From the Queens Tribune
To The Editor:
As you are aware if you’ve been following the goings on at the Department of Education, there has recently been yet another reorganization. Remember when we were reorganized into Region 3? Now the regions are gone. Remember when we had a fully functioning District 26? That’s practically gone, replaced by a skeleton of its former self, with virtually no authority.
The new mantra is: All Power to the Principals! Yes, principals have been given unprecedented authority and are freed from the oversight and mentoring that used to be performed so ably by District 26 personnel. Later that oversight function was performed by Region 3. In return for this increased independence, if their school performs badly principals may be replaced, and if their school performs very badly the school can be closed. Do you think any District 26 principal will be fired for this reason? Do you think any District 26 school will be closed for this reason? I don’t think so. Moreover any such evaluation will take place only after three years. That’s half a child’s attendance years at an elementary school and all the years in a middle school.
Is this a good policy or a bad policy? Well, that may very well depend on your local principal. Let me describe one situation where it’s not working very well.
We like to think of all of our District 26 schools as great schools, but some have consistently performed at the highest possible level over a period of years. One such school has been called, “one of the best regarded schools in the city” by an independent school evaluation agency. It was for many years led by a principal who knew how to promote excellence and would settle for nothing less than top performance. The school consistently led the district and city in student performance and was even known to be a boon to its local real estate market as parents actively sought to purchase a house in its zone. It has the advantage of housing one of the district’s magnet/gifted programs and so should have been and was a top performer. The magnet kids seemed to inspire the school generally.
Soon after the first reorganization into regions, and fearsome of the changes about to be imposed, many local school administrators and principals chose to retire. Among them was the principal who had brought this school to the very top. Because of all the retirements experienced principals were in short supply and the replacement principal for his high profile school had relatively little experience in teaching, no experience in District 26, and no experience as a principal. She came to the school about two and a half years ago. I will describe only one thing she did that has left many parents wondering what is being done to their children.
Two years ago, before the new principal could have affect, the school’s fourth graders led the district and the city in their performance on the State math exam. In fact, they scored higher in average score than all but two schools in the entire state. The school was, as usual, at the top of its game. Common sense might have dictated that the new principal would have gone to her faculty and told them simply to continue their excellent work. But it was not to be.
Motivated, she said, by looking at some data showing a problem with the best students, the principal decided to change the math curriculum radically. There were two things wrong with this picture.
First, the principal is admittedly not well versed in data analysis. According to one of the school’s parents who is a well-published expert in data analysis, the principal got it wrong. There was no problem. There was only outstanding performance.
Second, the solution she imposed upon the school has turned out to be a disaster. The school, as a top performer, was exempt from the curriculum choices imposed upon most of the city schools, and the former principal continued with a traditional math text that had worked so well for the children. Entirely on her own, and with no notice even to the School Leadership Team, the new principal changed to the math curriculum specifically chosen for the benefit of the poorest performing schools in the city. It is a so-called “fuzzy” math curriculum that parents find foreign to their understanding of math. It compromises their ability to help their own children. It is a topsy-turvy world where the curriculum brought to the system for the benefit of the poorest performers has here been imposed on the highest achievers.
Well, the 2007 math test results are now out, the first since the curriculum was changed, and the results tell the sorry tale. The numbers are down dramatically. This school was outscored by six District 26 schools all of which continue to use traditional math books, and none of which has a magnet/gifted program. From scoring at the top of city schools, its average was outpaced by dozens of schools in the city and too many schools in the state to count. Moreover, although the principal said her concern was for the best students, it is they who have taken the biggest hit. The percentage of students achieving the highest level, four, was the lowest of all the years reported by the State Department of Education.
All power to the principals? Sure it’s a good thing? Did anyone ask the parents?
Melvyn Meer, Parent, Community Board 11,Community Board 11 Education Committee