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12th September
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, September 12, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

On Wednesday the New York State Education Department issued new list of “failing” New York City schools (the list for the rest of the state was issued last week). servers expected this list to grow, and grow it did. Chancellor Joel Klein quickly jumped on the increase in the number of schools the list to justify “reform” program Of course when city got some go news a few weeks a that New Yor schools (along w Houston’s), were top perform among big city sch districts, Mr. Kle deputy chancellor teaching and learning, Diana Lam, quick to take credit. This was desp the fact that the rating was based o test given six months before she ca to town.
Mr. Klein and Ms. Lam want it b ways, but what they really should h said after Wednesday’s list was relea is how ludicrous the list is: how dam ing to the many good,even great scho that were foolishly included, and h much more damaging to the really tr bled schools that are not.

Considering that there were impr sive gains among city fourth graders the state’s annual reading and math aminations, one would think that the state list would actually diminish. But the list grows, and promises to grow so large that it seems inevitable that a large majority of city schools will soon appear on it regardless of the success or failure of the Bloomberg/Klein/Lam reforms. Inclusion on the list is a moving target based on ever-changing criteria. Now the low scores of one tiny subgroup result in the designation of an otherwise stellar school as “failing.”

Welcome to the wild, wacky world of educational reform.

This unhappy situation is a result of the “perfect storm” that inevitably occurs when three clueless bureaucracies at the city, state, and federal levels, collide. The result will be enormous and unnecessary public expenditure, what could be accelerated middle class flight from the city, and the further stigmatization of perfectly good schools — and dedicated, hardworking educators — throughout the city.
Under the terms of the federal No Child Left Behind law, each state must create criteria for determining schools that are “in need of improvement.”The exact methodology for designating such schools has been left to the states.Thus some states have declared that they have few if any such schools, while others, like New York, have adopted liberal standards.

For a state that is quick to lower the passing grade on Regents exams, and curve the grades on tests that too many children fail, New York is especially tough on setting No Child Left Behind standards for its schools. Tough is okay with me, if it is based on reason and logic. But in New York State there is little who should be representing the interests of New York’s children, seem unwilling to challenge these destructive and expensive mandates.

Although one could argue that every school in the state could use some degree of improvement,this list has significant ramifications for the schools involved. First, these schools are branded as “failing,” in the press and in their communities. Every child in the vast majority of the “failing” schools, those with a high concentration of poor children,can transfer to other “non-failing” schools. Students remaining are entitled to free tutoring (contracts meant to be given to private companies, but somehow mostly hijacked by the Department of Education).

Now if your child’s school is not a designated “poverty school,” but has been included on the new “Schools Requiring Academic Progress” list prepared by the State Education Department, he or she is out of luck. No transfer, no tutoring — even if your family is poor, which for the purposes of the federal government means qualifying for free lunch. This is because only entire schools are evaluated. If a school passes a certain threshold of poor children (a figure that changes from county to county it is designated to receive Title I assistance.

Never mind that in many, if not most New York City schools that don’t qualify for Title I assistance a significant portion of the student population is still in need. Those children, no matter how poor, are “left behind.” The idea that the poor performance of some subgroup in a school is enough to qualify all children in the school to transfer, or those performing more than adequately to receive tutoring, is a perverse waste of public resources.

The other night, Mayor Bloomberg appeared at a meeting of the Woodlawn Taxpayers Association. Woodlawn is a small Bronx community largely composed of tiny private homes packed closely together. While this working class enclave is upset with the mayor over a variety of issues, not the least of which is the recent 18.5% property tax increase,the damage that No Child Left Behind threatens to inflict on their local school seemed to be uppermost in the minds of the crowd. P.S. 19 is Woodlawn’s neighborhood public school, serving children in grades K–8, a model of a communitybased institution. While it provides a good, solid education, it is not one of the city’s top performers. In fact, P.S. 19 has been added to the list of “Schools Requiring Academic Progress” by the state.

Despite the fact that P.S. 19 students can’t transfer out, students from other schools, even some schools which perform at higher levels, can transfer in. This is only because those schools qualify for Title I funding, and P.S. 19 does not. Mr. Bloomberg seemed to understand the problem completely,but lacks the courage to seek solutions. Why won’t he go to the mat with the state and federal education departments, even if it means going to court?

Schools that have been “created” during the past few years by “reorganizing” troubled SURR schools don’t appear on the state lists at all. One such school that I am familiar with ranked nearly dead last on the city’s reading score rankings. This profoundly distressed school actually received a number of transfer students from schools that are performing much, much better. Does any of this make sense? Maybe to the educrats, but not to me.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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