Tuesday, March 16th, 2004
Boy, education management sure is tough in New York. This from the NYT’s David Hernszenhorn:
The city’s Panel for Educational Policy yesterday approved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to impose strict promotion requirements for third graders, but only after the mayor and the Staten Island borough president fired and replaced three members just before the vote.
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced the changes to the panel, the successor to the Board of Education, at the start of a meeting last night at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But word of the dismissals had already spread, and he had to struggle to be heard over the jeers of a seething crowd.
This is a tough fight for the minds and hearts of third graders. The article continues. I’ve plunked in a lengthy portion:
Mr. Bloomberg said he had amended his policy based on comments from panel members, but would not tolerate them voting against him.
Although Mr. Klein said they had resigned, the three panel members said in interviews that they had been tersely dismissed and had intended to vote against the mayor’s plan.
The panel had been viewed as little more than a rubber stamp of the mayor’s policies. But his plan to hold back students based on standardized test scores met stiff opposition, and seemed headed for defeat.
Under the plan, students who score in Level 1, the lowest of four rankings, on next month’s citywide English and math tests, will be forced to repeat third grade unless they score at Level 2 after summer school or their teachers successfully file an appeal on their behalf.
City officials have estimated that the new policy could force as many as 15,000 of the current 74,000 third graders, or about one in five children, to repeat the grade four times as many as have been left back in recent years based on teacher and principal discretion.
Mr. Bloomberg announced the plan, intended to end the practice called “social promotion,” as a centerpiece of his State of the City speech in January. “This year, for third graders, we’re putting an end to the discredited practice of social promotion,” the mayor declared. “We’re not just saying it this time. This time, we’re going to do it.”
We have lots of discussion at TCC about the “idea” of so called “social promotion.” We don’t like it when the majority of our students have to go through the English and Math foundations courses, sometimes having to do a year of “developmental” work. Often students will complete the work and move into college credit courses and do fine. Many, however, don’t and disappear. Often students enter credit bearing courses by testing into them and bomb. We know that entrance tests don’t predict all that well how students will perform, SAT or Acuplacer. Many students who come to college beamed directly in from high school aren’t prepared to work with the material, to study the material, to manipulate the concepts, to manage the time requirements, and to live with the decorum of college space (for example, a lot of students think it’s okay to get up in the middle of discussion, leave the room, then return. The thought that this may be rude doesn’t seem to alter what they do before class.) Others do just fine: they struggle with the reading, grasp the basics over time, come to class, prioritize, and participate. Fine by me.
There are many guesses about what the problem is with performance and behavior: secondary education, globilization, teacher training and unions, bad management, mass media, Britney Spears, social inequity, political expediencies, and changing socio-cultural situations and trends.
The students and colleagues with whom I speak know that my proposition is tentative and observational: the problem with learning in America is the concept of systematized and mechanized education that treats people as if they were cut of the same genes. As the article above illustrates, whether Bloomberg is right or wrong by padding his Board to get what he wants and thinks he’s entitled to, the status quo is simply more status quo. More of the same, and more of it: standardization rather than standards. The answer is always more rules, more chapels on the green, as Blake would say.
What are the consequences, intended or unintended, of the above proposal? (If 1 out of five of the 3rd graders have to do the grade again, where is the system actually going to put them, with class sizes already brimming over? Are the people who sell or rent out portable buildings drooling?) One will be more pressure on teachers and students to perform in a system that is already choking under its massive foot. Or maybe everyone will pass and all will be well and paradise will be restored. Who knows.
My answer, which will never happen, is less education and more opportunities to learn (a reconceptualizing of learning from the ground up), a more flexible approach to grade levels and grading, moving from grades to things to learn in as much time as time requires, less testing and more active demonstration of knowledge. This answer to the perceived problem is a “game,” really.