Saturday, September 1, 2007

Accountability a One Way Street in NYC Schools

Here is an interesting insight into how public school teachers think...perhaps just in New York City. "Schools Wait, Teeth Gritted: Their Grades are Coming," by Julie Bosman (New York Times, Sept. 1, 2007). It seems that New York's Mayor Bloomberg is holding schools accountable for their job performance.

Making good on a promise to hold educators more accountable for student performance, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will oversee the distribution of report cards for each of the city’s schools next month. Each school (and by extension its principal) will receive a letter grade in the mail, and the grade and the data that led to it will be posted on the Web, where parents can see and possibly stew over them.
Of course, you cannot expect a complacent, inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy to cooperate supportively. If teachers and administrators were doing all that they could to provide the best public service, these measures would never have crossed anyone's mind (as in earlier times they didn't).
Judith Menken, the outspoken principal of the small Muscota New School in Inwood, Manhattan, is bracing for the moment when she will receive a stark appraisal of her school’s performance, a letter grade of A through F. She is still debating whether or not she will read the report.
Why would she not read the report? She's a school principal. Assessing and grading people is what her own institution does. Does she see no value in it for herself? Perhaps she sees no value in it for her students. Is that the problem?
“I guess I’ll probably look at it,” said Ms. Menken. She expects a B, at best, she added. “I’m sure I’ll feel bad. People are going to be very hurt and demoralized. It’s like a public embarrassment.”
Yes, that's an aspect of accountability. Public schools are a public trust. They should be publicly accountable. When they fail, they fail publicly. When held to account, they should be held to account publicly. Furthermore, public humiliation is a good incentive for avoiding it in the future by improving performance.
Back at the Muscota school, Ms. Menken, who has seen countless changes and reorganizations over the years, is holding out hope that Mr. Klein will eventually abandon the grading system. “It’ll be like everything else,” said Ms. Menken, who has worked in the New York City public schools for 36 years. “It won’t work, and they’ll chuck it.”
Principal Menken appears to believe that nothing can improve the public school system in New York. And she's comfortable with that. On the theory that if something does not work you chuck it, perhaps that is the only practical and publicly responsible thing to do with the New York public schools. I have no doubt that private initiatives would far outperform what we have now. As a businessman, the mayor must secretly know this. (My children are thriving at a classical Christian school.)

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