Wednesday, December 12

Student Thought: The importance of the school progress debate, Part I

A few days ago, walking to the train after an NYC Student Union meeting with some of my fellow students, it struck me to ask, Why has the debate on the NYC DOE's progress report program garnered so much attention? Why have so many newspaper articles been written on it, so many people been riled up about it? It's just a silly report card program, right? Aren't there so many important issues out there?

Well, yes and no.

While there are more urgent issues facing our schools, especially class size, this issue gains its importance because it very thoroughly defines the main theme of Klein/Bloomberg's tenure running our schools: The Search for Results. Under this administration and probably in many other school systems around the country, the focus of broad educational policy is measurable results. These results set the agenda for individual schools and school systems as a whole.

Hopefully, all of us witnessing and participating in this event can use what has transpired in New York as a learning experience on the short-term future of American education politics. Since the first school Progress Reports were released, many education advocacy groups have viciously attacked the DOE, alleging that the reports are a waste of money and encourage a culture of constant test prep.

Many of these attacks have been directed at DOE accountability czar James Liebman. I personally feel that these were uncalled for. The man is trying to create a system that brings a measure of accountability, transparency and, most important, attention to our schools. In that third category, Liebman has unquestionably succeeded.

The progress report debate has brought education issues into the public eye more than any other issue this year. It has stayed in the paper and on the minds of parents, politicians and plain old people. It has inspired questions to be asked and answers to given and has gotten more people thinking about their schools. Without the letter grade, bold and big in the top left hand corner of the progress report (the main qualm for some anti-report card activists), this would have been a non-story and no change would have come of it.

If there's one thing I would like to put out there before the debate begins to die down it is this: The report cards are not inherently evil. They are flawed, but their spirit is important and good. For my school's SLT at least, our Progress Report has given us important information about what can be improved in our schools and has forced us to develop strategies to deal with the areas in which we did not do as well. Hopefully, the progress reports also got more parents informed about what's going on in their children's schools and inspired them to take some action.

As I said, however, the report cards are flawed. Last week several reps from NYCSU went to meet with Mr. Liebman to explain our grievances about the current progress reports. In my next post, I will describe them.

Cross-posted on the NYC Students Blog

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