Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The principal mistake

Duck tacos at Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, Boston. Photo by Boston.Grubstreet.Com.

Michael Winerip brings another of those horror stories back from the NYC Department of Education, but then starts wandering in an unsafe direction:
On the state math test, P.S. 30 did better in 2011, with 41 percent of students scoring proficient — a 3 or 4 — versus 29 percent for P.S. 179.
But on the state English test, P.S. 179 did better, with 36 percent of its students scoring proficient compared with 32 percent for P.S. 30.
And yet, when the department calculated the most recent progress report grades, P.S. 30 received an A. And P.S. 179 received an F.
Is P.S. 30 among the best schools in the city and P.S. 179 among the worst? Very hard to know.
No, you know, it's really not very hard to know at all. Or if you prefer, it's hard to know because it's a profoundly stupid and trivial question. Not so much hard to know as not worth knowing, because when distinctions are being made on this fine a metric then the difference between best and worst is not important.

I want you to understand this, Michael Winerip, because it's really making me crazy. If Schuyler sells slightly more cocktails on Thursday than Wednesday but fewer shrimp entrees, while Eugenie's cocktail sales decline a little between the two days but she does somewhat better on the shrimp front, do you ask if one of these persons is among the best waitresses in New York and the other the worst? Do you fire Schuyler and close down her section, replacing all the tables with tropical fish tanks? Or starting a "sharing" experiment with an avant-garde taco boutique?

The fact is that both these young women are very talented and commendable workers and the information gleaned in this little statistical observation is of no appreciable value in judging them. P.S. 179 and P.S. 30, in the same way, are both pretty dismal institutions, in spite of the Herculean efforts of many talented and compassionate people, not least the students and parents, and for reasons that are largely very well known that nobody appears to have any intention of doing anything about. One of these things would be support from institutions that seem instead determined to figure out ever more Byzantine ways of judging and condemning them.
Last week, 24 schools were closed based in fair measure on report card grades.
Whether a principal is removed or receives a $25,000 bonus depends on the report card grade.
And yet, what appears to be a substantial difference in two schools’ achievement scores can come down to just a few correct answers per child.
Yes, you do need evaluation metrics in the New York school system, but the failure you need to focus on isn't on the teachers, or even the principals, but the effectiveness of the support given by the DOE, or withheld as the case may be in favor of schemes to make it look as if the DOE is carrying out its responsibility...
Teacher accountability taco designed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo from The Taste Spot.

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