Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Gives an A

Spurred on by several astute commenters, I checked out the "On Education" column in today's Times. Inquiring minds want to know how a school NY State labeled as "persistently dangerous" could get an A from the great minds at Tweed. Jim Liebman, last seen running away from a group of concerned parents, had a ready explanation:

The A grade, though, may also have something to do with the fact that the progress reports weigh all safety factors as only 2.5 percent of a school’s total grade, said James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer. He has said the department decided not to give safety more consideration because statistics on school violence rely on self-reporting and tend to be deceptive.

Interesting that the safety of NYC's 1.1 million public school children is only worth 2.5% to this administration. In fact, according to Mr. Liebman, being on the list of 52 persistently dangerous schools is actually a good thing:
Only a school that keeps track of its disciplinary incidents will compile enough examples to make the state list, he said. Ms. Ault, the principal, offered the same explanation. Some teachers, however, say they were dissuaded from reporting incidents.

Well, it's an imaginative theory, in any case, and it certainly sheds light on precisely what Mr. Bloomberg looks for in an "accountability officer."

This is one of the "academies" that's recently popped up as Mr. Bloomberg's panacea. Now the one in the commercial I keep seeing says it's passing almost all of the kids that go there, while the school it replaced passed almost none. And it has nothing to do, I have to suppose, with the fact that all the failing kids were replaced. At least that's the impression it gave me. But the school Freedman describes sounds like something from a Fellini film:

During the 2006-7 term, 13 of the 16 teachers were in their first year. The principal, Ms. Ault, had never led a school before founding Applied Media in 2005. She previously coordinated special education at a charter school in Harlem that was shut by the state for academic deficiency.

Still, Applied Media showed student progress on its standardized tests.

One reason for the improving scores, Ms. Ault said, was that during the period of test preparation in the late winter and early spring, she removed the “most disruptive” students from their regular classes. Dmitry Terekhov, a teacher, said: “The A we received is a testament to the teachers. We got the job done.”

That they did. But it appears when test prep is not in session, the approach to disruptive students is one of utter indifference.

“The administration would be telling you that it would all fall into place if you had a better lesson plan or more student engagement or arranged the desks in a U shape,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter how good your lesson plan is if the kids can’t even stay still long enough to write the ‘Aim’ and ‘Do Now’ off the board. There are no repercussions. There is no punishment fitting the infraction.”

While I've learned not to expect much, or indeed anything, from administration, the fact is it's their job to support teachers, particularly new teachers. As new teachers constituted almost the entire staff, that's a big job. I guess big jobs are easier when you don't do them, just like the rent is not so high when you don't pay it.

And that's today's lesson, apparently, in Mr. Bloomberg's New York.

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