Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dumb down class, asks principal memo

The following article is evidence of the danger of the paying for grades phenomenom that is sweeping the city. What do grades mean? This probably the result of passing rate reports. Is this an effective use of data?


Thursday, December 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

The principal of an East Harlem high school last month stunned his
staffers by suggesting they dumb down their classes.

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class,
then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities,"
Principal Bennett Lieberman wrote in a Nov. 28 memo to teachers at
Central Park East High School. "You are setting your students up for
failure, which in turn, limits your success as a professional."

The memo, obtained by the Daily News, urges teachers to review their
homework and grading policies, and reminds them that "most of our
students ... have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in
general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school
experience to our experiences growing up."

One teacher who received the memo said she and her colleagues were
"outraged," especially because the school is one of 200 where teachers
will receive $3,000 bonuses if their schools improve.

"It's like bribery," she said. "It's not the achievement. It's just
the grades."

Lieberman, a graduate of Mayor Bloomberg's elite Leadership Academy,
defended the memo and denied he was advocating lower standards.

"I pretty confidently stand by my words and don't expect my teachers
to dumb things down at all," he said. "The goal is to find where a
student is at and work with them from that point forward."

His school was in danger of being closed several years ago but has
bounced back after showing improvement on test scores. "Really good
things are happening here," he said.

Students shown the memo Wednesday were insulted.

"Why are they going to let some pass who don't deserve it? It's not
fair to those who want to work," said Estevan Cruz, 16, an 11th-grader.

Senior Richard Palacios, 17, said 65% of his classmates don't even
show up for school. "It's already too much of an easy ride," He said.
He estimated that only three or four of the 15 kids in his math class
routinely appear.

Teaching experts said he should be ashamed.
"I'm just appalled," said Deborah Meier, the educator who founded Central Park East High School in 1985 as an alternative school where, she said, "our expectations for all our children were the same."

Back when Meier ran the school, she said, "We would have used the example of the letter you are quoting as exactly what we were trying to fight against. I'm horrified."

Now a New York University professor, Meier said she's worried the memo came as a response to the city's new A-to-F grading system, which factors how many credits students accumulate per year. If more kids pass their classes, the school, which got a B this year, will get a higher grade.

"This is so wrong, I could cry," Meier said. "What's embarrassing ...
is that he could have put that in writing and not understood what he
was saying."

PS thanks to Joanna Vogel, QHST '07, for bringing this article to our attention.


Mr Tesler said...

Honestly, what happened really doesn't surprise me. Additionally, in light of the new "report cards," which threaten the very existence of many schools, merit pay, and all of these other reinforcements meant to improve performance, it's only going to become more commonplace.

I don't think that anyone that has been in the teaching field for any period of time hasn't felt this type of pressure.

When I first started teaching, I was told by older teachers "don't fail too many kids, or else the AP's will start asking questions." Sure enough, the teachers that had higher than normal failure rates always seemed to draw red flags, as well as the ire of administration, even when they had the data to back up their grades. Teachers have also been told to pass students, with the motivation from an administrator of, "do you really
want this kid again next year?"

I think this brings us back to the idea of these exams being given so much weight. Think about the cheating scandal last year in Uniondale, when it was found that kids' test were actually altered by teachers.

It boils down to survival. Teachers, et al., are people. People with kids, houses, mortgages, car payments and college loans. Tell any of us that our kids won't have roofs over their heads if our students don't make the cut. Watch what happens.

This is only the beginning. It's going to get worse.

W Brown said...

Politicians make report cards, politicians passed the No Child Left Behind Act. Do parents trust politicians over teachers?

If its politicians, then yes it will get worse. If it teachers, and teachers join together and take back the educational process, it will get better.

I think we have the parental support. I know most teachers are concerned. But there is no outcry yet.