Cathie Black: How can this be what we need? Part 2 – Data vs Kids
[Lynne Winderbaum, retired ESL teacher from JFK, longtime Chapter Leader, and through most of the Bloomberg years, our Bronx UFT HS District Representative, responds to the announcement that Joel Klein is leaving and that Mayor Bloomberg is trying to appoint Cathie Black to replace him. This is part 2 of 3. Click for Part 1. The series will conclude on Sunday.]
The city really does not need another so-called innovator changing for change sake and improving nothing in the end. With the adjusted test scores released in July, our students are at the level of 2002 and the racial achievement gap is as wide as ever. What Klein did not do in eight years, she surely will not do in three. And the risk of continuing his policies will be costly. Cathie Black’s appointment is the illogical extension of the belief that schools are best served by leaders who have never worked with children.
The data that has been the yardstick of measuring the quality of performance in the private sector has not been successfully adapted to the school system and has caused a great deal of collateral damage. Bloomberg, Klein, and Black all understand the beautiful simplicity of comparing this year’s statistics to last year’s. If “New York Magazine” and “Seventeen” had circulation growth and increased advertising revenue this year, they’re doing well!
What has happened when we try to apply this to evaluating schools and personnel? A well-rounded but unquantifiable education is supplanted by a concentration on measurable literacy and math scores. The curriculum is narrowed to show success in these two measurements at the expense of untested subjects, and valuable instruction time is wasted on constant test preparation. A mayor who decried social promotion to the point of firing the board of education and replacing them with a Panel for Educational Policy which he controls, now accepts a system where principals tell teachers that they must pass 80% of their students or the school may close. That is, pass 80% whether they have mastered the content or not. Reliance on data for evaluation has also led to the inflation of graduation rates by dubious “credit recovery” schemes, many lacking in rigor, and some granting credit for failed classes within a few hours of additional class time (or time sitting in front of a computer screen). Students have accumulated their credits and been handed diplomas, but they have been cheated out of mastery of content in order to improve graduation data. Irregularities on Regents grading have been reported. Grades are changed, students who fail pre-tests are illegally excluded from taking the Regents exams, teachers are allowed to mark their own students’ exams, and teachers are told by supervisors to pass students. Some reports are investigated, some are ignored. Frequently, the investigations are cursory and left “open” for years coming to no conclusion. (see LW on the JFK investigations – June 2010)
Reliance on data has not only impacted students in their studies but has led to teaching changes as well. It is obvious that if there is pressure on principals to produce annual yearly progress (AYP) and rising scores, so teachers must devote their class time to preparing for the tests. No matter how interesting class discussions are or how they might grow the intellect of the students, they are not “accountable talk” unless they directly translate into higher test scores. After all, a “good teacher” under Bloomberg and Klein, and in most political circles today, is one who gets good test scores out of the students and a “bad” teacher is one who does not. The ones who create a life-long love of learning and develop higher order thinking skills through the content of their classes may be termed “ineffective” when judged solely on one year’s test scores and publicly humiliated by name in the newpapers. What teacher in the climate these men have created would dare to not pass 80% of the students, teach only for the test, and spend hours of instructional time on practice questions? Their entire livelihood and reputation is at stake.
The reliance on data also makes teachers reluctant to report safety and security incidents. They are told that this would reflect poorly on the school and could cause closure. They also fear reporting special education violations and English language learner compliance.
Mayor Bloomberg explains his choice with the conviction that she will focus on “Jobs, jobs, jobs” in preparing our students. But under Bloomberg and Klein, preparation for employment has been gutted. The vocational high schools, now known as Career and Technical Education schools, have been battered in the last few years by their leadership. Students at these schools must pass the same five mandated Regents exams as students in the comprehensive high schools. But in addition, the must pass certification tests in their area of vocational preparation. For years, this certification was a path to post-high school employment. Under Bloomberg and Klein OSEPO, the high school placement service, has put many students into these programs who read at the lowest level. Although principals at these schools have told me that they don’t mind the challenge of preparing students who enter high school at this level, they do mind the fact that many children being placed in these schools have indicated no interest in vocational education. Students who sought training in areas such as auto or aircraft mechanics, culinary arts, optometry, cosmetology, or nursing, used to comprise the entering class. They were welcomed regardless of their academic needs. Now the combination of high needs and low interest has taken these schools that were successfully preparing our students for the world of work and threatened them with closure.
In addition, before Bloomberg and Klein, the comprehensive high schools used to offer preparation for the workplace. My school, John F. Kennedy in the Bronx, had an office of the New York State Employment service to place students in jobs. We had “co-op” programs that allowed students to earn high school credit in the workplace. We had a Virtual Enterprise program in which several classes of students actually set up their own businesses and created and sold merchandise or services. We had a pre-law program with a moot court and the Kennedy Café which sold and served food prepared by our students in our own kitchens. We had an actual DNA lab. We had a functioning auto shop that did not teach students to be mechanics but rather technicians who used computers to diagnose car problems and make repairs. These programs were not unusual. In fact, many of these same programs existed at all high schools but were closed by the very same mayor who now feels that jobs are so important to our students’ futures. They were sacrificed to squeeze small schools in buildings with existing schools.
Besides preparation for the workforce, Cathie Black will need to prepare students for college. Under Bloomberg and Klein’s constant focus on test scores and data, the less measurable skills that would foster success in college have been woefully neglected. While they tout the rise in graduation rates, the number of city high school graduates who are prepared for college work is low, their need for remedial classes in college is high, and the rate of those who complete college is tiny. By focusing on test scores, narrowing the curriculum, and making the tests easier to pass over the years, the “education mayor” has shown wonderful data but left our graduates unprepared for the world they face. The timing of Joel Klein’s decision to resign, percolating for a few months according to news accounts, coincides with the release of the Koretz Report showing that the test scores on which he staked his reputation were bogus. So if Black is another “data above all” leader, she will create the same illusory results.
November 10, 2010