Friday, December 14, 2007

Eliot Doesn't Get It

After having supported Eliot Spitzer for governor, the UFT proudly declared on Edwize, "Eliot Gets it." I voted for him enthusiastically, as he'd done a lot of talking about class size reduction, which I've always supported. However, when he actually got into office, he started talking about menus---class size reduction or a longer school day or a longer school year. The whole bait and switch approach didn't much appeal to me.

The UFT praised class size legislation as a major victory, though careful reading of its own article indicated there were no real consequences for failure to deliver, or reduction of less than one student per class. Now, months after this dubious accomplishment, the UFT is calling for class size reduction in schools that need improvement. This is a huge step backward, particularly in comparison with the "victory" it loudly declared all those months ago.

What else has our pal "Eliot" got in store for us? Well, the NY Sun reports the following:

The city's schools, which just received their first letter grades from Mayor Bloomberg, next year could receive a whole new set of judgments — this time courtesy of Governor Spitzer.

To be considered to have met federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks, New York schools now must only prove to the state that their students are scoring at a certain level. The new formula being developed in Albany — called a "growth model" — would require they also show improvement from one year to the next.

Now everyone wants improvement, and everyone wants their kids to do better in school. How many of us have not met the parent whose kid got a 99 and who wants to know why the hell she didn't get 100? And therein lies the problem.

In my school, 90% of the kids might pass the English or math Regents exams. But if we fall to 88% the next year, such a system might determine we are failing. In fact, under the first Bloomberg/Klein reorganization, and for just such a 2% drop, we were selected as a school in need of supervision. But other schools with much lower passing ratios were declared to be improving.

We might go up to 92% next year--who knows? But it's normal to have a little ebb and flow. I happen to think there are factors other than grades that speak to a school's quality (or lack thereof), but systems that rely on test scores need to recognize consistent excellence (or consistent mediocrity).

Certainly parents know. That's why my school is at over 250% capacity and growing by leaps and bounds, while some "improving" schools have plenty of space.

But where would you send your kid--the school that's gone from 90 to 88, or the one that's gone from 60 to 64? If you were basing you decision solely on test scores, the answer would be simple.

If you were looking for reasonable class size, you might want to check into a school labeled as failing, because they appear to be the only ones slated for attention right now. And even so, I wouldn't hold my breath while waiting.

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