An insider at the NYC Department of Education defends Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s plan to support schools instead of closing them.
For nearly the past dozen years, Mayor Bloomberg has followed an agenda of closing schools and opening schools.
This insider, anonymous for obvious reasons, says de Blasio is right:
“The New York Post has already begun its propaganda campaign against Mayor-elect de Blasio’s plans to improve New York City’s schools. An honest assessment of the data demonstrates that under Mike Bloomberg’s 12 years of leadership student outcomes in New York City remained flat. Of course, the DOE has run an intense PR campaign designed to conceal this fact, but the data are clear. The NY Post wants those failed policies to continue. De Blasio has promised a new approach.
Today’s NY Post has an article claiming that PS 114, a “school de Blasio saved is back on the fail list.” The NY Post regrets that while under Bloomberg’s policies the school “would normally face the threat of closing” under de Blasio the school will now be supported on a path to improvement. Which approach makes sense?
Let’s begin with the evidence used to claim the school is failing. The solitary data point mentioned by the NY Post is the report card grade of “C” the school received this week. 85% of this grade is based on test scores. The report cards compare student performance across years in a manner the tests were not designed to do. The reports cards also do not account for the statistical noise in test results, meaning that schools whose test scores are statistically indistinguishable nonetheless receive very different grades. The very premise the report card grade is based on is false.
PS 114 has a “peer index” in the lowest 4% of all city schools. Peer indexes are supposed to compare only similar schools to each other, as everyone agrees it would be unfair to compare schools that work with disadvantaged and struggling students to schools that work with only selected students. But the data show that the report cards fail to make fair comparisons. Schools with lower peer indexes receive lower average grades. Schools that receive “F” grades have a peer index 24% lower on average than schools that receive “A” grades. Peer indexes lump together very dissimilar schools and peer indexes do not really control for incoming student characteristics. The grades are bogus and penalize schools that work with disadvantaged students.
Test scores are a very narrow part of what makes a great school. Other data show that this school has many strengths. The students who graduate PS 114 are more successful than the average in passing core courses in middle school. A review of the school by educational experts conducted less than a year ago noted that:
the school’s focus on citywide instructional expectations is evident in literacy, math, teacher effectiveness, and parental involvement action plans…This purposeful drive toward improvement leads to relevant modifications that elevate learning for all students such as embedding specific literacy skills in instructional tasks and prolonged units of study to build confidence and capacity for overcoming the challenge of solving complex math problems… The entire school community contributes to the direction of the school and supports the principal’s vision for improved student outcomes…Parents interviewed expressed knowledge of the school’s annual goals and espouse, “The school is empowering”. Hence, parents state that they work alongside teachers as dedicated volunteers and help set policy for school improvement… The school engages parents in a variety of activities and informational meetings therefore, parents have a good understanding of school-level data and are highly informed as to their role in supporting the academic as well as social-emotional well-being of their children. Ongoing dialogue and established partnerships among stakeholders center on student learning and individual success. Concerted efforts to engage parents in the educational process lead to parents viewing themselves as important partners in the progress of the school as such they perpetuate high academic and social-emotional learning expectations for their children.
Despite attempts by the New York Post and the DOE to obfuscate reality, it is evident that the letter grade is a poor measure of school success. Thankfully, Mr. de Balsio has said he will stop the practice of assigning meaningless letter grades to schools and would create a “war room” of experienced educators to work collaboratively with schools on improvements. Happily for the student and parents of PS 114, there is a bright future for the school community.
We now have the opportunity to discard failed policies and to implement better ones, ones that will help schools improve. How should we go about doing this?
We must do a better job of sharing information about school with parents and students. Stop giving schools meaningless letter grades and made-up report cards. Share a broad array of information about schools transparently and clearly. This should include, in addition to how students do on tests as compared to similarly situated students, such information as arts offerings, clubs, years of teacher experience, suspension rates, % of students leaving the school prior to natural transition point, and videos of classes for parents and students to view. Develop a website and apps that allow parents and students to weigh this information at the level of priority important to them. Websites like this already exist, such as this one that allows the user to rank graduate programs based on individual priorities. Publish test score data using ranges to account for levels of statistical significance and include multiple years of data to account for meaningless year-to-year fluctuations. Create a system so that parents and students can write reviews of schools and publish that information on the website after a peer vetting and review process.
We must do a better job of analyzing school data and working to improve New York City schools. Instead of using data for political and ideological ends let’s start using data, only the statistically significant and meaningful data that is, to support and improve schools.
Analyze the data to see if some schools have large gaps between course pass rates and Regents exam performance (including students who took a course but did not sit for the Regents exam).
Support such schools in clarifying grading practices. Analyze the data to see if some schools have large gaps between graduation rate and student persistence in college.
Support such schools in increasing the rigor of their academics and in building life-skills of students. Analyze the data to see if some schools lose, perhaps as a deliberate strategy to make their numbers look good, a large proportion of their students from each cohort.
Support such schools in working with the every student who enters their doors and in lowering their attrition rate. Provide every school community with a data narrative identifying the long-term, multi-year trends and support each school in working to shift practices if necessary.
Analyze the data on student characteristics to ensure that each school has a student body representative of the diversity of New York City. The Office of Student Enrollment should be held accountable for preventing the clustering of specific sorts of students in specific schools.
Provide schools with continuous feedback on how they are doing throughout the course of the year. Do not grade schools with a single letter, months after the school year ends. No teacher would ever use such a grading practice in the classroom. Use data in positive ways to identify specific teachers and departments that have outstanding results year after year. Use technology platforms to have those teachers and departments share their practices and lessons across the city. Advocate with the State Department of Education to allow students flexible options, in addition to standardized exams, to meet graduation requirements. This should include portfolios, demonstrations, and presentations. Let’s leave behind the zero-sum competitive game that has characterized the last dozen years in the DOE. We need to leverage the outstanding professionals and phenomenal practices that exist in every school in the city to collaboratively provide every student with a great education.