don't get decent health care. A lot of our students are not proficient in English. In fact, none of my students are, and the state is actively exploring programs to give them even less instruction. This writer, who probably knows nothing of the state's idiotic plans, rails against a plan that would find seats for ELLs and homeless children. But hey, they have to sit somewhere.

It's pretty easy to sit in an air-conditioned office somewhere and imply we have to get tough with kids so they have more grit and rigor, or whatever buzz words are in vogue this week. It's a lot tougher to look at root causes and try to address them. This is something we're doing at no level whatsoever. Bill Gates likes to talk about schools in Finland and say we suck next to them. He's right, you know.

The reason Finland does better than we do, though, is not because they turned all their schools into no excuses Moskowitz Academies. It's because they, as a country, decided to address poverty. They also decided that all their kids would go to public schools. Over in Finland, rich people don't pay to keep their children away from kids like yours and mine. If Mayor Bloomberg had to send his kids to public schools he wouldn't have turned them into a reformy lab experiment.

I'd argue it isn't Mayor de Blasio, Michael Mulgrew, you or me who is responsible for student failure in schools. Unless, of course, you hold us responsible for electing people like Cuomo, Bloomberg, Trump, Obama and countless others who waste our time with nonsensical reforminess rather than actually helping the children of America.
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