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NCLB Outrages

School Commendations Come With a Critique

Ohanian Comment:
Here we get a fascinating account of the news that is usually ignored: obsessive focus on standardized testing to measure achievement.

You can write Mark Weprin and thank him:

I wrote, thanking him, and telling him about the Educator Roundtable Petition, pointing out that NCLB is at the root of the standardized testing mania that infects schools across the country.

It is discouraging that the principal refused to acknowledge the test mania pressures put on schools, but note what the first child to speak said.

This story aptly sums up the current condition of public education. It is wonderful that a lawmaker exposed the rotten underpinnings of what is called education; it is tragic that an educational leader refused to acknowledge the problem; it is wonderful that a 9-year-old was noticed.

Now what can we do to get more educators to follow the lead of 9-year-olds and speak truth to power?

You can write the reporter by clicking on her name at the url below. I thanked her for noticing what usually goes unnoticed--comments by 9-year-olds.

By Jennifer Medina

It was supposed to be a day to celebrate the cityâs best schools. The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, trekked to Public School 46 in Bayside, Queens, to announce that the schools that had received the highest marks on the cityâs new school report card were to receive a windfall of extra money.

But when he invited Assemblyman Mark Weprin to the microphone, Mr. Weprin, a Queens Democrat, seized nearly five minutes of the news conference to lambaste the grading system and the Bloomberg administrationâs focus on standardized testing to measure achievement.

âOur schools have turned â I know the chancellor is standing here, but â to Stanley Kaplan courses in a lot of ways,â Mr. Weprin said, referring to a large test preparation company.

Lacing his comments with apologies for being âimpolite,â Mr. Weprin said, âToo much focus is trying to get the right answers on tests and not enough focus on, in my opinion, on learning. And a good teacher doesnât just teach how to get the right answers, a good teacher inspires, and a lot of that is being lost in our schools.â

Mr. Klein looked down with a bit of grimace, particularly as parents and teachers who were gathered in the back of the room burst into applause.

âWell, as you can imagine,â Mr. Klein said when he returned to the microphone, âI donât believe that is an accurate view of what is going on.â He added, âI think learning knowledge is a key part, coupled with challenging our children to think, to be creative and to be imaginative.â

Then, with his voice rising, he added: âAnd yes, to test them on it, so that you know what they know and what they donât know. If we donât do that, we arenât educating our kids.â

The chancellor did get some support earlier, from Mr. Weprinâs brother David, who represents Bayside on the City Council. He praised the chancellor for ârewarding excellence.â Before the unexpected exchange on testing, Mr. Klein announced that rewards totaling $3.4 million would be distributed to the 134 schools that have received both an A on the cityâs report card and the highest mark, âwell developed,â in a review by education consultants who visit and evaluate the schools. The reward will amount to $30 per student, so large schools, such as New Utrecht and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High Schools, both in Brooklyn, will receive more than $100,000, while P.S. 46 will get $14,000.

Officials chose to hold the news conference in District 26 in northeastern Queens, partly because parents, teachers and elected officials there had been some of the loudest critics of the new grading system, despite the fact that more than half of the schools in the district had received an A on the city report card â the highest proportion in the city. None of the schools in the district received a mark lower than a C.

Mr. Klein emphasized that it was unusual to give schools more money for performing well, noting that in the past money had been funneled into low-performing schools for years, without producing any improvements.

âWere doing something thatâs quite different, and weâre rewarding success,â Mr. Klein said. âIâve often said we need more money for public education, but we need more money that is spent well and smartly.â

Asked by reporters to respond to Assemblyman Weprinâs comments, the schoolâs principal, Marsha Goldberg, sidestepped any debate. âWhat we do here is that we balance,â she said. âI am not going to say that we never do test prep; obviously we do.â She added: âOur children here feel valued and loved. And we celebrate all their successes whether it be academic or nonacademic.â

Mr. Klein, who toured the school before the news conference, emphasized in his remarks that the school did more than the basics, and had robust arts, music and computer programs. In one fourth-grade class, he encouraged students to tell him what they liked about the school. And he seemed surprised when Andrew Xu, the first boy to raise his hand, replied, âThey help us get ready for the state ELA test.â Andrew, 9, was referring to the test for English Language Arts to be taken next week by all students in grades three through eight. âThey teach us what methods to use and how to write.â

Andrew trailed off as he tried to elaborate, âOh, I donât know how to explain it.â

— Jennifer Medina
New York Times


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