Leave no urban school system behind
Less than a week after the release of the 2006 Adequate Yearly Progress
report indicated Pittsfield's public schools have some catching up to do,
the state Department of Education raised the standards for the MCAS exam.
One might conclude that the DOE, by raising the bar before some school
districts, primarily urban ones, had even reached it, was setting those
districts up to fail.
Pittsfield Superintendent Katherine Darlington made it clear at an Eagle
editorial board meeting this week how seriously her office takes the AYP
results, which are a tool used to measure progress in English and math. The
decline is almost exclusively at the middle school level, which gives the
administration a specific area to target. The redesign of a curriculum and
the other adjustments needed are complex, and will require the assistance,
financial and otherwise, of the DOE.
Significantly, the nine districts cited for failing to make overall progress
for four years in a row, which is an accountability provision of the federal
No Child Left Behind law, are all urban ones, including cities like
Springfield and New Bedford, whose educational problems have long caused
Pittsfield's to pale in comparison. The state DOE largely takes a
cookie-cutter approach to school districts, and Mayor James Ruberto,
asserting that standardized test scores make urban school districts look
worse than they are, predicted the discrepancy won't be addressed until the
suburban schools favored by the DOE begin coming up short in the AYP.
Given the department's enthusiasm for charter schools, the department could
be seen as having a vested interest in the struggles of public urban
schools. Their failure reinforces the DOE's ideology, and if the argument
for charter schools is undermined by the success of urban schools, the DOE's
loyalties are divided when it comes to helping schools like Pittsfield's.
The aggressive assistance of the DOE could help erase those suspicions.
The raising of the MCAS standards, which will first affect the current group
of ninth-graders, only reinforces those suspicions, however. The suburban
Berkshire school districts will probably be fine, but will Pittsfield and
North Adams? MCAS was sold as a benign way of evaluating schools and
proposing improvements, not a weapon to be used against students and
districts. That is what it has become, and it is hard to see how that
advances the cause of education.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES