Saturday, February 07, 2015
How Do We Close The Academic Achievement Gap?
One of the major issues in the New York City public schools is the segregation of the schools and the unacceptably wide racial/income academic achievement gap. Many of the New York City schools are highly segregated and in a City that's known for its diversity, segregated schools are a problem. I previously wrote an article that showed, using the DOE's high school quality snapshot, that majority Black schools suffered from low college readiness scores. Moreover, in the high schools that had a 80% and higher Black student population, these schools ranked lowest in the rankings academically. While, the racial composition of the schools does appear to affect academic outcomes, there are other school factors that need to be taken in account. They are a stable administration, properly certified experienced teachers, reasonable class sizes, and adequate resources. Unfortunately, many of there low preforming schools lack many, or all of these elements.
A strong and dedicated school administration is extremely important for a school to succeed. That means a Principal and Assistant principals who fairly enforce student discipline codes, collaborate with the teaching staff, and support, not stab in the back, teachers who struggle with good pedagogy when dealing with the student population.
A must for all schools is to have a nucleus of highly experienced teachers who have an institutional memory and can help mentor new teachers. Furthermore, these teachers should be certified in the core subjects of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Too many of the Bloomberg small schools lack such a nucleus.
Schools should have small class sizes, not more than 25 students per classroom rather than the contracted 34 students. Moreover, certified teachers teaching in their content specialty. I have been to many schools where students are being taught by teachers not certified in their content specialty. The results have been disastrous,
Finally, schools must be adequately resourced and funded and that means the DOE must eliminate the "fair student funding" that shortchanges the schools and forces principals to hire the "cheapest and not the best teachers" for their schools.
An example of a failing school to me is "The Queens High School For Information Research And Technology" (QIRT) in the old Far Rockaway Campus The school's history show why it a failing school. First, the school lacks a diverse student body. Second, QIRT has had five principals in the last six years and numerous Assistant Principals that have come and go. Third, it suffers from high teacher turnover, with the most senior teacher being there only six years. It seems that 33% of the teaching staff leaves every year. Finally, student discipline is unevenly enforced as different administrations have their own ideas and ends up confusing students and staff alike. Is it any wonder that the school is failing? The DOE snapshot of QIRT can be found here.
How do we desegregate the schools? First, you need to make these schools attractive to the student population. That means making these schools real magnet schools, not just giving them a fancy name as they do now. Second, have real long-term educators running the school. No more of those "Leadership Academy Principals" with limited classroom experience who think that they're CEO's of the school and refuse to collaborate with the staff. Chancellor Carmen Farina has said that 300 Principals should not be in charge of their schools but has failed to remove them, why? That might mean recombining many of these small schools back to the large comprehensive schools they came from. Third, have an experienced teaching staff, parents are not stupid, they may be ignorant of the New York City schools but they know about their child's teacher and if the teacher is a "newbie", many of the parents will request a more experienced teacher and if the school suffers from high teacher turnover, parents will not want their children going to the school. Just take a look at Campus Magnet and the four failing schools that inhabit the old Andrew Jackson Campus. Finally, the poor academic performance of the school turns off the parents and only those children who have uninvolved parents will allow their child to go to these low academically performing schools. Therefore, its important to bring in "quality teachers" and a school administration that works collaboratively with staff and low class sizes as a start to improve the school's academic performances. Once the school shows real academic progress and has courses, with certified teachers, that attract the higher preforming student, than the school will gradually acquire a more diverse population.
Good schools have a diverse student population and the reason they have diversity is because many of these schools have strong leadership, experienced teachers, and manageable class sizes along with consistent student discipline codes. So far the DOE has failed miserably to do what's necessary to integrate the schools and close the student academic achievement gap.