Thursday, July 28, 2011

As Best Schools Compete for Best Performers, Students May Be Left Behind

Michael Winerip has an article in today's NYT and for the second article in a row, I don't think it's a hatchet job – wow!  The article relates to what I wrote to Gary (see above): "Don't you find it ironic that while, yes, charters benefit somewhat from the self-selecting nature of who enters a lottery, it is only the regular public school system that explicitly sets up selective schools, throwing a lifeline to a few percent of the students and consigning the rest to mediocre (or often far worse) schools?"  Winerip profiles a number of families and schools, showing how unfair the public school system is, with a small number of good schools and a lot more mediocre and terrible ones, and how it allocates the precious few slots at good schools to the "best" students and parents.

Parents are supposed to rank their choices for the district lottery, but the guidebook is vague about what each school is looking for. Every school listing, under "Selection criteria," says the same thing: "Review of grades and test scores."

It is the guidance counselors who tell the parents how things really work. On both the state reading and math tests, the most selective schools generally want a raw score of at least 660 each — the equivalent of a 3 out of a top score of 4. Aaliyah was close; she had a 649 and 664.

Ms. Otero toured Middle School 51, one of the most coveted schools. "I heard the way they spoke," she recalled. "Everyone was learning, sitting down, paying attention to the teacher."

…Ms. Otero's first choice for Aaliyah was M.S. 51, then New Voices; she listed Dewey last.

In mid-May, acceptance letters went out.

"Dewey," Ms. Otero said. "A complete waste of my time. She could have gone straight into Dewey."

Ms. Otero appealed.

Long before the Bloomberg administration, districts offered school choice. But in recent years the process has intensified. The reform movement has created an educational marketplace that presses schools to compete for students. This is good for the students selected for the strongest schools but not so good for children left behind and grouped as the weakest.

From 80 to 90 percent of pupils get one of their first three choices, according to an Education Department spokesman. But the better the test scores, the more in demand a child is, and the better the odds.

Where Winerip (and Gary and Ravitch, etc.) and I would disagree is what to do about this sorry, immoral state of affairs.  My answer: shut down/reconstitute crappy schools and get rid of crappy teachers and principals (among other things like raising standards, paying adults more who are willing to work in the toughest schools, rewarding great teachers, etc.) – all things that Winerip, et. al totally oppose…


As Best Schools Compete for Best Performers, Students May Be Left Behind

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Mary Otero, right, who worried that enrolling her daughter, Aaliyah, 11, in a low-performing middle school would adversely affect her future.  

Published: July 24, 2011

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