2007-11-16 / Columnists

School Scope

Tweed's Grade: Even Their PR Gets An 'F'
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Last week's Wave addressed the letter grades in Rockaway's schools with a misleading headline, "Not Making the Grade", questioning why some high-performing schools received low grades and why some struggling schools did well. Rather than analyzing the grades, the entire process of giving schools a single letter grade should be challenged.

First, there was outcry from schools that did not receive good grades in the recent school grading controversy. Then came analysis of the criteria used (mostly scores on standardized tests.) Included in the criteria was the racial composition of the schools. It seems a high level of Hispanics gained schools some advantage - maybe because of the language component.

Blogger Eduwonkette has been digging out some great data. Like "A" schools had an Asian population of 15 percent and "F" schools less than 5 percent. The number of African-American kids at "A" schools averaged 25 percent while at "F" schools averaged 47 percent. Is racism at work here? Hard to tell, but confusion reigns.

Eduwonkette also found doubt in the data.

Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg flexed his muscles by threatening to close F schools as early as June. He quipped, "Is this a wake-up call for the people who work there? You betcha."

Through analyzing these data, I've concluded that the people in need of a wake-up call work not at F schools, but at the NYC Department of Education. Undoubtedly, data can and should be used for organizational learning and school improvement. But if we're going to rank and sort schools - an action that has serious consequences for the kids, educators, and parents affected - the Department of Ed's methods should be in line with the standards to which statisticians and quantitative social scientists hold themselves. Needless to say, NYC's report cards are not.

She then goes on to list five reasons the report cards could be called "statistical malpractice." Get the details at http://www.eduwonkette.com/.

IS 318 in Brooklyn didn't get an F, but a B. Note the item below from Elizabeth Green's NY Sun article on school report card grades:

John Galvin, the assistant principal at a popular Brooklyn middle, I.S. 318, said his school's leadership met to discuss their new grade, a B, but decided not to make any changes. Moving to an A, he said, would require spending many hours on small improvements, moving students who are already passing tests to get just one or two more questions right on a standardized test.

He said test prep would leave students bored, not stronger learners. "We're not going to give up doing art, music, chess, robotics - all the great programs we have during the day that gifted kids are interested in - just to make sure they get a better or equal score than they got the year before," he said. "We do care about the test, but not enough to sacrifice."

Pat D., Teacher and Parent, commented:

Way to go 318! It's a great school with so much to offer their children. Kids and parents knock the doors down to get in. My daughter had the best three years of her school life at this school. She learned to enjoy learning along with the opportunities she was offered in the arts, sports and cultural aspects of life. The staff is very dedicated, receptive to parents and proud of their students. You couldn't ask for a better school environment. These marks don't mean anything but an increase in scores. My school got an A. But so many of the kids are struggling and have a long way to go.

YES! IS 318, a national chess champion, will not give up these activities to go for the "A". The NYC public school parents' blog gave IS 318 an educational hero citation. And pictures of "The Scarlet Letter's" Hester Prynne standing in front of a school with a scarlet "F" on her chest and Joel Klein leering in the background, began appearing on the blogs.

Haiku school grade contest

There was more fun from Eduwonkette, who is running a haiku fun fest at her blog: if those who can, teach the schools who cannot got Fs is starbucks hiring?

Haiku is too soft. Harakiri is better. That's what they deserve.

And my contribution: School grades, Joel and Mike Destroy our poor little tyke(s) Out! Out! wretched spot(s). Cell Phones for grades: Bloomberg and Klein Get Desperate

The NY Times reported this week that text messages designed by an ad agency will be sent over phones given to all students at about 20 schools to promote achievement.

All it takes are a few messages from some rappers on a cell phone to motivate kids turned off by school. Jeez! Why didn't I think of that when I was teaching? Oh, I forgot. In those days we used waxed string and milk containers to communicate. (Is there a way to send text messages that way?) And I used to get pretty good results with a few cookies. There's inflation for ya. DOE consultant Roland Fryer keeps jumping from the fryer pan into the fire.

I was taken by these quotes in the NY Times article:

"How do you get people to think about achievement in communities where, for historical or other reasons, there isn't necessarily demand for that," Mr. Klein said yesterday in an interview. "We want to create an environment where kids know education is something you should want. Some people come to school with an enormous appetite for learning and others do not - that's the reality."

Mr. Klein said the effort was spurred in part by the results from focus groups performed by market research firms for the Education Department. That research found that black and Latino students from some of the city's most hardpressed neighborhoods had a difficult time understanding that doing well in school can provide tangible long-term benefits.

Duhhhhh! They needed a focus group to tell them something teachers find out in their first 10 minutes of teaching?

You see, we have been telling Klein this all along and his response is that we are making excuses. Many of us actually know how to fix this problem: engaging, exciting curricula, not test prep. And smaller class sizes so kids who do not come with an appetite for learning have more of an opportunity to be engaged. I do not remember my friends and I having that enormous appetite for learning - we were more afraid of our mothers' daily nag.

You have non-motivated students who are often struggling with academics. I have an idea. Turn on the screws by threatening them with being held over on the basis of high stakes tests and then tell them they will get a cell phone and a text message from JB Cool if they can withstand the pressure. Pure Genius!

Some more delicious quotes from the article:

Dr. Fryer said he viewed the project in economic terms, arguing that while the administration's previous efforts have focused on changing the "supply" at schools, this one is proposing to change the "demand" for education, by making students want to seek learning.

You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody wants it, it doesn't matter," Dr. Fryer said. What school systems have done so far, he added, "isn't working well enough." … . Details about how much will be spent and where the money will come from are still to be worked out, Education Department officials said.

Leonie Haimson commented on her blog:

If Fryer thinks that NYC schools are the "best product in the world," he must be blind. Klein says there have been "years of efforts focusing on school structure and teaching"!!! How out of touch can they possibly be? This is an administration that is clearly clueless, and appears to be drowning in loose change.

It's kind of startling, the amount of effort, time and money going into this "rebranding" PR campaign - but I guess when you've given up actually trying to improve schools, as they seem to have done at Tweed, what's left?

If you run Tweed via PR, you think that's PR is all that exists; it's like the Bush administration and Karl Rove, who said: ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out."

So what students at which schools are going to get the "thousands" of new mentors, the tickets, the cell phones and the rest? Those attending KIPP charter schools, and those run by New Visions. I thought those schools were already so expert at motivating students…but guess not. If nothing else, this will probably lead to a surge of applicants to those schools, so they can even more effectively skim off the top.

And, I guess we'll let all those hundreds of thousands of students, left attending the large, overcrowded high schools with classes of 30 or more, to continue to drop out, be discharged or pushed out, or in other ways actively encouraged to disengage.

You can read more from Leonie and her band of merry blogsters at http:// nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/ and of course check out my blog at http://ednotesonline.com/.

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