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Yesterday I attended the third annual symposium of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, where I am a student. This yearâ€™s topic is "Equal Education Opportunity: What Now? Reassessing the Role of the Courts, the Law and School Policies after Seattle and CFE."
The focus of the two-day symposium is primarily to discuss the role of litigation in promoting equal educational opportunity. This is particularly salient now given the Supreme Courtâ€™s recent decision regarding voluntary school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, as well as New York Stateâ€™s recent decision to put $5.4 billion into New York City schools as a result of litigation from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.
The morning session gathered four leading scholars for a moderated discussion about the impact of the Seattle and Louisville case. Amy Stuart Wells, a TC professor of sociology and education, began by providing a brief overview of the Supreme Courtâ€™s 185-page decision. The decision is remarkably complex but the essence of it is that schools may not use racial classifications in assigning children to schoolâ€”even if these measures are carried out for the purpose of racial integration. Justice Kennedy proved to be the swing vote on the case, siding with the conservative bloc of judges on all parts of the decision except one (where he argued that there is a compelling state interest in racial balancing). However, because Kennedyâ€™s decision is â€œremarkably unclear,â€ the future impact of the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision is still unclear, the panelists said.
Wells was joined by Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; James Ryan, a law professor at the University of Virginia; and john a. powell of Ohio State Universityâ€™s Kirwin Institute for Race and Ethnicity. Each provided interesting perspectives on the courtâ€™s decision but I am most concerned with the way that New York City fits into this picture.
Professor Ryan commented that racial integration is only on the agenda of about 1000 out of 16,000 school districts across the United States. In fact, half of all school districts in the country are either 90% white or 90% minority. What this means in practice is that half of school districts could not adopt racial integration plans even if they wanted to. Such is the case in New York City, where 85.6% of the student population during the 2005-2006 school year was classified as â€œother than white/non-Hispanic,â€ according to the Legal Defense Fund. As Shaw commented, â€œDesegregation is already a lost cause in many places like New York City.â€
If desegregation really is a lost cause in a place like New York City, then the question obviously becomes â€œwhat now?â€ The panel provided little insight into this topic since the panelists seem focused on the next steps in litigation over racial integration and about what will be allowed in the era ushered in by the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision. Nonetheless, powell did stress that education is the crucible for democracy and that â€œtrue integrationâ€ has transformative effects. I presume powell would argue that even if New York City cannot achieve racial integration, the question of how we ensure equal educational opportunity for over 1 million children is salientâ€”particularly with the next round of reforms underway.
Speaking of PSAs, check out this one for Advocates for Children:
Seven students created the ad this summer to promote the fact that kids have the right to stay in school until age 21. Many of the kids in the ad had experience being illegally pushed out of school themselves. Read more at Advocates for Children's website.
Is there any idea that wild and crazy Roland Fryer won't try? Last week the word was that he was arranging to give kids cell phones whose minutes would be dependent on school performance. This week's plan, according to the Times, is to have famous people, such as Jay-Z and LeBron James, send poor New York City kids text messages telling them to stay in school. Really. Because a rap artist who dropped out of high school and a basketball player who skipped college for a multi-million-dollar professional contract are the perfect figures to teach kids about the long-term benefits of doing well in school.
Even getting past the obvious ironies, this plan just seems weird. I have questions about why the program will roll out in KIPP charter schools, where students already have someone at home who recognizes the value of doing well in school enough to enter them in the lottery and make sure they are in uniform for each 9-hour day. And I'm not sure Fryer needed a focus group to find out that "reaching [teenagers] through a concerted campaign of text messages or through the Internet was far more likely to be effective than a traditional billboard and television campaign" â€” any parent or 9-year-old could have told him that. Finally, I wonder whether it's crossed Fryer's mind that one way to increase "demand" for education would be to make school enjoyable â€” by bolstering the quality of teaching, reducing the number of tests kids must take, and encouraging creativity in the classroom.
I don't think there's anything wrong, necessarily, with what's essentially a 21st-century version of this 1990 public service announcement. I just don't get it.
The text messages will start transmitting in January. I can already imagine one unintended consequence that could be a boon for DOE officials and cash-strapped parents. If their cell phones start spewing motivational messages, many kids might feel incentivized to leave their phones at home.
In the midst of all of the report card madness, the Post remembered to catch up with some of the children receiving payments for their performance in school as part of the DOE's new incentives initiative. The kids at MS 302 (percent of kids on grade level: 22; progress report grade: B) say they're studying more and excited about school because of the money. "I was thinking if I studied more, I'd get all the answers right, and I'd probably get more money," one girl told the Post.
I wouldn't go so far as anti-testing activist Jane Hirschmann, who told the Post that the payment plan is "about the worst thing I've ever had," but I do think the crude idea sounds even cruder from the mouths of children whose schools have obviously given up on teaching them to appreciate learning and studying for their own merits. At least there are "several students" who told the Post they have always worked hard and will continue doing so. It's just too bad they are buried at the end of the article when the Post might have put into public record what motivated students think kids need to want to succeed.
Yesterday, the New York Times went after the progress reports in an editorial titled "Grading the Grades." It said pretty much everything I think (and much of what I said the other day):
The new system "does a valuable service to students, and teachers, by holding schools accountable for both overall performance and for how much progress students make from one year to the next. But Mr. Bloomberg should ditch the simplistic and counterproductive A through F rating system. It boils down the entire shooting match to a single letter grade that does not convey the full weight of this approach and lends itself to tabloid headlines instead of a real look at a schoolâ€™s problems.
Last week, I heard from a couple of people that I was too generous in my appraisal of the progress report initiative. I don't know that I was. I said basically what the Times said â€” that the idea is a good one but the execution has big problems â€” and parent advocates were pleased with the Times editorial. Still, I admit that I am just getting up to speed on the theory and history behind the growth model of evaluating education, which is what the progress reports are based on. But the Times points out that while growth models are currently beloved by education researchers, they expect to see three years' test scores factoring into the computations â€” and the DOE used only one to judge elementary and middle schools. In their haste to show results (or to push initiatives through before they can be challenged?), the chancellor and mayor have compromised their reforms and created what parent leader David Bloomfield suggests could be considered a "crazy experiment gone bad."
Like Seth and the Times editorial board, I do think there is value to the growth model â€” as I said, parents should be able to know whether their schools are helping their kids make progress. And I still believe that a high-performing school may not score high on a growth model "improvement index." If a well-designed measure showed that, schools and parents would be more likely to take the news to heart. It seems that an "improvement index" that factors into a school's entire grade, if there must be one, at a much lower weight, would make more sense. I do think a single grade is reductive and distracting and unnecessary. At any rate, I agree with the Times that a "more subtle and flexible" school evaluation system is needed. Given our current leaders' inability to handle even the most reasoned criticism, I'll be pretty surprised if we see that.
Toss The Grades: For More Details, Try the Quality Review Reports
(If you can slog through them, that is)
When it comes to selecting a District 2 middle school for my fifth-grader, I have no intention of ruling a school in or out based on the latest letter-grade from the New York City Department of Education. The progress reports and accompanying grades are misleading, difficult to understand and culled from criteria that say much about the DOE's priorities - improving test scores- and little about mine as a parent.
And I would happily trade the A at Clinton, where my oldest son attends middle school, for smaller class sizes, a music program, a soccer team and a well stocked, staffed and open after-hours library.
So, I'm not disturbed that some of the fine schools we are seriously considering for next year -- like IS 89 -- received a D, or that the impressive Manhattan Academy of Technology, or MAT, got a C on its report card.
I sat down with the report cards this week to see what I might learn. The data and the methodology confused me, although it was clear that heavy penalties fell upon schools where test scores for the lowest performers failed to rise.
I switched to reading the quality reviews, like this one for MAT, and found much of the language in the quality reviews unfriendly to parents and filled with jargon: Does the average parent, for example, know what it means to "build and align capacity?" - or why that matters? Or care if "professional development activities are in place to address differentiated instruction and to create a seamless curriculum?"
Despite the jargon, overall, I found the quality reviews far more useful for parents, because they contained sections entitled: "What this school does well," or "What this school needs to do to improve."As for the report cards, here's a tip I gleaned from my colleague Veronika Denes, a Ph.D. who directs research and program evaluation for the National Academy of Excellent Teaching at Teachers College and understands data better than anyone I know.
Veronika and colleagues spent more than a day trying to understand the methodology behind the reports, until they discovered online a simplifying tool that the DOE created for educators.
It's 28 pages long.
Dear Chancellor Klein,
My name is Seth Pearce. I am a senior at LaGuardia High School and a member of the NYC Student Union, a citywide, student-run and -created education advocacy organization. I am writing to you to express both my support for your new school progress report program and my criticism of some of its parts.
At last week's NYC Student Union meeting, students from schools around the city discussed the progress reports. Some students supported them and others didn't. There was, however, a general agreement on the need for accountability in our schools. These progress reports bring added accountability and transparency to our city's schools. They help give valuable information to our city's parents. The most important benefit of the progress reports might be increased involvement from these parents who now have a clearer view of what's going on their children's schools.
While I support the principle of the progress reports, I also believe that the system needs revision. A large problem with your report card is the small amount of influence the Learning Environment section has on the overall score. Attendance is also as a major indicator of school performance. Students who go to bad schools will probably go to school less often and vice versa. If students are in the habit of going to school it is more likely that they will progress academically and proceed to the next level of education. Surveys should also play a larger role because parents, students and teachers have the most direct insight into the schools output.
I would also like to say that while standardized test scores deserve a place in the progress report they are given too much value in this system. While they provide some insight into student performance, they are inadequate and distract from the real business of education: teaching and learning. Emphasis on these tests also devalues the roles teacher and student. Furthermore, the need for constant progress to succeed in their progress reports is unrealistic for high performing schools and can actually distract them from the great work they are doing. In my mind the importance of progress for these purposes should be taken on the sliding scale determined by a school's previous performance, e.g. progress would more important for low performing schools.
Thank you for taking the time to hear a student's opinion. If you ever want to read some student commentary about our school system, check out the NYC Students Blog or stop by at one of our Monday meetings.
Have a nice day,
Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but work has picked up its pace and barely have time to breathe anymore!
I got a call last week informing me that I passed the first test to get into the small school in my neighborhood, so I was eligible for the final step to determine my admission: an interview. Unluckily, it was at 3 p.m. on a school day, and as I only get out of school at 2:10, I really had to get to the school fast.
So one cab ride and several anxious minutes later, I was sitting in a small lab room with a cheerful interviewer. I sat up straight, grinned, and gave it my all. By the end, I was pretty sure I had him hooked! If I get in to this school, I have decided that if I don't get into the specialized high school of my choice, I'm pretty sure I'll go there.
* * *
I just have a quick explanation for my readers out there. You may have realized that I have avoided naming any of the schools in my posts, and there is a reason behind that: Because this is a public blog, I wouldn't really enjoy having my chances at a certain school lowered based on something that I wrote about it. By not naming the schools, I kind of have an "Invisibility Cloak" that allows me to say whatever I want about any school and not get judged on it.
In my last post I discussed how the first step to getting a grant is identifying what the biggest "grantable" needs are at your school. Once youâ€™ve decided the priorities at your school, the next step in finding grant funding is identifying the funders who are right for your project.
What funding category does the project fit into? Is it Arts--a visiting playwright, poet or printmaker, a spring musical, trips to museums? Is it Literacy--visiting historical sites and then writing about them, or buying biographies for classroom libraries? Is your grant for a Capital Expense--permanent physical improvement to a space, like planting a garden or renovating a community room? Is it Environmental Stewardship--studying where city water comes from, or connecting science curriculum with local parks?
There are often different funding organizations to help schools in each of these categories, and itâ€™s easier to find them if you know which category your grant fits into.
Last month, the New York City Student Union officially launched the NYC Students Blog, the first ever student-run blog about the NYC education system. In doing so they have joined the many teacher blogs; organizational blogs, such as this one; and the NYC Public School Parents Blog to contribute to the discussion on many of the important issues in our City's schools.
Ashu Kapoor, a senior blogger from a Queens small school:
For too long, students have been left out of the decisions made about our education. This blog will begin the task of giving students a real voice in our schools. Students are most affected by the successes and failures of our schools and deserve some say in the policies made about them.
The NYC Students Blog currently features nine student bloggers who represent every borough and many different types of schools. So far these students have tackled issues such as student government organizations, the Contracts for Excellence debate, recycling efforts in New York City's schools, and
I'll continue to post the highlights from the NYC Students Blog (as well as my own original content) here at Insideschools, but i