SCHOOL REFORM: QUITE A CHALLENGE

by michael on April 11, 2011

 I read on Hugh Hewitt’s blog,  http://www.hughhewitt.com/blog/

this reference to what appears to be a fascinating article on school reform, The Fragile Success of School Reform in the Bronx by JONATHAN MAHLER. It is a lengthy piece, well over 9,000 words. Mahler’s piece emphasizes that the achievement of reform always depends on the quality of the teachers. Mahler also illustrates the deep-rooted desire of youngsters to learn, to better themselves, irrespective of their economic level or even their home environment.

Here is the link to the complete article

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/magazine/mag-10School-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&pagewanted=print

Here are some paragraphs:

 “Ramon González has been principal of M.S. 223, on 145th Street near Willis Avenue, since the school’s creation in September 2003. One of the first schools opened by Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor at the time, 223 was intended to help replace a notoriously bad junior high school that the city had decided to shut down. Thirteen percent of its first incoming class of sixth graders were at grade level in math and just 10 percent were at grade level in English. Last year, after seven years under González, 60 percent of its students tested at or above grade level in math and 30 percent in English. Not something to brag about in most school districts, but those numbers make 223 one of the top middle schools in the South Bronx. According to its latest progress report from the Department of Education, which judges a school’s growth against a peer group with similar demographics, 223 is the 10th-best middle school in the entire city.

 “During our conversations, Klein, a former lawyer, cloaked his revolutionary ideology in a technocrat’s rhetoric, describing how he implemented “disruptive strategies” designed to transform the city’s schools “from a provider-driven system to a consumer-driven one.” What he meant was that he turned the city’s school system upside down, opening hundreds of new schools and shutting down dozens of others. Individual schools were given control over their own budgets, hiring and curriculums. In exchange, they were expected to earn good grades on their report cards from the city — another Klein innovation — or risk closure.

“I think one of our core accomplishments is that we transformed the principal from an agent of the bureaucracy to the C.E.O. of his or her school,” Klein told me. (Mahler)

 “In certain respects, 223 is a monument to Klein’s success: empower the right principals to run their own schools and watch them bloom. Thanks to Klein, González has been able to avoid having teachers foisted on him on the basis of seniority. He has been able to create his own curriculums, micromanage his students’ days (within the narrow confines of the teachers’ union contract, anyway) and spend his annual budget of $4 million on the personnel, programs and materials he deems most likely to help his kids.

“And yet even as school reform made it possible for González to succeed, as the movement rolls inexorably forward, it also seems in many ways set up to make him fail. The grading system imposed by Klein that has bestowed three consecutive A’s on González also disqualifies him from additional state resources earmarked for failing schools. The ever-growing number of charter schools, often privately subsidized and rarely bound by union rules, that Klein unleashed on the city skims off the neighborhood’s more ambitious, motivated families. And every year, as failing schools are shut down around González, a steady stream of children with poor intellectual habits and little family support continues to arrive at 223. González wouldn’t want it any other way — he takes pride in his school’s duty to educate all comers — but the endless flow of underperforming students drags down test scores, demoralizes teachers and makes the already daunting challenge of transforming 223 into a successful school, not just a relatively successful one, that much more difficult.”

 It’s a tough battle for children to learn. The obstacles are daunting, and those obstacles sometimes include their parents and their teacher. Very sad, but that’s the way it is. Blessings to Ramon Gonzalez.

More later

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