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18th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 18, 2003
By Andrew Wolf

Are you upset that your child’s school didn’t make the list of the 200 “top performing” schools that are exempt from using the city’s new uniform curriculum? As a famous sage once said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

This is another misstep on the rocky road to educational reform for which our new Tweed Ring, the city’s new Department of Education, is becoming famous. Parents, teachers, and community leaders in schools not on the list are beside themselves. Schools that are “winners” are printing up celebratory t-shirts.
And just what is it that these parents think they are winning or losing? The
conventional wisdom says that being on the list gives a school the license to use any curriculum or program it chooses. Wrong. Being on the list merely gives a school the right to continue with whatever program they are using now. And while there are many programs in place throughout the city, most of them are distressingly similar.
If you think that a school on the list is free to choose to adopt the highlyregarded Singapore math curriculum, think again. Can a school on the list sign onto the rigorous, much-admired Core Knowledge curriculum? No.

In Manhattan’s District 2, which has the greatest number of the socalled top schools, the schools now have a choice. They can choose between the chancellor’s math program, the awful Everyday Mathematics, or the program they now use, TERC, which many mathematicians consider to be the worst of the worst.

Public surveys reveal that while most parents believe that as a whole the education system doesn’t work, they think that their own children’s school is terrific — even when it’s not.

That’s why this is such a terrible idea. The chancellor is squandering the reservoir of good will that permits him to radically revamp the system. People are digging in their heels, and for no productive reason. Who came up with the number 200? What magic is associated with it?

When the first draft list was assembled, the educrats took a look and discovered to their horror that nearly all the schools on it had significant white or Asian populations. Oops! In today’s politically correct climate, that is a no-no.

So about a quarter to a third of those schools were jettisoned, replaced with lower-performing schools with larger minority populations. At that point, the entire exercise became suspect. After all, why should a high-performing school be punished by having to adopt the uniform curriculum simply because of the make-up of its population? This is creating huge resentment in many of the city’s already besieged middle class communities. Parents just got their 18.5% property tax increase bill, and then they find out that P.S. 14, the reason they moved to Throggs Neck in the first place, isn’t up to snuff. Time to check out the Putnam County real-estate listings.

And it’s not just parents who are up in arms. Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, who has been notably effusive in her praise of everything Mr. Klein and company have done up until now, called this scheme “artificial” and “divisive.” Jill Levy, head of the CSA, which represents the principals, questioned the methodology in creating the list, noting that some of the 10 regional superintendents just promoted by Mr. Klein were barely represented.

Regrettably, the whole concept of identifying the schools that work was unnecessary. The idea of a uniform educational strategy is grounded in sound thinking. Children do move from school to school, and the children most at risk move with alarming frequency. There should be consistency in their educational lives.
After all, this is exactly what the Defense Department does with the schools it runs at our military bases. The same programs are in place at all of the Defense Department-run schools so that the children of armed forces personnel transferred from Arkansas to Alaska will not be hindered educationally by the movement necessitated by the nature of their parents’ work.

But the program being put in place in New York City doesn’t achieve this goal. It buys into the fiction that it is the school alone that needs to be fixed, rather than the education of the individual child.
Instead of prescribing a program for an entire school, what Mr. Klein should have been putting into place is a methodology to ensure that every child at who is not meeting the current standards will be given the most rigorous program.The program selected for these children ought to be the same in every single school, and it ought to be the program that research demonstrates has the greatest success rate. That should be whether the school is the top scoring in District 2 on Manhattan’s east side, or the lowest scoring in the South Bronx’s District 7.

Why isn’t this being done? Why are we looking at schools instead of children? Because multiple programs tailored to individual need within a school suggest homogeneous class groupings. That strategy flies in the face of the progressive education orthodoxy. We could end up with “smart” and “dumb” classes, and you know what that will do to the child’s self-esteem.

Today’s educational establishment would rather depress the academic growth of the brighter children and deprive struggling students of the help they need than acknowledge the difficulty of achieving both goals in the same classroom.

We have been following this strategy for more than a generation. When progressive education and political correctness collide, the result can only be trouble. We all agree that things need to change. This is a good place to start. Tear up the silly list and start focusing on the individual children. After all, schools don’t have to pass tests, children do.

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

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