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Monday, November 17, 2008

Some Final Thoughts on School Progress Reports

What do we now have after two years of the DOE handing out reports cards on our schools? Here are a few not-so-random questions and thoughts.

Does it ease the minds of current and prospective public school parents to know that 79.3% of the city’s public/charter schools are now operating at an A or B level, or that 93.8% merit a C grade or better? Or do parents simply disregard these results as self-serving happy talk, a sort of Panglossian fluff? (Don’t forget Voltaire’s memorable mantra for his character, Candide’s tutor, Pangloss: “All for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”)

Do parents find credibility in a measurement system under which 26 D- and F-rated schools miraculously became A-rated in just one year and 66 D- and F-rated schools improved to a B rating? Or how about the 4 schools whose A rating last year fell to a D or an F this year, or the 22 B-rated schools who fell to a D or an F, or the 8 C-rated schools who fell to an F? Do parents at these last-mentioned 34 schools whose grades "crashed" in just one year rush headlong for the exit doors based on these results?

Can parents bestow objectivity on a measurement scheme in which every level of the organization has a vested interest in positive outcomes? Can they assign credibility to a system whose pressures lead inevitably to skewed classroom emphasis, rule-bending, gaming the system, and even manipulating statistics or exam results at the local school level?

Can parents reliably use the Progress Report Grades when they evaluate schools? Do they even care about the DOE’s letter grade when their criteria are based on what they see, hear, and feel around them during a visit: leadership qualities of the principal, academic environment, teacher quality, hallway atmosphere, student engagement, range of programs and activities offered, school safety, graduation rates, and the like? Do they simply view the letter grading scheme as too volatile to be trustworthy and/or too reductive to be meaningful?

Are the School Progress Reports really about children, or are they simply measuring adults and a bureaucracy in support of a political agenda? Potentially even worse, are the school report cards really about education, or are they, as David Bloomfield so astutely put it after James Liebman’s infamous City Council Education Committee testimony, “just about real estate?” After all, is it not cheaper and easier to spend a few millions on a Progress Report system that legitimizes and (at least partially) depoliticizes school closings and secures real estate for new charter schools than to build actual school buildings?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those report cards are manufactured
math and ironically, 2 F schools in my area are the "better schools". My children actually attended one of them and it was always top 10 under BOE. Their personal outcomes weigh more important to the school outcomes. The schools are independantly operated and squares don't fit in holes - the programming doesn't coincide with the articulating schools. That is a burden on the students outcome and doesn't that trump how well an individual school scores when it has a negative impact on the child ability to enjoy success as a student?