Let me state this first. I believe in high-stakes testing and I have no problem using these tests for promotion or identifying student weaknesses. However, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is nothing but a farce because of policies employed by the New York City Department of Education that adversely affects my school. Let me explain.
My school is a large, overcrowded high school with the average class size of 32 students per classroom (The union contract allows for 34 students per classroom). Over the last five years my school both academically and safety-wise had improved, thanks to a zero-tolerance discipline program that suspends students rather than allow them to walk the halls, disrupt the classroom. or bully other students. Then NLCB came along and we had to improve on our baseline standards. No problem, our school was improving academically, safety was not an issue, and gangs in the school were deep underground, so what was the problem? The New York City Department of Education's flawed policy of closing poor performing large schools and make small schools out of them, that's the problem.
In the last three years three large high schools have been converted to small schools with the approximately three thousand excessed students sent to other schools in the borough of Queens. One of the recipients of these students was my school. The students came from underperforming middle schools and were not selected to go to the newly created small schools. Many of these students came with poor work habits, disrespected their teachers and peers, and were at the bottom of the heap in their middle school mandated tests. With the influx of the students overcrowding became worse, fights are on the rise, and academically, the school is floundering.
Why would NYC Department of Education want to push a large, respected high school into the dangerous waters of the NCLB penalties? I can only guess that it is a combination of incompetence, political policy, and apathy.
Incompetence - Many of the the middle-level administrators at the NYC Department of Education have little understanding of how a school operates. They think of the students as cogs in an assembly line. To them, all the cogs are the same aren't they? The teachers are widgets and the principal as the operator. Their only concern is that the school run smoothly. Incompetence is based upon their lack of understanding of what it takes to run a successful school. That is why they cannot understand that students need to be screened to ensure they are ready for high school and that illiterate students entering high school will not graduate, no matter how much they try without intensive one-to-one tutoring in an alternative setting.
Political Policy - Much of the top management at the NYC Department of Education (Tweed)
aren't educators and the few that are have been away from the classroom for decades. Their priorities are small schools and charter schools, where work rules can be relaxed (abused) by the administrators. Further, micromanagement is all the rage at Tweed. Tweed's policy is that the "one-size-fits-all" approach should be imposed on all classes. These non-educators believe that the more innovative a classroom teacher is, the more dangerous that teacher becomes. We all know that teachers are the best evaulators of their students. However, according to Tweed, all students learn the same using the same curriculum and a teacher might find him/her in the "rubber room" if they stray from Tweed's directives.
Apathy - The Tweed policy is that "you can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time" and by the time the general population realizes they have been fooled, it's usually too late to do anything about it. Many parents are fooled by the statistics showing that their children are passing increasingly dumbed down state & city tests. Even some of the city politicians believe that Tweed is succeeding in improving the education of the city students.
Further, Tweed's disrespect for teachers and school administrators is obvious for all to see. Just ask any teacher what they think is wrong with the New York City schools and they will all say Tweed. Finally, our union (UFT) rather then push their "Let Teachers Teach Program" and fight the push to small schools, have remained silent about how to combat Tweed. Apathy breeds disrespect and with apathetic parents, politicians, and the UFT, Tweeds rides roughshot over the system.
It is time that educators stand up and fight for the system and in my case I will start at my school. Fight for what's right.