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Chancellor Fariña: Progress Reports and Quality Reviews

January 9, 2014 pm31 2:24 pm

Things under de Blasio/Fariña will get better for the schools, students, and teachers of NYC. They might get a whole lot better. They certainly won’t get worse.

One area we should watch is “Accountability.” De Blasio’s campaign already promised

“in his first year in office, Bill de Blasio will eliminate letter grades of schools. Overall progress reports will remain available for parents, and educators, experts and parents will be convened to determine if the progress reports are the most effective long-term way to evaluate schools.”

Dropping the letter grades is a welcome change. It provides some immediate relief. But we should expect more relief than just that from “accountability”

The word, in today’s anti-public-education-reform parlance, does not mean what it sounds like. Their version of “accountability” creates scores for schools. (They also will be producing scores for teachers as part of the new teacher evaluation). The NYC Accountability systems involve two parts.

The first is a “Quality Review” where reviewers who may or may not be familiar with your school, and certainly do not work to support your school, conduct an on-site review in less than a week. The result is “Well Developed” “Proficient” “Developing” or “Underdeveloped”. There’s also “Proficient with Well Developed features” and that sort of thing. You know what else has well developed features? Anyway,

The second is a “Progress Report” where the results of the Quality Review are hocus pocus blended with a bunch of statistics, much based on standardized test scores, compared against other schools in a hard to comprehend formula, (and those schools may or may not look anything like your school), a little bit of standard deviations and averaging – and voilà! a number. And then the number is translated to A, B, C, D or F. By the way, the Progress Report formula changes each year. Also by the way, the borderline between A and B and B and C etc changes each year. Also, by the way, none of the versions of the formula ever made sense. Also, by the way, the DoE claimed to be making school closing decisions based on the letters (not true, but scared the hell out of school communities in targeted schools. The DoE had its own secret agenda in selecting schools to close)

So, you should also know, there is Federal and NY State accountability. This stuff, Progress Reports and Quality Reviews, that’s just extra that Bloomberg’s DoE glommed on to harass or terrify schools. But NYC DoE has something like 200 central staff, many of them pricy young lawyers with no knowledge of education, assigned to doing accountability to the schools.

1. Any review or evaluation of a school should be done by the administrators responsible for supporting the school. The evaluator must be responsible to the school (as the principal should be responsible to the staff, students, and parents, as the teacher must be responsible to students and parents, as the chapter leader must be responsible to the members, as the district rep must be responsible to the chapter leaders, etc)

The panic caused by Quality Reviews is quadrupled because it is being done by strangers. They don’t know the school, or the people. They look for oddball things that no one in the school knew they cared about (and often that no one in the school should care about). They have no interest in seeing the schools succeed.

2. All “scoring” of schools should be stopped. Boiling a school down to a number is wrong. (As is boiling down a student to a number). Release reports on graduation rates? Sure. But no cooking up a phony statistic or metric that pretends to rate a school. In other words, the Progress Reports should be ended.

3. The actual educators working in “Accountability” should be given productive work, supporting schools, in other DoE offices. The non-educators working in “Accountability” should be given the opportunity to find more appropriate work outside of education. And the Office of Accountability should be staffed by a couple of people to make sure the reports to the State and Feds are being filed.

So what do we look for?

1. The letter grades on progress reports, de Blasio’s campaign said they would go in his first year. We should make sure they are actually being dumped. This alone will make schools calmer (especially combined with a likely end to arbitrary school closings – which those in targeted schools were led to believe were linked to progress reports. Untrue, but made people crazy.)

2. The campaign promised “educators, experts and parents will be convened to determine if the progress reports are the most effective long-term way to evaluate school.” We care

2a. when this committee is convened. Best case, in a month or two, so its findings can be out before the 2014-15 quality review/progress report cycle. Later in the spring, or in the summer would mean that recommendations could be made for 2015-16. This would be disappointing, but perhaps more realistic. On the other hand, if September/October roll around with no committee, we may be in trouble. I do not suppose this is likely.

2b. who is on the committee. Educators, experts, and parents. I could stack that committee with great people, or with horrible people. Who gets named makes all the difference. Watch out that all the educators are actually experienced educators. If there are DoE people who never taught, or were briefly teachers, and not very good, that’s a problem. If “educators” excludes teachers, or only has a token teacher, that’s a problem. On the other hand, if the committee mixes teachers, principals, and superintendents… For experts, anyone from the testing companies would be a real issue, but I expect de Blasio and Fariña to shut them out. Real public education advocates would be great. Does Diane Ravitch have the level of detailed knowledge necessary? I’m expecting some balance here, but we should watch carefully.

2c. Finally, we should expect the blended single score (statistical nonsense) of the Progress Reports to be abolished. That would be best. Perhaps replacing the reports with unfiltered, unaggregated numbers would represent a middle ground.

3. Fariña will be making staff changes, bringing new people in, and getting rid of some of the old. The “getting rid of the old” should have as one of its foci the non-educators working in the Office of Accountability. This has three positive results – cost savings and a shift away from punitive data and increasing the weight of real educators in the DoE. This will be hard to watch, as we don’t usually notice mid-level lawyers slithering out the door. Perhaps we can keep an eye on the headcount. The best outcome here would be to disband the office. We would certainly notice that.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Arjun Janah permalink
    January 13, 2014 pm31 10:55 pm 10:55 pm

    Thanks for this Jonathan.

    The sad fact is that, despite the hard work of so many teachers and students, many of our school systems (much like many other institutions) have been to some extent giant scams, in which some of those who are sincere may have found niches in which they could function, if they were fortunate, but too many others, equally or more sincere, were either cast overboard at some point or trapped in little hells.

    What Bloomberg and others did locally, and George W. Bush and Obama did at the national level, is, in effect, to make the school systems even more of a scam — indeed, a criminal one, in which both students and teachers were put into impossible situations, morally and physically.

    No amount of tweaking will fix the fundamental problem — if even educating children so they can think clearly and survive, and properly assimilate some of our species’ most treasured cultural knowledge and disciplines (from languages to mathematics to the sciences and much more), are reduced to outright scams, then what’s left as sacrosanct?

    As teachers, we have responsibilities that go beyond that of most employees. As the normal methods of transmission of ancestral culture have broken down the world over — owing to the destruction of rural communities and the industrialization and urbanization that has marked the past few centuries, the task of cultural transmission (other than what is gained at home from the nuclear family, which is vital but increasingly disturbed by the demands put on working parents and the parents’ own de-culturiization) has shifted, unfortunately, to two mass vehicles — the educational institutions and the media, including the entertainment business.

    Without discussing the latter vehicle, if the first is allowed to degenerate further — both in the direction headed towards high-stress pressure-cookers for children (and their teachers) and in that headed to a place where the noise (from multiple sources) overwhelms what is left of the signal, with these two movements proceeding in parallel even in the same school, then one has to despair.

  2. February 15, 2014 am28 10:01 am 10:01 am

    As a veteran math teacher in a closing Bloomberg era Bronx high school I am gratified to read other’s opinions that are so in-line with my own. What a tragedy it is for our young people to lose the school identity that makes the high school experience so rich. Well said and right on the mark!


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