Friday, April 11, 2008

Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut

NYC is looking into credit recovery programs and their validity.

This concerns me. This appears to be energy spent in the wrong direction. Rather than forming a team to look into the underlying causes of why little Johnny doesn’t come to school, or why our teaching methods are so disengaging for so many students, a team has been formed to look into why credit has been earned by "at-risk" kids. The team is not out to replicate the process of individualized instruction that facilitated these "at risk" students to the accumulation of credit; instead it's been established to dismantle a perceived "loop-hole" in the system.

Loop-hole in the system??? Are there loop-holes? Yes, there are. Some kids get to go to elite publicly funded schools while others do not, this is a loop-hole. Some students have regular access to current technology while others do not, this is a loop-hole. Some students get to sit in tracked classes surrounded by the brightest minds all day while other sit in overcrowded classes filled with numerous distractors, this is a loop-hole! Some students are exempt for NYS Regents exams while others are not, this is a loop-hole! Some students take three buses to get to school each morning while others have a simple 5 min walk, yes this too is a loop-hole. Some students must walk through sets of metal detectors each morning and remove their belts while others are greeted with a "hello", this is a loop-hole. Some students have a support system at home that values school and encourages learning while unfortunately some do not, this is a loop-hole. Are there loop-holes?

Of all the loop-holes in the system, the one that benefits the neediest is the one that is under scrutiny? Why is this?



Dennis Bunyan showed up for his first-semester senior English class at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem so rarely that, as he put it, “I basically didn’t attend.”

But despite his sustained absence, Mr. Bunyan got the credit he needed to graduate last June by completing just three essay assignments, which he said took about 10 hours.

“I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous,” Mr. Bunyan said. “There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.”

Mr. Bunyan was able to graduate through what is known as credit recovery — letting those who lack credits make them up by means other than retaking a class or attending traditional summer school. Although his principal said the makeup assignments were as rigorous as regular course work, Mr. Bunyan’s English teacher, Charan Morris, was so troubled that she boycotted the graduation ceremony, writing in an e-mail message to students that she believed some were “being pushed through the system regardless of whether they have done the work to earn their diploma.”

Throughout the city, an ad hoc system of helping students like Mr. Bunyan over the hump is taking root in public high schools, sometimes over the protests of teachers, who call credit recovery programs a poor substitute for classroom learning and say they ultimately devalue the diploma. In interviews, teachers or principals at more than a dozen schools said the programs ranged from five-day crunch sessions over school breaks, to interactive computer programs culminating in an online test, to independent study packets — and varied in quality.

Top officials with the city’s Education Department say good principals have always found creative ways to help struggling students make up missed work, describing such efforts as a lifeline for students who might otherwise never earn their diplomas. And across the country, school systems confronting abysmal graduation rates are turning to online credit recovery courses, which roughly a third of states have either developed or endorsed in recent years, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, in a statement, called credit recovery “a legitimate and important strategy for working with high school students.” He said there was “no indication” that the practice “has been abused more in recent years.”

“If credit recovery is not conducted properly, just as with any other required course, we will take appropriate action,” he added. “We do students no favors by giving them credit they haven’t earned.”

But city officials acknowledged that credit recovery programs are neither centrally monitored nor tracked.

The State Education Department, after seeing a copy of “independent study” guidelines in use at Wadleigh and a number of other schools, said it was examining whether the practice met its standards. State law requires students to earn credits by completing set hours of “seat time” — essentially, showing up for class — and demonstrating subject mastery. To graduate, they must also pass Regents exams.

“We are looking into this situation very carefully,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the senior deputy state education commissioner. “We want to make sure that the student is getting what they deserve.”

Critics say the practice is poised to become more prevalent as principals enjoy greater freedom from supervision at the same time as they are held more accountable for student performance, two hallmarks of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to overhaul city schools. Last fall, schools received letter grades based on student performance, with principals at D or F schools in danger of losing their jobs.

Diane Ravitch, a historian of the city’s public schools who has been a frequent critic of the mayor’s efforts, says the practice of credit recovery could raise questions about the validity of gains in the city’s graduation rate. According to the state, the city had a 50 percent four-year graduation rate in 2006, the most recent year for which data was available, up from 44 percent in 2004.
“I think when it’s used correctly, it might be a good thing,” Ms. Ravitch said of credit recovery, “but when used incorrectly it’s a way of gaming the system.”

But Mr. Klein said there was “no basis to suggest that improper credit recovery has affected graduation rates.” Saying that 39,000 students received Regents or local diplomas last year, 8,000 more than in 2002, when the mayor took control of the schools, he added, “A few anecdotes don’t materially affect this rise.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that the union had received “enough complaints about it that we are really concerned,” but that without hard numbers on the prevalence of credit recovery, she could not say whether the graduation rate was suspect.

“It clearly raises questions about the graduation statistics, but I can’t tell you right now as I sit here how widespread it is,” she said. “I don’t know if it raises questions about a statistically significant number of kids.”

Elizabeth Dougherty, a social studies teacher and teachers’ union chapter chairwoman at the Pelham Preparatory Academy, a small public school in the Bronx, said her school offered several credit recovery programs. “The pressure is so overwhelming now for graduation rates,” she said. “The principals are getting pressure, and the pressure gets put on the teachers.”

One Manhattan principal who has worked in the school system for more than a decade and, like many educators, requested anonymity for fear of retribution by the department, said: “I think that credit recovery and the related topic independent study is in lots of ways the dirty little secret of high schools. There’s very little oversight and there are very few standards.”

Mónica Ortiz-Ureña, the principal of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, a large school scheduled to close in June after years of poor performance, said its credit recovery programs were developed after the city cut its centrally run summer and evening schools. She said many teachers did not like the practice, which at her school includes online programs in which students complete some work at home and some at school, because “they feel that you’re taking away their jobs.”

“I think credit recovery, as long as it’s done properly and is done according to state law, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students who have experienced failure before to experience success,” she said.

At Franklin K. Lane, a large high school in Brooklyn, an advertisement for credit recovery programs offered last year urged students: “If you failed a class, don’t despair ... turnaround your 55 into a 65 in 6 weeks!!! Ask your teacher for details!!!”

Adam Bergstein, a teacher who is head of the school’s union chapter, said the six-week program, which consisted of six classes, had troubled teachers.

“A 55 could be indicative of anything from a 1 to literally a 55 average,” he said. “It’s not a mere nudge ahead; it could be an astronomical leap.”

“It undermines the whole concept of teaching and grading,” Mr. Bergstein continued.

At Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, a February memorandum from two assistant principals described “our first five-day Intensive Program for Credit Recovery” for English classes, consisting of “two days of full instruction from 9-2 p.m. and three days of classroom instruction and field trip experiences.”

Credit recovery programs generally take place on school grounds; teachers who lead them can receive overtime pay.

At Wings Academy in the Bronx, several teachers, all of whom requested anonymity, said credit recovery programs shortchanged students because they may never acquire the discipline and work habits to succeed beyond high school. The programs include crunch sessions after classes end for the semester and independent study packets.

At the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy, also in the Bronx, Natasha Ramos, a top student, said she was dismayed by a new “term extension program,” in which seniors could make up missing credits during the week when classes stop for Regents exams.
“I didn’t think that that was fair to the kids who had to go to class during the whole semester,” she said. “It takes away from an actual learning environment.”

A teacher at another Bronx school, who did not want the name of his school published for fear of retribution, said a program there let students earn a year’s worth of science credits by responding to 19 questions on 5 topics. “Research and list all the global environmental issues that science focuses on,” read one, under the “environmental studies” category. “What are some ways that you, as an individual, can help?” read another.

Ms. Morris, the teacher who boycotted the Wadleigh graduation, declined to comment; her e-mail message was provided by a recipient. Wadleigh’s former principal, Karen Watts, was rewarded in January for the school’s performance by being named the city’s first “executive principal.” She was reassigned to a troubled school, in exchange for a $25,000 yearly bonus.
In an interview, Ms. Watts said she believed that no more than five of the more than 100 graduates last June had benefited from the credit-recovery work packets, which were meant to take 54 hours and were “just as rigorous as courses they would have taken sitting in the classroom every day with a teacher, or even more rigorous.” She said she believed she had been following “standard practice.”

Same article different opinion.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article. I hadn't seen it. I don't know what the alternative to these programs might be. Would kids linger until they age out? Is remaining in school until age 21 a better option? It's a complicated question. In this week's Village Voice there is an education supplement with an article about a program at Aviation High School. A 'super senior' in her fifth year is profiled and I have to say I am envious of her. She will leave high school career-ready and on her way to success. I wish all kids had that chance or opportunity to find some kind of fit like she did.

Anonymous said...

" I wish all kids had that chance or opportunity to find some kind of fit like she did."

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!! Credit recovery is an insult to teachers and is a disservice to students. Why would kids want to come to class/complete assignments if all they need to do is write a couple of papers and **POOF** they passed? If a kid ages out of school (because he/she is unable to earn the required credits needed to graduate, whose fault is it?? Many students are lazy and refuse to do the work NO MATTER WHAT. What is this sham credit recovery program actually teaching them? I completely agree with Mr. Bergstein from FK Lane (NY Times article).

W Brown said...

I would like to think students come to class because they want to learn. I know its idealistic to think so, but they are not just there for the credit. I know students get much more from my class than just credit.

Are many kids lazy? Or just disinterested in what schools are teaching them? I have found most are very active outside the classroom but I’ll concede they shut down in class. Children are not lazy.

As for what is a credit recovery program teaching students, I think each program teaches students different skills.

Is a person crazy for thinking that the current system and traditional summer school as punishment might not work for everyone?

Anonymous said...

This is in response to the person that wrote credit recovery is a sham, and what kid would want to come to school and complete assignments, etc...?

We really need to examine education as it is still being done in response to a world that is different than it was when the factory system was created. What is our goal? To have kids comply? To have kids do it because we did it? To give lip service to ideas like multiple intelligences and one size doesn't fit all and differentiated instruction, and then expect them to uniformly pass exams and all graduate in four years?

I overheard someone today say that the problem is that too many summer school programs are becoming like summer camps. That's not the problem. The problem is that school needs to become more like summer camp. Why is it that we're hell bent on learning not being fun? On rigor (mortis)? On punishment? On using the word "lazy" when what we mean is not doing what we want the kid to do?

And, without mentioning names here, the kids that we all adore because they do everything we ask and do it well, are not going to stop doing that because they think they can make it up in summer school.

Nobody's sneaking into Harvard because they failed a class but got credit in summer school. And they're not getting into Harvard on a "D" either. This token economy of grading, using grades as a punishment, is dehumanizing.



Anonymous said...

To anonymous #2: I'm not sure what is so crazy about the statement about wishing all kids had the chance to find an opportunity like the girl featured in the Voice article. Here's the link, maybe you can read it and understand my point:,a-girl-s-life-at-aviation-high-school,404256,12.html

Anonymous said...

Many people I know took 'clep' tests to obtain credits...this requires no seat time, you just pay a fee and take a test.

The difference is that the tests are a valid measure of the material.

I would be fine with students that have to test out of a course to obtain a credit, which would demonstrate their ability and save the taxpayers money. Get credits, just make sure they are valid.