2008-03-28 / Community

Incentives Set For Responses To DOE Surveys Scholars' Academy 'Pays' For Parent Response

By Howard Schwach

A number of parents whose children attend the Scholars'Academy, the District 27 gifted program at Beach 102 Street are angry at what they perceive were "bribes" for handing in "positive" surveys to the Department of Education, which were due to the school on March 17.

Last year at this time, the parents say, nobody realized the importance of the surveys in the makeup of the education department's school progress report cards.

The Scholars' Academy received a grade of "B" on its report card last year, a grade that many felt was unfair in light of the fact that nearly all the students in the school are at the highest level in both reading and mathematics and that 55 percent of the school's grade was based on progress.

This year, however, the school's principal, Brian O'Connell, decided to get proactive with a memo that went home to all parents.

"Our immediate goal is now to earn an "A" Progress Report Rating," O'Connell wrote. "The combination of a High Quality Review Rating and High Progress Report rating will be public information that many prospective families will view when researching where to live or what school to attend."

"To help us earn the grade of "A," we need a high rate of positive responses on the attached parent survey."

"I thought that the goal of any school, particularly one in which all of the students are already functioning at a high level, is to get them ready for the real world," one parent, who asked not to be identified because he fears retribution against his child, told The Wave this week. "They should be learning to think, to research, to learn about the government and to become a good citizen," he added. They should not be worried about how the school looks because of a tainted DOE report card system."

What angered the parents, however, was an incentive program that they believe borders on bribery.

For example, the first "Cooperative Group" in each class with a 100 percent return earned each student in the group a "homework pass," which means they do not have to do one night's homework assignment.

The first homeroom on each grade with 100 percent return was to be treated to a pizza party during its lunch period.

The first "Cohort" in each grade with a 100 percent return was given an extended recess period.

The first grade with a 100 percent return was to receive a school fundraiser dance.

"That is completely inappropriate," one parent said. "First of all, the kids have no control over whether or not the parents send in the survey. Secondly, the school keeps telling us how important each night's homework is to the education of the students. Now, all of a sudden, it's not so important if the kids bring in their parent surveys. Third, an extended recess means the students are missing an academic subject. That's just not right. It teaches kids that some things are more important than others, and I don't like what O'Connell or the DOE considers to be the most important - getting a good grade."

The Department of Education was contacted on at least three occasions, asking permission for The Wave to speak with O'Connell about the memo, or for comment from DOE officials as to whether the incentives are allowed under Chancellor's Regulations.

No calls from either the DOE or O'Connell were forthcoming by press time, however.

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