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“Just Say ‘NO”: How NOT to Transform Our Schools

July 26, 2010

News of the Koretz study, expected to show years of test score inflation in New York State, has left many parents, including those of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) with feelings of frustration and outrage. CEJ has been fighting for years to address the crisis of teaching and learning in many NYC schools, and has proposed the School Transformation Zone (unanimously passed by the New York City Council as Resolution 157A) to raise the quality of education in the lowest-performing schools.

The NYC Department of Education (DOE), however, has outright rejected this proposal. At a recent meeting with newly appointed Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, CEJ parents were dismayed to learn that not only was the DOE not at all receptive to the Zone proposal but that the 11 schools that have been designated for the federal “transformation” model will receive hardly any additional supports in their efforts to dramatically raise graduation and college readiness rates. Aside from two new levels of expert teachers (which mirror the Lead Teacher Program started by CEJ organizations in the Bronx years ago), the transformation schools will receive basically the same services and supports that they currently get from their existing networks. What will these networks do differently and why didn’t they do it sooner? This current approach is simply a smokescreen to obscure the fact that the DOE has no instructional plan in place, nor is one forthcoming.

Having gotten past the frustration and anger, what a more careful examination of the Koretz study blatantly reveals is that the onus of ensuring accountability in the transformation of our schools, unfortunately, rests with the parents and communities. The current trend in public education is the abdication of district responsibility and the systematic dismantling of our schools. We as parents cannot expect or wait for local and state districts to do what is best for our children. Remember the injustice of the 8th Grade NYS Science Exam? Students who had no science labs or equipment were expected to pass a state-mandated exam that required proficiency in science laboratory skills. It was only the efforts of the Brooklyn Education Collaboration to organize that frustration and outrage that brought $440 million in science labs and equipment to middle grade classrooms across the city.

Once again parents must organize and demand a comprehensive overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Originally authorized by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the current version of ESEA (called No Child Left Behind and enacted by Bush) has left too many children in the dust. Further, it has encouraged a toxic climate of “teaching to the test” as states creatively – and at times fraudulently – manipulate data to comply with federal mandates and carrots. In an effort to be proactive, CEJ and other parent and youth groups nationwide have come together as Communities for Excellent Public Schools to make sure that the minimalist sink or swim support for low performing schools that we are seeing in the Bloomberg-Klein administration will not be perpetuated under ESEA. To that end, CEJ will be converging on the nation’s capital on Wednesday, July 28th to ensure that the voices of those on the ground will be heard. Can the children of our city, state and country afford to wait another 45 years to discover that this brand of test-rich, content-poor school reform does not work for them and America? I don’t think so, do you?

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