Wednesday, June 18

NCLB blues: Accountability without across-the-board progress

Parents have long felt that city schools are set up to serve the highest achievers -- via gifted and talented programs and the specialized high schools, for example -- and, particularly in the current Mayoral administration, to analyze and attempt to meet the needs of the city's neediest, lowest-performing students. Thus, an era of high-stakes testing, data-driven accountability, and the basic equation of "progress" with rising scores.

But a large swath of students have been overlooked in the alphabet soup of AYP (annual yearly progress), SURR (schools under Regents review), SINI (schools in need of improvement), and NCLB (No Child Left Behind). As Sam Dillon reported in today's Times, and Eduwonkette put into thoughtful context, we risk losing sight of the kids who are doing well, or well enough. They're not making as much progress as their less-able peers, mainly because the educational target has aimed at proficiency, with less emphasis on pushing the already-proficient to new levels of rigor and achievement.

Clearly, resources are finite, and a large segment of the city's kids need and deserve real attention to the academic basics. But can we afford, as parents and as citizens, to slight the students who are already doing well?


Bronx_shrink said...

I definitely think the "well enough" kids are not well attended to, but that seems to be the way the tide goes in general in our society. The wealthiest and the poorest garner the most attention and everyone else struggling in the middle is left to tread water but make no progress.

I have personally had a couple of major concerns about how the NCLB act is implemented. First, SINI schools are infused with money so that they can reduce class sizes, increase staff and professional development, etc. But then, when those schools make "measurable" gains, they lose funding, potentially causing them to fall behind again. The second issue is that schools that are SINI are offered up for plundering of possibly their brightest and "well enough" students. My son attends a G&T class in a district 3 SINI school. We received the NCLB application offering us transfer options to supposedly better schools.

What would happen to the school if all of the parents of the highest achieving students decided to transfer their kids out? What would happen to receiving schools if they suddenly faced an influx of the kids who had struggled the most at their previous schools?

The "good enough" schools (as far as testing is concerned) are of course neglected until their test scores drop. NCLB was a poor quick-fix for a long-standing problem for which there is no quick or simple solution. Our children and communities are complex and nuanced, and uniform policies are simply inadequate.

helen said...

You're right about the risk of losing high-performing kids at SINI schools, and about the potentially crippling effects on the all-important scores. Some kids are in great programs within struggling schools -- others might be better served elsewhere, and parents have to make the best choices they can for their children. The larger issue is systemic: How can we better direct public resources and attention so strong kids, and their families, don't feel abandoned by DOE policy?

Bronx_shrink said...

In my opinion, the DOE needs to move decision making back to a community level. I think I understand the intention behind centralizing everything, but the outcome has not been what had been expected. New York is so incredibly diverse in multiple ways. The neighborhoods are growing increasingly complex as gentrification spreads. I think it is because of this complexity that most public school parents seem disatisfied.

Principals and district leaders (working with parent reps) are best positioned to assess the needs of the families they serve and then to implement programs and services to meet those needs.

Having worked with families in Washington Heights and in Central Harlem, being educated myself in public and private schools, and now living in the Bronx, I can compare and contrast the needs of the families in these communities are. There is no way any uniform policy would work for all of these neighborhoods. Until the mayor and chancellor recognize that, I think too many kids will be destined for mediocrity.