Friday, September 12, 2008

F Who?

In this morning's City Room Blog, Jennifer Lee reports on the fact that a Brooklyn Heights elementary school, praised by the mayor two years ago, may soon receive an "F" on the DOE's "complicated" grading system: "A respected Brooklyn Heights elementary school, so popular in its gentrifying neighborhood that it has doubled enrollment since 2002, is set to get an F in the second year of the Bloomberg administration’s heavily contested system of grading individual schools, which has renewed questions about the methodology behind the grades."

Questions indeed! Just another example of the smoke, mirrors and methodological miasma that is part and parcel of the DOE's educational governance system. As Lee enlightens us: "The letter grades are based on a complicated formula that gives the most weight to children’s progress from one year to the next and compares the overall number meeting state achievement standards with the number at schools serving demographically similar populations. As a result, the report cards can label even a seemingly successful school as a failure."

Does everyone get that? It reminds us of Tom Lehrer's ditty, "The New Math." "Hooray for New Math, New-hoo-hoo Math, It won't do you a bit of good to review math. It's so simple, So very simple, That only a child can do it!"

Perhaps so, but it may also mean the kind of bureaucratic obfuscation that allows the evaluators to come to any conclusion they want. It would seem that way since, "The school, Public School 8, was once avoided by the well-off residents of neighboring brownstones but has been the paragon of a turnaround tale in recent years, leading Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to declare in 2006 that if the rest of New York’s schools made similar strides, “the future of this city would be assured.”

It's time to set fire to this educational edifice-and bring some needed sunlight into the room. We'll give the last word to Harriet Brown, a Daily News letter writer responding to the paper's panegyric to mayoral control: " I strongly disagree with your editorial "Keep mayoral control" (Sept. 8). The law should at least be modified to add checks and balances. Our mayor believes that education can be measured only by test scores. So, too much class time is spent on test preparation. Then, if scores aren't what he wants them to be, he labels the school as "failing," closes it and replaces it instead of improving the school. Also, he hired highly paid business consultants who came up with hare-brained schemes. And he doesn't understand that sometimes schools have to be closed because of weather. Every child is an individual and learns differently. One size does not fit all. If mayoral control is kept, it should be modified to include more input from parents and teachers."