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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Too Good to Be True? WWCBD*?

“If it looks to good to be true, it’s probably not.”

It’s an adage as old as the hills, but it’s also an excellent reminder to stay skeptical (think Bernie Madoff, for one), and a signal that questions should perhaps be asked or audits conducted.

Which brings us to the latest “too good to be true story” story in NYC public schools and the system’s deeply flawed Progress Report system: the Theater Arts Production Company school in the Bronx. A combined middle school and high school, TAPCo as it is known was this year’s big winner in the high school report card category with an A grade and the city’s highest ranking score of 106.3 points. Last year, TAPCo received an A as well, but its 85.8-point score put it in the 89th percentile of NYC public high schools, or somewhere around 50th – 60th place in the rankings. Its one-year leapfrogging to #1 in the DOE’s measurement of “progress,” is noteworthy, although a bit short of miraculous. Nevertheless, the result was sufficiently notable to merit a "Cinderella story" on Huffington Post.

A look at the school’s NYS 2008/09 report cards is interesting: 64% and 61% pass rates in Math A and Integrated Algebra, respectively, but 2% and 0% above an 85. The school had 97 Math A test takers in 2006/07, but only 32 Math B takers last year, with a 19% pass rate and 0% scoring over 85. Pretty much average pass rates in Global and U.S. History (61% and 79%); same for Earth Science and Living Environment (54% and 64%, respectively); one student taking a Physics exam (only the third in school history) and only one a Chemistry exam (apparently the first ever in school history). Attendance rate at a respectable but hardly stellar 90%, and a latest teacher turnover rate (from 2007/08 into last year) of 44%.

So why take note of TAPCo, aside from its semi-meteoric rise to #1 DOE Progress Report school in NYC? Because of a remarkable, seemingly insider’s comment posted by “Bronx Teacher” on the JD2718 education blog last Saturday (11/27/10) that reads as follows:

I find it interesting that TAPCo was discussed on this forum. Somehow, the Theatre Arts Production Co. School was rated the number 1 school in the NYC-DOE report cards this past month. When the principal announced it, students fell over laughing. The reality is that Principal Passarella knows how to cook the books and play the system. I’m sure she’s not the only one doing it, she’s just the best at it. The report card grades various stages of academic progress … such as the number of credits each grade student has obtained.

This is interesting because TAPCo has an almost 100% graduation rate … funny, cause students who dropped out even graduated. Let’s see how this works:

- teachers are not allowed to fail students. No F’s or 55's on report cards. Any 55 is changed to an NC (No Credit). Teachers are to give students EVERY opportunity to remove the NC … such as copying work from friends, cheating, lying, etc.
- teachers who do not comply and continue to fail students are terminated and removed from the school … even if it’s mid semester. Administration will just change the failing grades to passing ones.
- therefore, TAPCO does not have any failing students and thus, every student is on track for graduation.

- students are also given bogus credits for classes they never took … such as Phys Ed and Foreign Language.

- most TAPCo students “earn” up to 14-16 credits a year, far above the 11 required for graduation. They are given full credit for taking an Arts class once a week, a Theatre class once a week, Phys Ed classes which don’t exist, Foreign Language class once a week with a “phantom” teacher who is out on disability.

- Regents passing grades are a joke as well … especially in ELA and US/World History. The rubrics are vague, and the grading teachers give out 4's and 5's like candy. A cursory review of the essays indicate that most of these students can barely string together a legitimate sentence. Meanwhile, teachers are giving them 5's.

- the latest insult to teachers is the development of the Inquiry Team … or more-so, the Inquisition Team. This is a group of the principal’s favorites who use their position on the team to intimidate other teachers. They are led by an angry, bitter little woman named Mrs. Acosta. Acosta does not teach any classes, but goes around criticizing people’s classrooms. Her fake smile is very transparent. She has used her “power” against teachers who have spoken up against her or disagree with her. Her role is to report back to the principal any dissension among the teachers.

- it’s interesting how the number 1 school in the City has a teacher turnover rate of about 45%. Don’t be surprised if that number is exceeded next year. But it’s ok … Principal Passarella knows there are plenty of teachers out there who will do anything and everything for a job.

It’s tempting to say “Wow!,” but this only seems to confirm what the many critics of Joel Klein’s data-driven educational administration have beens saying all along. Not surprising that the school boasts a 93.5% graduation rate on their 2010 Progress Report; it’s only surprising that it’s not 100%, or perhaps 108%!

Ms. Black, you are inheriting a deeply flawed accountability system whose #1 proponent is your #2 man. What are you going to do with regard to this type of alleged data falsification? Will you investigate? If these allegations are true, what will you do to give these students an honest education, not one so cruelly inflated and meaningless? And what will you do to redirect your organization’s attention to real public education instead of meaningless measurements from systems so easily and so often gamed, systems that benefit only adults while leaving a ragged trail of undereducated teenagers in their wake?

NOTE: I picked up this thread from Norm Scott’s Education Notes online, who had reposted the JD2718 comment from Bronx Teacher. Many thanks to Norm for helping bring this to light.

* WWCBD = What Would Cathie Black Do?


Leonie Haimson said...

Campbell's law in action.

jd2718 said...


part of what I find is a lot of schools with principals who know nothing about teaching, who can't run a school, who can't build a schedule... and, in consequence, come up with crazy things for teachers to do, and abuse the staff when they can't or won't do them.

TAPCO is different. This is clearly a bright, scheming principal who finds it easier to game the system than to run a school.


Steve Koss said...


Having seen and read about this sort of thing dozens of times during my business career, what I know is that there are few things more potentially destructive to an organization than an incentive (compensation)system; just ask Sears Auto Centers about their nearly reputation-destroying system a bit over a decade ago. What I also know is that in a badly structured incentive system, even the least bright employees will become awfully smart when it comes to gaming the system for their own benefit. There's likely not a principal in NYC schools who doesn't know how or isn't at least "learning" more about how every day.

Anonymous said...


1. Pretend the Quality Review is important
2. Intimidate useless AP's to intimidate teachers into believing the Quality Review is important.
3. Provide little to no direction as to "How to DO ARIS data.
4. Confused teachers therefore disregard using ARIS being they get no direction.
5. Students with 1's and 2's in ELA and Math are "targeted" subgroups, answering to Inquiry teams that get info from unreliable sources. They put out the memos that sound good.
6. After wasting 3 months, hardly any teachers visit ARIS, let alone write anything. ARIS is dumped..and therefore...
7. Another scheme is created that looks and sounds professional. Little direction from useless AP's is handed down, once again confusing teachers.
8. Principal gets frustrated...blasts the AP's, who blast teachers.
9. Hallways are decorated to confuse parents. Cronies of principal get a free ride and are protected. Blame gets shifted to "out of the loop" teachers, preferably older ones.
10. Teachers must differentiate regardless of lack of pd's.
11. Unruly students get sent to the dean...they too, get a free ride.
12. Parents are called, numbers disconnected. Teachers get blamed for that too.
13. Out of control kids with add/adhd etc. kept in the mainstream where the entire class is ruined. Any problems, teachers get blamed for that one also.
14. School governance is a sham.
15. Younger, more submissive teachers get rewarded, even when their scores are low.
16. End of the year, few go to summer school, but graduate just the same. Principal makes sure unruly kids don't attend summer school.
17. Everyone graduates. Principal gets bonus.
18. Cycle is renewed.

Anonymous said...

This is happening at every school. If you fail too many kids, you are immediately targeted. What are you doing in your classroom that so many kids fail? Every teacher who wants to keep his job understands that you must pass kids whether they do work or not. Where is the mainstream media? How could this be allowed to happen in our schools for 10 years now and yet there is no outrage, no scandal, no one held accountable. Kids who can barely read and write are graduating from high school by the thousands, yet no one thinks it's worthy of a story in a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget credit recovery. That's another can of worms. Kids don't show up for class, don't do any work, yet get credit for class by doing some kind of assignment. I'm amazed that the majority of kids, still show up every day, do their work, are diligent, try to succeed, when they see so many kids around them just skating by doing nothing and picking up credit recovery credits -- gotta keep those graduation rates up.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Friend of .... :

Not only is Ms. Passarella a book-cooker and fabricator, she has a conflict-of-interest issue in that she has a very special relationship with one of her key drama staff. Apparently, it has been an open secret: even the students have noticed.

My source also reported that students were not allowed to fail, that credits were false, and that many of the students who started college with their inflated TAPCO certificates have dropped out.

Where is Special Investigations? Calling Mr. Condon!! (Oh, what fun an investigative reporter would have with this school!) Who will salvage the kids and careers sabotaged by this public relations siren/manipulator and her true believers?

May the truth prevail.

Karran Royal said...

With all the tricks schools, school districts, politicians, and privatizers are playing with our kids lives, we as parents need to start educating ourselves on how to track progress of our own kids and on our own schools. Schools are jumping through hoops to attract funding, their are jumping through hoops to prevent being shut down or taken over due to a failed accountability system, so that means they will play tricks, cheat, lie and propagandize results at their schools to appear successful. Parents must hold everyone accountable to really educating ALL children and not allow the trickery that focusses on short- progress or the illusion of progress.