Jan 29, 2010 Herm Card Uncategorized
Ironically, when the New York State Department of Education (SED) put the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) on notice that three of its 39 schools were among the 57 schools in New York identified as “persistently lowest achieving” it was neither a surprise nor a cause for alarm.
The fact that the SED’s assessments of school performance — the “report cards” that they release every year (well into the next year usually) — are data based, (with terrific graphs and charts) makes it easy to understand their reasoning.
Theoretically, numbers don’t lie, but numbers don’t take into account the subjectivity of educational assessment. Numbers may reveal results, of course. When a school district such as Syracuse has 16,000 students living in poverty, it is likely that many test scores will be low.
When 11 percent of a school district is comprised of students who are not first-language-English speakers, (many who have had little education in their own language) many test scores are likely to be low. When two of the three identified schools (Fowler and Delaware elementary) serve the 11th most economically disadvantaged area in the COUNTRY, chances are pretty good that many test scores will be low.
So, when the SED released the numbers for New York State schools in need of improvement, there is little surprise that there are three from Syracuse on the list. What the SED’s assessment does not take into account is that Syracuse is already deeply committed to solving not only the problems of these three schools, but the entire urban school district of which they are a part — and well ahead of the recently released report.
Beginning on page 71 of the United States Department of Education document: Race to the Top: Application for Initial Funding, CFDA Number: 84.395A (ed.gov/programs/ racetothetop/ application.doc#_Toc245553795) are the four models for improvement of the schools in question. It is the choice of each Local Educational Agency (school district) as to which model(s) to implement that will be most effective for their given situation.
Two of the four choices involve either closing the school completely (“school closing model”) or the “restart model” in which the district “converts a school or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization (CMO), or an education management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process.” Neither of these bears consideration in Syracuse.
The other two choices are more realistic, but one, the “turnaround model” contains drastic measures in terms of staffing and other structural changes that would be more of an impediment than a help in the current situation.
The fourth plan, the “transformation model” is by far the longest in the document — consisting of 44 specific items (compared to 15 for the turnaround model and one each for the other two) and seemingly the most complicated and difficult to implement, but the beauty of it, as far as the SCSD is concerned, is that most of what is contained in the “transformation model” is already in the works in Syracuse.
One of the results of the previously mentioned lag time in the State Education Department’s recognition of problems through data analysis is that the people in the field, the day-to-day educators, are frequently aware of the problems by the time they are made public and already working on the solution.
It did not take a wakeup call from the state or federal government, it took awareness from within the SCSD and the Syracuse community that there were problems that needed to be addressed and more than data was needed to solve them. So, while CFDA Number: 84.395A was being formulated, the SCSD’s district-wide commitment to Say Yes to Education was being formulated, and alliances were being forged with colleges, businesses, public, private and government agencies, and providers of medical, legal, and psychological services.
Of course, having programs in place does not guarantee success, particularly since that success is measured in absolutes by the people in Albany and Washington. Plus, there are monetary considerations in place, though somewhat deceptive in nature. While the Race to the Top documents refer to $500,000 available for each school that has been identified as needing reform the half a million dollars is spread out over the four years of a given class. The resulting $125,000 per year might cover the salaries and benefits of two or three new teachers, hardly a magnificent windfall for any district needing to transform its educational system.
Next the City Eagle will look at some specific indicators used to identify schools as “persistently lowest achieving” and some possible solutions, and some specific district-wide actions being taken by the SCSD. Herm Card is the City Eagle’s street reporter — reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.