DMI Blog

Valentina Ramia

Assembly-line Education?

Let's have our pens ready to mark Mayor Michael Bloomberg's grade in his 2007 State of the City Address this Wednesday. Especially on education issues.

During the past two weeks, there's been a buzz about Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein's intentions to announce a privatization strategy for New York City's public schools. The so mysterious plan seems to include a replacement of the city's administrators with private managers, who would run schools in America's largest school district. The usual is happening: city officials are prompt to deny rumors while the opposition is portrayed to be delusional. There's one wild card, however, that The Parents Advisory Council used to claim sanity: the recent hiring of Christopher Cerf, a former president of Edison Schools Inc. (notice the Inc.), as Deputy Chancellor.

According to Juan Gonzalez's Daily News piece, the plan would also propose "doubling the number of schools in Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's experimental 'Empowerment Zone' from the current 300 to more than 600 - nearly half of all schools in the system." The Empowerment Zone is a program -not a geographical area- in which schools are offered autonomy ('empowerment') in exchange for higher accountability standards, which are given by performance progress and quality measures, monitored by the recently created Office of Accountability in the Department of Education. The principles of the program are valid: principals have more authority over school management, teachers have more participation in decision-making processes, parents are able to be more engaged in their children's education and student-teacher ratio is smaller. However, stress comes to schools when live or die decisions are made. Teachers and principals fear getting fired, parents get scared by the possibility of seeing the school's doors close and students feel the burden of even more testing.

But what's unsettling is that this single-minded strategy, however well intentioned, represents the misguided efforts to improve the system's effectiveness and accountability at different government levels. More specifically, it represents the Mayor's intent to apply an industrialization era-like/increase-efficiency-in-production-line approach to improve the quality of a weakened system. To use the same Fordian language the Mayor usually employs, the problem is when the worker is held accountable for the company's crisis...or when the 'product' is a kid and not a car. Schools are not miracle makers that can reverse institutionalized segregation or lack of funding, core problems of the school system.

It might be time to listen to parents, like the ones that make up the Citywide Council on High Schools, a group that was (ironically enough) appointed by a Chancellor's Regulation to advise on high school policies and that have already shown their concern on the issue: "(1) the complexity of the accountability measures will be an obstacle to their use, (2)'quality reviews' and other measurements place insufficient stress on parent opinion concerning systemic matters and limit avenues for parental input and (3) over-testing of our children will increase stress and test prep activities, rather than creating a rounded, instructionally sound high school experience."

Let's see what happens with our kid/cars this year. Hopefully, Mayor Bloomberg scores a good grade tomorrow when he communicates to parents and students in his State of the City Address. (Click here to read his 2006 State of the City Address)

Valentina Ramia: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 3:04 PM, Jan 16, 2007 in Education
Permalink | Email to Friend