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Can New York's School Rating and Bonus System Save NCLB?

Fscn0704_2 New York City's much-vaunted (and much-maligned) system of progressive evaluations, school grading, and school-based bonus pay probably does not fit neatly into current federal education law or the proposed Miller-McKeon fix proposed in September. 

But that didn't stop Congressman Miller and his education aide Alice Johnson Cain from visiting the city and stopping by a Brooklyn school that got a "B" on the city's rating system to pick up some ideas for what might happen next at the federal level. 

"That's why I'm here," Miller said during his visit, which featured Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, and UFT president (future secretary?) Randi Weingarten, among others.  "This [the New York system] might be closer to what people would consider right."

The event  in the 4th floor auditorium at PS 133 had a loose, casual feel even though there were so many officials and media there -- it felt like a recess event.  You gotta love Chancellor Klein's bald in front/ long-in-back hairdo -- he's like a mad conductor or an aging doo-wop singer up there. 

There was no booing of NCLB like you might expect -- partly because Bloomberg and Klein are basically for it and happy as pie to be thought of as a national model.  It didn't hurt that Miller was there, hat in hand, slamming his OWN law for using a "single indicator" to measure schools and chumming up to Randi Weingarten to show his pro-union credibility. 

"We've got to empower the people at the school site," said Miller (I'm paraphrasing).  "Let them weigh the evidence and make the response.  Too often the changes are handed down, and we need to depart from that."

Dscn0701The school had been chosen because it got a "B" for progress despite its 25 percent LD population, and it's location in the district of the only New York member on the House education committee , Yvette Clark, a Dem. freshman.  She sounded like she would have voted against the Miller proposed NCLB plan, but wasn't as vitriolic as you might expect from a House freshman.  Maybe cuz she's in an AFT town not an NEA one.

There were lots of bored staffers there working their Blackberries during the speeches.  See picture.  The kids were bored, too, despite repeated and awkward efforts to keep them involved.  "Who wants to be a Congressman?" asked the Mayor several times.  One poor kid had to be taken off the stage.  Another wouldn't leave. 

Before coming to the school Miller had gotten a run through the city's data system -- a "real-time" platform that apparently lets principals and teachers take a look at how things are going anytime during the year.  The grades -- much maligned here but apparently admired elsewhere (and by 79 percent of parents, the Mayor claimed) -- gives credit for progress but is still basically tied to state scores. I wonder what would happen if you matched up NCLB's proposed new AYP to the NYC system -- whether PS 133 would pass or not. 

There's no ComStat/SchoolStat type showdown for principals like in Patterson or Chicago, but next year the data will be public at least to parents, and they already do formative assessments five times a year, I'm told. 

In the meantime, one thing they've clearly figured out is the rhetoric:  "School-based bonus" is the term of art that's used for the performance pay system, and who doesn't like that?  Brilliant.

Shout-outs to David Cantor, Stu Loeser, and Fatima Shama from the Chancellor and Mayor's offices, as well as Bill? John Daley from the DC office of the mayor.   Weingarten's guy was there, too -- I need to introduce myself to him. 


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Have you all been following Diane Ravitch's saga in Bridging Differences?

I can't think of a more disgusting model than the NYC system.

How much of the Ravitch-Meier dialogue can be cut and pasted?

Regardless, they are a must read.

John Thompson

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