Wednesday, December 19

DOE: Teacher attrition, lots of reported incidents signs of reform

Anyone who thinks the New York Times has been soft on the DOE in recent years should take note: Sam Freedman is on the job. His column today addresses the question of "How a Middle School Can Be 'Dangerous' and Still Get an A." Freedman takes a look at South Bronx Academy for Applied Media, which got an A on its progress report but also holds a slot on the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools.

Former teachers describe a place where they spent more time putting out fires and deflecting profanities aimed at them than teaching. It's true that teachers who have left a school may have competing reasons for wanting to go to the press with their complaints — but the school's Learning Environment Survey bears out their assertion that the school isn't safe. Principal Roshone Ault said the school got its "persistently dangerous" designation because she reports every incident, but teachers said they were dissuaded from reporting some incidents. (Ault, formerly a teacher at a charter school that was closed due to poor performance, was the subject of a Times article last year about the new wave of young principals.)

At South Bronx Academy, which opened in 2005, 13 of 16 teachers were brand new last year, and Freedman said half of teachers fled the school in the last year. The progress reports don't take teacher retention into account. James Liebman told the Times that "many teachers flee schools that are in the midst of reform and instilling a 'culture of accountability,'" though how a new school can be in the midst of reform is not clear. What is clear is that in the bizarro world of DOE-2K7, teacher attrition, widely understood to seriously inhibit school success, is actually a good thing.

Freedman doesn't contest the fact that the progress reports adequately measure what they're designed to measure — year-to-year improvement, especially among the most needy students. But his column points out, as many others have, that the progress reports don't measure many of the factors that teachers, parents, and students think are most important.

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