"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Bloomberg/Klein Mirage

The following clip from the Times throws a tiny bit of light on the curriculum caste system created in NYC to coincide with the economic caste system that makes the curriculum caste system possible. The poorest children in the poorest schools get the poorest test scores, whereas middle class children in leafier neighborhoods do well. The poor are then targeted for the poorest curriculum, from which art, music, social studies, problem solving, and thinking have been erased to make room for doubling up on mindless test prep and parrot learning. Children are paid $50 and their CEO principals get $22,000 for higher scores, and the Little Dictator demands continuation of his one man rule of NYC Schools.

. . . .The state releases each year’s tests to the public after they are given, making it easier for teachers to prepare students for what to expect on the next test. At some schools, particularly those in middle-class areas that were already performing well, parents and public officials have complained that children are spending more time on learning to master the tests than on learning itself. But in some of the city’s struggling schools, teachers expressed confidence that preparing children for the tests served them well.

At Public School 398 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, 77 percent of students passed the math tests this year and 60 percent passed English, up from 56 and 43 percent last year. Gene McCarthy, a fifth-grade teacher, attributed the improvement to “a tremendous amount of test prep,” but said that with a little creativity on his part, “ultimately I think it’s learning.”

In another classroom, Jayvon Sneed, 9, was diligently reading a passage about a raccoon and filling in answers on a computerized test form, completing the last of his interim tests.

“I like doing it, because I like passing tests and I like learning stuff,” he said afterward, peering from behind wire-rimmed glasses. “I like making my brain smarter.”

The principal, Diane Danay-Caban, said her own son suffered nerve-induced stomach aches several years ago when test preparation began at his high-performing Queens school. But at P.S. 398, which had struggled for years with low scores and discipline problems, she has come to feel that the push to raise scores has brought genuine gains in knowledge.

She acknowledged that there were casualties of the school’s efforts to raise its numbers — like art classes, which were bumped out of the schedule until the official tests were completed this spring. “Now that I see that we’re improving,” she said, “maybe we can start earlier next year.”

Mr. Klein, for his part, said he was confident that rising scores reflected real improvements. “No matter how you look at them,” he said, “the picture is one that shows that the city is making dramatic progress.”

Howard T. Everson, a senior research fellow at City University of New York and chairman of the Technical Advisory Group, a collection of experts who oversee the state testing process, said he believed New York’s tests were “about as good as we can build them.” But he said that with so much riding on the tests, there was a need for greater study to certify that rising scores correspond with a gain in learning.

“Unfortunately, I think some of the gains that we’re seeing are probably related to test-score inflation, meaning that people are using inappropriate ways of teaching to the test,” he said. “Instead of really good time spent on instruction, they’re doing a lot of test prep and drill.”

Dr. Everson said that “the skepticism that you hear and I hear is real skepticism, and it’s warranted.” “Are things getting better?” he asked. “That’s what we really want to know, and we need more research to tell us how to sort that out.” . . . .

1 comment:

  1. "If Eli Broad had a job for her, rather than disdain, I wonder if she could afford to be so candid."

    I think you're being unnecessarily rough on Diane, who's been a voice of reason in NYC for years, often the only voice of reason. She's stood up relentlessly to the Bloomberg spin machine, and has been roundly vilified for her efforts. If she wanted a job with the machine, and were willing to tow the line, I've no doubt there are plenty of of Broad's ilk who'd pay just to shut her up.