Tuesday, June 25, 2019

We need a radical change in the way we rate our schools

You know, buy a house near a Level 1 school and pay $20K more for not much of a house. 
"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." -- John Dewey

Watching my 2-year-old granddaughter, Izzy, learn is one of the great pleasures in my life. Whether she's helping her grandma cook up some eggs, finding a worm while digging on the lawn, pedaling a trike, or stomping around with a tap dancer at a recent birthday party, it's a joy to actually watch her grow and develop physically and intellectually at the moment it's happening.

It's authentic learning. No standardized testing required.

I bring this up once more after reading about another CPS plan to tweak the way the system rates its schools; i.e., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc...  in a high-stakes competition where the loser may have their school closed. I always thought these ratings were more for the benefit of realtors than educators. You know, buy a house near a Level 1 school and pay $20K more for not much of a house.

The new tweaked plan will be presented at Wednesday's first meeting of the mayor's newly-appointed school board.

According to Chalkbeat:
Chicago Public Schools has proposed tweaking its school rating policy to reflect how well elementary schools prepare students for high school and how well high schools help students plan life after graduation — and the district also will finally grade dozens of specialty high schools that had lacked rating systems.
CPS says its School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) is "a five-tiered performance system based on a broad range of indicators of success, including, but not limited to, student test score performance, student academic growth, closing of achievement gaps, school culture and climate, attendance, graduation, and preparation for post-graduation success."

To tell you the truth, I don't care that much whether or not the board tweaks or doesn't tweak. Neither do I care what indicators they add or take away behind student test scores -- the only ones that really count in the current system.

I certainly don't know what is meant by "post-graduation success." Success at what? Do schools even track their former students to find out if they have been successful (as good, productive citizens, small-d democrats, parents, lovers, artists, poets, scientists, athletes...)?

This whole approach to rating schools and pitting them against one another should be dumped as it does great harm to children and educators and hits especially hard at communities of color which have been devastated by mass school closings.

But there is one part of the current policy I especially take issue with. I don't like the language of preparation and how it's used in its narrowest form. The purpose of current schooling, it seems, is to prepare the student for the next grade, the next school, college, job training and then life. What that language misses is the value of authentic learning ("education is life") and the relationship between school, teacher, student, parent and society. Children learn best when they are engaged with other children and adults in important, meaningful, enjoyable work. Adults do as well.

If by preparation we mean preparing students to be good citizens and active participants in a democratic society, then I am down with it. If it's simply job training for prep for the next round of testing, then I'm not.

Yes, schools do it differently and some do it better than others. But current standards and tests don't seem to get at that. What the scores do reflect much more, is poverty.

I wish the new school board the best of luck in their effort to save and transform CPS. The mayor couldn't have picked a better group to take on this enormous task. I hope the board includes in its agenda, plans for a radical change in the way we evaluate schools.

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