Wednesday, December 10, 2008
When Schools Close
My column for the Dec. 12 edition of The Wave (www.rockawave.com)
The geniuses at the Tweed Courthouse (the HQ of the NYCDOE) have done it again. Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg have been in charge of the NYC schools for seven years and they still don’t have a clue. But they have to make it look like they’re doing something, so they race around closing schools. Closing schools has been a failed policy. The mantra should be, “fix schools, don’t close them.” Like, have they ever tried the idea of drastically reducing class size?
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has written on the NYC Public School Parents blog:
The Institute for Education Studies has concluded that that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that through rigorous, randomized experiments have been proven to work – the "gold standard" of research. None of the strategies attempted by the NYC Department of Education under Joel Klein's leadership were cited.
But Joel Klein has always pooh-poohed class size reduction with the response that high quality teachers are more important. Our response has been that with smaller class sizes the overall quality of teaching will go up across the board.
The act of closing a school is a deflection of responsibility and an open admission by Klein that he has no answers. After all, he is in charge. He can change the administration of a school at any time. But that’s not the fish Klein wants to fry. His minions have put in these administrators to run most schools in the city and their continued problems can be laid directly at his door. So, it becomes “blame the teacher” time.
The most recent list of schools to be closed includes PS 225 on Beach 110th Street here in Rockaway. Howie Schwach’s front page story has a list of exactly how this plan will be implemented. Tweed arrives at these plans by tossing a bunch of post-it notes in the air and those that land inside a square are the ones implemented. More of that rearranging of deck chairs on a sinking ship.
They have a particular problem with PS 225. In Schwach’s article, a parent says, “This school was closed once before. They got rid of all the teachers, some of who were very good. They kept the administration and the kids, who are the real problems in the school. What good did it do?” Over two-thirds of the teachers had to find new jobs and the others had to reapply and be accepted by the administration.
In the world of the BloomKlein model of education reform, the lack of quality teaching is the problem with poor academic performance. So how did changing the teachers three years ago at PS 225 work out?
Now let’s get this straight. We know there have been some problems at PS 225. But Tweed doesn’t care about the problems parents and teachers worry about. They care about data. And the widgets (or idjits) at the DOE looked at some numbers and made the decision to close the school – again. Guess what? Watch them do it again in three years.
There’s been a lot of focus on the “D” grade the school received on the school report card, another bogus attempt to create a phony accountability system by Klein, where everyone is accountable but him. These grades are 85% test-driven and ignore so many other factors. Leonie Haimson suggested we focus less on the grade and explore the more reliable state accountability status of PS 225 and compare it to other schools that are not closing down. “We simply have no idea why DOE chooses certain schools to close and others to keep open,” she said. “If there is a problem with the principal the DOE can remove him and put another in place without closing the school.” People who want the school to stay open can do this and make their case to the public. But with a union that goes along and gets along, teachers are left to the wolves. Imagine if there was a real union out there that made a big issue of this! Nah, not in this universe.
The “new” plan for PS 225 now calls for two separate schools instead of the current K-8, which was supposedly forced down the throats of the school administration to relieve the pressure on the other middle schools in Rockaway. Beginning in September 2009, a Pre-K to 5th grade school will open, which will ultimately go up to 5th grade and a 6-8 middle school with a different administration will open. See, now we can have two high priced principals and sets of administrators and office staffs all fighting over the same space. Like, I said, geniuses. The “old” DOE policy seems to have been to form lots of K-8 and 6-12 schools. Is that policy now dead? Or will it be resurrected when the “new” policy become old. How about trying this? Form two separate schools with odd and even numbered grades. We can have a school with grades 1, 3, 5 and 7 and another with K, 2, 4, 6, and 8. Ok, I’m joking. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen.
The teachers at PS 225 now face the prospect of being added to the growing ATR (Absentee Teacher Reserve) list, where those that don’t get jobs (while brand new teachers do) will be relegated to substituting and doing scut work around the school or being sent off into the hinterland to other schools while many of whatever union rights they had left disappear. Oh, yes, there is always that Open Market System of job searching, so vaunted by the UFT (Unfortunate Federation of Teachers.)
I’ve been working with groups around the city to defend and rally around the ATR atrocity created by the disastrous 2005 contract agreed to by our wonderful UFT leaders, who have broken a Guinness record by selling more teachers down the river in the shortest amount time.
Speaking of sell-outs, I’m really getting sick of the line being pushed that the single most important factor in student achievement is teacher quality, something the UFT unfortunately signs onto. That has lead to a focus on so-called accountability where teachers are being measured by the scores of their students (again, something agreed to by the UFT). Many teachers in NYC will be getting report cards supposedly based on the value added approach, which measures how much their students have grown (not height, unfortunately). But researchers have pointed out that the value added approach is an unproven commodity. And even if it was, we still question whether the narrow test score approach that leaves so much out about what teachers do is an adequate way to judge a teacher’s quality. There will never be a true measure. But here is what I know about judging whether someone is a good teacher: you know one when you see one.
Related: No evidence of improved outcomes at small schools