But what about failing schools?
October 2, 2014
By Nicole Brisbane, DFER-NY State Director
It’s the fourth week of school for NYC Public Schools, and we’ve long awaited Chancellor Fariña’s plan for turning around the schools with the largest number of students who are not meeting proficiency on state exams – schools we know serve significant populations of poor and minority students. Finally, the new plan was revealed yesterday at P.S. 503/506 in Brooklyn.
Fariña’s plan started strong with a revamp of the letter grade system previously assigned to schools. The old letter grade system was initially intended to be a tool for internal use, showing schools’ growth on test scores. But in reality, the system provided very little useful information for parents. For example, a school could have earned a high letter grade based on a leap in growth on test scores, but could still have dismal scores overall. Conversely, a school with top test scores but little growth could have received a low letter grade.
The new system takes into account many of the same metrics, including test scores, graduation rates, parent and student survey data, teacher quality rating and curriculum quality. Schools will fall somewhere on a spectrum (including not meeting, approaching, meeting and exceeding) for each metric, but there will be no overall ratings in an effort to force parents to dig a bit deeper into the data points.
Fariña said she plans to use the revamped evaluations to design support specific to schools and that those conversations should be taking place sometime in January.
While we agree the new plans for comprehensive school evaluations are a good thing, we continue to ask, what about failing schools? Many have said that under the Bloomberg administration, school closings and the punitive nature of the rating system were not in the best interest of the communities. Other districts have tried various approaches like creating magnet programs encouraging mixed-income schools, changing leadership and teachers at low-performing schools, giving school leaders more autonomy to create the changes they wish to see in their schools, or allowing public charters to take over low-performing schools. There’s research on all of these approaches, and years of seeing them play out around the country.
The reality of the new rollout is that it doesn’t encourage any changes in what schools are actually doing; it just attempts to measure them on a different scale. At the very least, what we know to be true is that doing nothing is not the answer. Stalling to develop these “nonplans” means another school year will go by where kids are not getting a quality education, and the lack of urgency around what that means for students and families is an injustice.
Maybe come January we’ll hear about the bold new initiatives for low performing schools… but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Guess those principals, teachers, families and students will just have to keep waiting.
Nicole Brisbane is originally from Miami, FL, born to immigrant parents. After graduating from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida State University, she taught middle school intensive reading and language arts to students who were 4 or more years behind their peers. Read more about Nicole here.
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