Monday, November 5, 2007

A failing grade for Joel Klein by Jan Carr

Dear Chancellor Klein,

I was horrified to read on today's DOE website that my son's school, Salk School of Science, received a C on its "Report Card." The principal of this school, Rhonda Perry, is one of the most hard-working, gifted and visionary educators I have ever encountered or can imagine encountering -- and that includes all the inspirational professors I was privileged to work with when studying for my M.Ed., and all the smart, committed educators I worked with and learned from when I myself worked as a teacher.

The teachers whom Ms. Perry has employed at Salk are also shining stars of the system. They work long days, long beyond what is called for contractually, personally shepherding the 36+ students they have in their classes, meeting regularly to discuss and compare notes on kids who might be falling behind. Ms. Perry and the teachers at Salk bring a vibrancy and enthusiasm and creativity to a DOE curriculum that is increasingly hidebound and dominated by test prep.

You should be interested to know that in the time my son has been at Salk I have been so impressed by the teachers and curriculum that I regularly have written educator friends of mine in other states to describe the exciting learning community we are privileged to be part of. But if my son is getting a great education -- an education that engages and excites him at every turn -- it is because of Ms. Perry and the teachers at Salk, and largely IN SPITE OF what the DOE is doing and the ill-advised, miserly, destabilizing changes you have initiated in the last few years.

It is outrageous to me that our schools are given a letter grade at all, and even more so that that grade is principally determined by a narrow assessment of test scores. According to your website, Salk School of Science is now threatened with "consequences" if they get 3 C's in a row. Shame on you!

How are our smart, hard-working educators supposed to feel in the face of a grade that might merit "consequences?" If they feel completely demoralized and are now considering throwing in the towel and leaving the castigating DOE behind them I could not blame them one whit.

But me? I feel angry. Angry that you've reduced our educational system to this, angry that you show such disrespect for the hard-working educators who are on the front lines, working with our children day in and day out, principals and teachers who have devoted their lives to the education of our city's children. The way you treat our educators is part and parcel of the way you treat our students -- constantly barraging them with narrow, deadening tests and demoralizing them with meaningless scores.

You claim to be concerned about the schools that are failing our most vulnerable students. BUT DEADENING TESTING AND HUMILIATING OUR EDUCATORS IS NOT THE WAY TO CORRECT THAT. When I was a teacher, I worked in the Head Start program with a low-income population. I know that, given the right environment -- small class size, smart teachers, good staff development -- those students can become real learners, despite the many other challenges they face.

Mr. Klein, it pains me to say it, but you are not an educator. Nor do you seem to understand in any way, shape or form how to work with professionals who are.

My grade for the DOE? A resounding F. Unfortunately, I fear that your actions will now resound throughout the system. And it is our schools and students who will feel the "consequences" of your grade.

Jan Carr, M.Ed.

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