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Improving Schools
Shelley Harwayne

The chancellor of the New York City Public Schools recently announced a new plan to hold principals accountable for improved student performance on standardized exams. (New York Times, Metro Section, Tuesday March 6th 2007). The Department of Education is paying IBM 80 million dollars to develop a new storehouse for data that will track each of the cityís 1.1 million students. IBM. 80 million dollars. Data storehouse.

Itís hard to believe we are talking about places where young children fall in love with Stuart Little, create Valentines for their classmates, cut pizzas to learn fractions and give out cupcakes on their birthdays. And the result of all that data collection will be a letter grade. Yes, each school will become known as an A to F. That ought to make the real estate agents revise their neighborhood advertisements.

We donít need better storehouses for data. We need better schoolhouses for children. Principals donít become better leaders because they are graded. They become better leaders because they know quality instruction and they know how to attract, inspire and support wonderful teachers.

What would you do to improve the education of 1.1 million students if you had 80 million dollars in your pocket? Iíd be tempted to add to my shopping cart such essential educational items as luxurious classroom libraries, more plentiful and effective professional development, as well as sufficient funds for field trips- here in New York City- to all our museums, historical sites and Broadway shows. Then too, Iíd want all students to have access to such life-affirming and life-changing experiences as quality instruction in art, drama and music. Or cooking, carpentry, gardening, playing chess, etc. (Students immersed in a world of fascinating studies do become committed readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and overall problem solvers. Isnít that what schools are for? Isnít that what all parents, those who work at IBM and those who teach in our schools and those who drive our buses and those who cut our hair, isnít that what all parents want for their children?).

Yes, Iíd be tempted to place those high-ticket items on my shopping list, but above all I would use that money to encourage the folks with the most instructional know-how in our city, our best classroom teachers, to want to become principals. I know of no other way to close the achievement gap than to improve instruction. I know of no other way to improve instruction than to have brilliant instructional leaders at the helm of every school. I know of no other way to attract quality teachers than to have a principal who knows how to hire, inspire, and support those great teachers.

(Such brilliant leaders, even on shoestring budgets, but with their priorities in order, often find ways to provide abundant classroom libraries, field trips and specialty classes. And they themselves can offer powerful professional development).

Some of that 80 million, of course, would be used to finance administrative degrees. Some would be used to raise salaries. But some must be used to restore the role of principal to instructional leader. Surely, we can come up with ways to remove the mounds of bureaucratic trivia that are now drowning city principals. If we work hard to attract wonderful educators into the principalsí office, wouldnít it be shameful if they then had no time to be in classrooms?

Brilliant teachers will not aspire to administrative positions if they know that their days will be filled with answering e-mails, filing reports, filling in surveys, hosting evaluators, and of course, staring at data reports until their eyes burn.

If all schools, in all neighborhoods, in all towns and all cities are ever to be considered ďA +,Ē we must rethink our priorities. Schools donít become better because we have better systems for data collection. Schools become better because all the adults involved in that community are relentless about improving teaching and learning.

Posted by Shelley Harwayne

Red Alert!
Let's Opt Out of the April 2014 NYS Tests

Parents can refuse to allow their child to take the State high stakes tests. Hand in this letter to your principal [other formats: .pdf .odt .doc]. En Español: [otros formatos: .pdf .odt .doc] Send your child to school and ask that an alternative activity be planned for him/her during the 6 days of testing.

Information for Parents who want to Opt Out:

Feel free to duplicate these flyers and give them to other parents!

We also have a magazine explaining Common Core, High Stakes Testing, and InBloom to parents. Varios art√≠culos de esta revista fueron traducidos a Español.

Opt Out New York
New material to support the April Boycott.
Please share this Powerpoint!
Developed by a Long Island parent.

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Did You Know?
Did you know that charter schools in New York City enroll fewer students who qualify for free lunch and fewer homeless students?

Music Video: "Not on the Test"
Produced by: Public School Test Records and Grammy Award-winner Tom Chapin

produced by Naava Katz Design