2007-12-14 / Columnists

School Scope

The Ten Plagues of BloomKlein
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott The Ten Plagues Of BloomKlein include:

1. Closed schools based on single

letter grades! 2. Inflated test scores! 3. Distorted graduation rates! 4. Use of statistics instead of educationally

sound principles to

make basic decisions about children's

lives! 5. Reduced services for special edu

cation students! 6. Attacks on senior teachers! 7. Parents treated like pariahs! 8. Enormous sums spent on testing

rather than reducing class size! 9. Even more enormous sums

spent on high-priced consultants

and computer systems! 10. Constant chaotic reorganizations

based on untested principles!

11. Dumb merit pay schemes for teachers and students!

12. A gutted, compliant, ineffective

union that capitulates and collaborates with the BloomKlein

administration, while deceiving

the membership.

Oh, sorry, did I pass ten? Is it too late to change the title? Can I try for twenty? Nah! Let's keep this column short. As I told Susan Locke at the Wave Christmas party the other day, "Cut the column when you fall asleep." Zzzzzzzzzz.

The big local news was the announced closing of Far Rockaway High School. Following on The Wave's reports a few weeks ago about the increased problems at Beach Channel High School from over the counter (OTC) refugees from Far Rock, expect more of the same next year when Far Rock's freshman class has to go elsewhere. The over/under on Beach Channel's future is already being set in Vegas.

When the reorganization of Far Rock was announced in April 2005, I wrote, "Far Rockaway HS has been put on a fast track to be reorganized by September [2005] which could lead to the creation of four mini-schools, including a vocational ed track, and the replacement of up to 50% of the teachers. Teachers who want to stay will have to apply for jobs. You know the story - if it's a failing school it's got to be the fault of the teachers. Their resistance to change must be the reason the school is perceived as failing; probably not willing enough to drink the Workshop model Kool-aid."

That reorganization must be viewed as a failure by the NYCDOE if they are closing it now. Who is responsible for that "failure" (their definition, not mine) if not the DOE? Why are they allowed to get away with blaming everyone and everything but themselves? They are always talking about "no excuses," yet they are the biggest excuse-makers.

When BloomKlein announce they are closing schools, there are shock waves, part of their "shock and awe" strategy in "reforming" the educational system. But when they close a school they are announcing their failure to fix it, while absolving themselves of responsibility. After all, they control the administrators and most of the teachers who are there. So, what will change when they close a school? New administrators, new teachers and mostly, new kids. Where will the ones denied entry into the new school go? To the next school to be destabilized? If you can't fix what's wrong without closing the school, then you have failed.

Questions have been raised about small schools and charter schools actually being more successful considering these issues: getting a higher achieving pool of students and eliminating students with special needs; getting a disproportionate share of resources; forcing the larger, traditional schools to be even more overcrowded and receiving those students who have the least chance of succeeding.

Joel Klein wrote an op-ed in the New York Post ("Closing Time") on December 10, outlining the rationale for closing schools. Klein said:

Starting in 2002, we began phasing out and shutting down schools that had a history of failure. These decisions... were an acknowledgement that the schools weren't remotely educating students - and that they weren't going to get better on their own. [Why is a failing school being left on its own?]

Klein uses the example of Bushwick High School in Brooklyn to demonstrate:

Bushwick High School had a graduation rate of just 23 percent. We replaced it with four new small schools, which now make up what we call the Bushwick campus. Last year, the new schools had a combined graduation rate of nearly 60 percent -almost triple what it once was. The students literally paraded through their neighborhood in June, demonstrating the pride that they feel for their schools and their community.

Blogger Eduwonkette, following up on the work she did on exposing the Evander High School "miracle" where she compared the student populations of the small schools with the large "failing" school they replaced, did the same work on the Bushwick example:

If the intent of school closings is to clear out the students who previously attended the "failing school," replace them with higher performing students, and declare victory, Bushwick is a marked success.

Bushwick stopped taking ninthgraders through the formal admissions process in September of 2002, but continued receiving "over the counter students" (OTCs)- students who have not been placed in any school, who are transferring, or who arrive in the middle of the year - in the 2003-2004 school year as well. Zoned schools like Bushwick represent combinations of the for- mal admissions process students and OTC students; while the small schools do receive OTCs, the proportion of the student population comprised by these students is much smaller.

How was the old Bushwick different from the schools that replaced it?

The most notable differences include the ELL population and the percentage of students who come into ninth grade proficient in reading and math. Bushwick ninth-graders were 30.6 percent ELL, while in their first year, the new small schools served between 19.5 and 26 percent ELL.

Even more drastically, 83 percent of the Bushwick OTC kids were ELLs.

On most other indicators, the Bushwick ninth-graders were lower performing than the ninth-graders attending the new small schools. This is particularly true of the Bushwick OTC students.

Eduwonkette blogs at: http://www. eduwonkette.com

It's the family, stupid.

Mike Winerip, one of our favorite commentators on education, was back in the NY Times on Sunday laying waste to the "No Excuses" argument, something anyone who spends 10 minutes in the classroom understands.

Does that mean we stop teaching? No. But we understand that we must fight for the resources necessary to close the achievement gap, not do education reform on the cheap or throw money at data management rather than classroom management.

But guess where they buried what should be a front-page piece because it exposes the sham of NCLB and the entire business-based education reform movement and, in particular, the entire program of BloomKlein? In the regional "parenting" section, which most people in the city environs do not even receive. Winerip starts his piece with:

The federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002 rates schools based on how students perform on state standardized tests, and if too many children score poorly, the school is judged as failing.

But how much is really the school's fault? A new study by the Educational Testing Service - which develops and administers more than 50 million standardized tests annually, including the SAT - concludes that an awful lot of those low scores can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with schools. The study, "The Family: America's Smallest School," suggests that a lot of the failure has to do with what takes place in the home, the level of poverty and government's inadequate support for programs that could make a difference, like high-quality day care and paid maternity leave.

The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth-graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children five or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth- graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state's results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

Try to read the entire piece - if you can find it (I have links on my blog).

I want to reiterate that even with these issues, I have a firm belief they all can be overcome. Give us the resources. Akid in pre-k is already two years behind? What would it take? A one-on-one person every day for a year? Then do it. The DOE's Jim Liebman said that it would take 15 in a class, the level of private schools, for class-size reduction to make a difference and that is too expensive. When this country suddenly needs trillions to fight wars, the money magically appears, but when education reform is on the agenda, the business community wants to do it on the cheap with gimmicks like merit pay and changing perceptions of low expectations. Educators who want to reform the system the right way do have low expectations: about the ability of this society to give them the tools they can really use to close the achievement gap.

The Great Escape

One of the notable education stories this week was Tweed's Chief Accountability Officer James Liebman's race to escape parent petitioners after testifying at a City Council hearing on the school grading system. Even reporter Jennifer Medina's story in the NY Times seemed to have a bit of fun with it. Satirist Gary Babad did a piece for the NYC Parent blog on the NY Jets offering Liebman a contract based on his mad dash.

You can read all about these delicious education wonk friendly stories at my blog.

Oh, and Susan. Sorry, the column is not short. Maybe next time, as a New Year's gift.

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