Saturday, November 17, 2007

Report Cards or Lab Schools?

The New York Times today features James Liebman, the architect of the New York City Schools Report Card.

“We’re not measuring kids, we’re measuring schools. This isn’t about a child’s bad day, this is about a school’s bad year,” he said, sitting in a sub-ground-level conference room at the Tweed Courthouse.

He said he devised “from scratch” the system that yielded the citywide school report cards: the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System is based not only on test results, but also on surveys of 600,000 students, teachers and parents.

He insists no school is being asked to produce results its peers have not already achieved, and he doesn’t rule out that the reports may eventually represent a death sentence for some of the 50 schools stigmatized by a grade of F. Ninety-nine floundering schools received D’s. Around 60 percent rated A’s or B’s

He says he isn’t innovating anything John Dewey didn’t figure out in the 1890s.

“The purpose of grading these schools and making those grades public is not because we want to give them a whack on the knuckles, it’s to generate pressure to get them moving forward, to improve,” he said. “We’re looking for innovators and problem-solvers among our educators, but there has to be accountability.”

It may be useful for Mr. Liebman to consider that John Dewey argued, in The Ethics, The Public and its Problems, and elsewhere that public institutions could not reform themselves, and that innovators would have to do their pioneering work beyond it. Public schools, he felt, would eventually adjust to new societal requirements by emulating and adapting that work. Significantly, he did not develop any report cards for the public schools of his day; he developed a model alternative outside the system.

(Note: The Lab School of the University of Chicago is pictured above.)

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