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Archive for February, 2012

The Case Against Test-Based Admissions to Elite High Schools

February 26, 2012 Comments off

The NYTimes today features an article on Stuyvesant High School describing the isolation Rudi Ann Miller feels as one of 40 black students in a school of 3295. Because admission to NY’s most prestigious HS is based solely on tests, 72.5% of the student body is Asian and  24% are white, leaving all other students at 3.5%. The result is summed up in this quote:

Her mother, Annmarie Miller, a nursing assistant at a hospital in the Bronx, recalled a cousin’s reaction when she mentioned Rudi’s pick: “You have to be Chinese or Indian to get in there.” A co-worker, also black, “said the exam is built to exclude blacks because it’s heavy on math, and black people can’t do math,” Mrs. Miller said.

One solution to this defeatism was offered by “a core member of the Black Alumni Association”: admit the valedictorians and salutatorians of each NYC middle school to the elite school. This idea was put in place in Texas where is is under fire because  a white student’s claimed she was denied admission of UTexas because of  a similar system. If NYC is serious about improving academics at ALL schools and encouraging ALL students to have an opportunity to attend its most prestigious school, it should save a seat for the best and brightest kids from its middle schools. Then the message would be “you have to work hard in class to get in there” instead of “You have to be Chinese or Indian to get in there”.

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Bill Gates on Teacher Evaluations

February 24, 2012 Comments off

Over the past two days the NY Times has been full of articles about the recent court decision to allow the posting of “teacher ratings”, concocted based on test results from a discredited assessment. Staff writer Winnie Hu offered an overview article in today’s paper, which included quotes from teachers and the union president expressing anger and dismay and a quote from the current superintendent urging teachers to put this all in perspective. The article also included links to their blog page where I found this article entitled: Ravitch Says New Evaluation System is “Madness”. But one of the unlikely opponents of this public posting of test results was Bill Gates, who wrote yesterday’s lead editorial titled “For Teachers, Shame is No Solution”. The article describes the thoughtful and thorough process his organization uses to evaluate personnel. But Gates makes a common error in suggesting that public schools embrace an idea that works in the private sector: operating in the public arena requires operating in the full light of the sun. Closing a school, for example, isn’t nearly as easy as closing a factory: no one asked folks in Canaan VT for their opinion when the Ethan Allen plant closed but the community is going to spend three years trying to forge a consensus (IF one is possible) on school consolidation in the Canaan area. For better or worse, schools operate democratically and part of a democratic operation is making many of our “records” public. Any form of performance pay will necessarily require public disclosure  the names of teachers who warrant bonuses. This is antithetical to what occurs in the private sector where compensation levels are considered proprietary.

Education and Economic Inequality

February 20, 2012 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes Campaign Stops features an extended essay by Thomas Edsall entitled “Is This the End of Market Democracy?”… and the answer appears to “Yes… unless we make some changes“. The essay describes in detail how and why the middle income jobs are disappearing in our “advanced economies” How can this be reversed? Jeffrey Sachs, one of the economists quoted at length in the article suggests:

 “A social democracy — capitalism plus a hefty dose of state support for families, education, early childhood development, higher education, and active labor market policies — can still do the job. The performance of northern Europe, around 120 million people including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, provides a good illustration of this success.”

Earlier posts highlighted the success of Finnish schools on international tests and those articles described a school system markedly different from our assessment obsessed environment to one that dealt with the whole child. The Finnish system, in effect, valued development over competition… the development of the skills needed to function in a democracy over the skills needed to succeed in capitalism.

It is evident that neither political party is willing to endorse Finland’s developmental approach to schooling or Sach’s “…hefty dose of state support for families, education, (and) early education”. Instead we will be forced to choose between the Republican party’s social Darwinist education policies that seek to privatize public services and Obama’s Race to the Top both of which neglect the need to coordinate services for underprivileged children and overemphasize the importance of standardized tests.

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