Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Seung Ok on Social Promotion

If there is a grey area involving a medical decision, I would hope that  a specialist in that field makes it.  So if a teacher who knows their students and knows the curriculum, makes a decision to pass on a struggling student - devoid of outside pressure - I'm okay with it.--- Seung Ok
 
It was so good to hear from Seung Ok, one of the early members of GEM, who has been busy at his new school. As usual, Seung drills deep - this time on social promotion. And note the comments he inspired, especially from Deb Meier.

When he says, "Have I ever socially promoted a child? Sure I have," I am in agreement, having done the same. The Ed Deformer policy of trying to "automate" such a delicate process - part of the litany of taking basic ed decisions out of the hands of teachers - is idiocy. But it also works both ways for ed deformers. When it comes time to pump the grad rates so they look good politically, they also take the decisions out of the hands of teachers by using gimmicks to socially promote kids.

Seung gets to the heart of it: Who is making the basic decision?  I had a battle with a new principal in 1978, a woman who had taught for 6 months, who took the decisions on promotion out of our hands. She wanted to hold as many kids back as early in the grades as possible so that when they took the tests in future years they would always be a year early (brilliant woman). So it is not just ed deformers. But she was data driven, hoping to use it to move her career, so she interdicted our decisions in order to create a system that manipulated the data. She turned our school into her own high stakes school decades before the ed deformers. I immediately saw the evils personified in our little den (it took another 6 years but this change was what led to my leaving the self-contained classroom - the infantry of teaching). One day I'll share a few stories on how I used to beat her system - I have to check if the statue of limitations has run out.

Like the ed deformers, she didn't really give a rat's ass as to what kids really were learning. She could be the mother of ed deform.

In today's world, if we want to get to the essence of ed deform, whether you talk Cathie Black/Dennis Walcott, the business types at Tweed, Teach for America, it comes down to not trusting professional educators but instead placing blame for past system failures on them.

Posted to NYCEdNews listserve by Seung Ok:
In Frank McCourt's humorous passage, he describes how a group of high school teachers creatively added points to a student's score to help him obtain a 65 on the NY state English exam. He was describing an event that occurred back in the 1970's. This may me think of the key differences between the social promotion that had occurred in the old days compared to the state sanctioned promotion encouraged by education reform ala Mayor Bloomberg and NCLB.  

When I first came into teaching, and during the era of Frank McCourt's career, there was a choice of 2 high school degrees.  A student could  opt for the Regent's diploma ( by passing all the state mandated tests) or the non -regents diploma (which just required passing the classes offered by the school).  Obviously, top colleges looked to the regents diploma for their selection criteria.

Combine this with the fact that in 2002 - when the United States still led all countries in the number of those obtainment of college degrees- the US census reported that only 27 % of all Americans held a bachelor's degree.  Specifically for whites alone, the rate was 37%. 

So, the majority of house owning families in suburban areas like long island lived self supporting and productive lives as small business owners, civil servants, plumbers and whatnot - without a college degree. The myth that college is the only route to success is repeated so often that it is accepted as doctrine.

Have I ever socially promoted a child? Sure I have.  I passed struggling students who have taken the same course multiple times, and obtained a 55 average instead of the 65 minimum standard for proficiency.  However, I can recall many more times that I have  failed a student who performed a 55 average, but had the potential be be an 80 student - but lacked the motivation and work ethic to perform in class.  The key criteria I used in making the decision, was whether that student would be helped by taking the class over again.  

The main difference in the social promotion of old and what is occurring today - is centered on who makes that decision.  If there is a grey area involving a medical decision, I would hope that  a specialist in that field makes it.  So if a teacher who knows their students and knows the curriculum, makes a decision to pass on a struggling student - devoid of outside pressure - I'm okay with it. It is similar to the decisions of a jury of our peers who have to dispense justice- even though it is an imperfect system. 
However, the social promotion policies of today derive not from educators but politicians and corporate ideologues who believe they know more than those specialists working in the schools. It is a one size fits all approach that brings social promotion to a massive and uniform scale with dumbed down tests and punitive pressures for schools with many high needs students.

Frank McCourt's description of teachers helping to artificially boost up a student's scores in a state test was indeed humorous, mainly because the consequences was not high stakes.  In other words, the graduation of that student , the closure of that school, and the livelihood of the teachers were not dependent on the that student passing the state exam. 

And there is a difference when that scale for "helping" students slides down from those that earn a 55 to 50 to 45 to 40 to 35.  It is a lot like comparing the speed limit posted on the highways and the actual speed most of us drive.  The exponential increase in risk in driving 10 miles over the limit than say 20 is stark - and it is society who will take the burden of that risk.

Dangers always arise when simple solutions are offered for complex systems and problems.  The focus on high stakes testing and evaluation is one such example.  We may argue that the particular child in Mr. McCourt's passage may never become a surgeon or engineer, but the institutionalized promotion happening in all the grades today - which are promoted by the likes of Mayor Bloomberg - are destroying the drives of those otherwise destined to become the surgeons and engineers of tomorrow. 
Seung Ok
Comments on Seung's piece

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Re Seung's piece BELOW. I'S A VERY VERY Nice Piece, but... A MINOR QUIBBLE. Colleges did not care whether you had passed the Regents. There wasn't even a place on applications for such info, and sine I was the principal of a high school during the old days I'm in a good position to testify that the Regents were a non-issue when we helped students go on to college. No college even inquired. It is true that parents--and maybe teachers and the public--believed otherwise, Many great schools never followed a Regents diploma, and, of course, no private independent school used it, nor did students in neighboring states who did fine at getting into college. IT'S ONE OF THOSE URBAN MYTHS.

Deborah Meier
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When I first came into teaching, and during the era of Frank McCourt's career, there was a choice of 2 high school degrees. A student could opt for the Regent's diploma ( by passing all the state mandated tests) or the non -regents diploma (which just required passing the classes offered by the school). Obviously, top colleges looked to the regents diploma for their selection criteria.

I graduated high school in 1966 and we had 3 diplomas - Academic, Commercial and General. If I remember correctly (and I very well may not), the Academic and Commercial were either Regents or Non-Regents.

Karen

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Myths are powerful, but there is no evidence for it Karen. When we opened a bunch of Coalition of Essential Schools in NY state we looked into this and discovered that top notch colleges had no record of which NY State students did or didn't take a Regents exam. It did serve for some as a way to get a NY State scholarship. That's not a myth. And among principals the Regents high schools liked to brag about it.

Should it have counted? That's another matter; and today it might given all the attention given to it. I wonder. But many teachers even then found it lowered their "standards"--as a geology teacher told me--at Stuyvesant !!--"Your son should have taken this course last year--it was a much better course then." So, why didn't you keep teaching it, I asked, incredulous? "The Regents changed their test and the focus was on much more boring stuff." I still suspect he could--with the students he had--have done both. But maybe not.

We had no trouble at all getting kids into the CUNYs or SUNYs. They all had a regular high school diploma which most NY State kids had. At one point they added a requirement for a proficiency exam in English ELA and math--I think it was called a competency test for a diploma. After Tom Sobel left Mills instituted the single diploma, requiring everyone pass the Regents, and then made it easier with a lower passing score and I gather some still get a diploma without it. I'm not completely---to say the least--up on what it takes to be called a high school grad anymore in NYS. Mills claimed the purpose was to have one and only one criteria for a diploma, but even he--grudgingly--exempted some 40 schools who had for some years waivers from course credits/regents etc (Coalition schools) and who had a portfolio/exhibition set of criteria with outside "scorers". Mills appointed a panel of expert who concluded that those 40 schools had at least as reliable and valid a form of assessment as the Regents provided. I think Mills was not expecting that but he accepted it.

Deb

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1 comment:

  1. How about principals and credit recovery programs? No one (DOE or UFT) has scratched the surface on this issue. Here's why: Principals all over the city are abusing credit recovery programs in order to protect themselves and their staff and thus school from closing. Teachers grumble behind closed doors because they do not want to become ATRs. Where are the real investigative journalists?

    ReplyDelete

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