Burning questions (my turn!)

From a conversation with a friend who is also a teacher… “What would you do if you stopped teaching?”

The answer for me was easy, easy, easy: either attempt to become a science journalist (unlikely) or go into curriculum design for some company or research group (more likely).  Or find an administrative job specific to science education, like literacy coach except in my field (does that exist?  sometimes I think it does, sometimes I think not).

His follow-up question, “But would you miss working directly with the kids?”  I think that one’s hard to know until you try it.  But if I felt my job were important and accomplishing something in terms of improving education and educational equity, I suspect that would go a long way towards making up for daily contact with children.

On another topic completely, Eduwonkette’s been posting about the NYC high school admissions process, which at the moment could probably best be billed, “Unfair to schools, unfair to kids.”  But then again, maybe it’s like democracy, pretty bad but better than the other options?  I doubt it.

My burning question, which I can’t answer at the moment, is “What process would be truly fair to our 8th graders as they choose high schools?”  Keeping in mind that they come from different neighborhoods (with a lot of variation in the quality of middle and high schools nearby), different socioeconomic backgrounds,  different academic interests and career aspirations, different levels of academic achievement and preparedness, different records of behavior, and different histories of working hard or slacking off in middle school.  The fairest system might be a true lottery – but then what do you say to the kid who works her behind off in middle school who gets assigned to a school that isn’t providing an academically rigorous program?  (I don’t believe that mixing the kids up would instantaneously turn around the schools that are failing – sorry, it’s not that simple – although over time it probably would help).  And how do you set up a lottery to take into account geographic realities – realistically, most kids in the Bronx aren’t going to a high school in Staten Island, for example, but it wouldn’t be fair to make the lottery neighborhood or borough-specific, because some boroughs are much richer in high school choice than others.  Should kids be specializing in high school, and if so, should kids who know what their interests are get priority at high schools that provide special programs in those areas?  And to what extent do we reward a child’s hard work in middle school?

A follow-up burning question is “What system of high school selection is most fair to the schools?”  I think the answer might be slightly different from the answer to the first question – but the one best system will have to work for both kids and schools.  For schools, who are being judged on the progress of the students, a strict lottery system or quota of some sort does seem fairest, so that every school faces a similar set of challenges in terms of students with special needs, ELL students, kids with a history of violent behavior, etc., along with a range of student achievement.  The system now sorts out the kids who are proactive enough to do the research and hunt down spots in the best programs, and leaves the less-proactive kids behind in larger zoned schools.  I look at my kids in the sixth grade and I know for sure that I want my school to figure out how to get them into the best possible high schools, places where they will be safe, challenged, and college-bound.  No matter what system is in place, we’re going to learn how to play the game for our kids. It’s perfectly natural behavior – as parents, it’s what we’d do for our own children – but it makes the reality of some schools quite different from the reality of others.

It’s easy to see when something isn’t working – but harder to see how to fix it.  If you had hundreds of thousands of 8th graders to sort into high schools in a period of a few months, how would you create a fair system to do it?

What are your burning questions?



Filed under education, New York, science, teaching

8 responses to “Burning questions (my turn!)

  1. I miss the kids a LOT more than I thought I would. I also miss feeling like I was accomplishing something on a daily basis.

    my burning question is, why isn’t education an important issue for the current presidential campaign? it is weird to me how little attention it is getting, and how little some of the candidates seem to have thought about it, especially considering what a big deal NCLB has been.

  2. Neighborhood schools? I know, I know, that’s not where I work. But couldn’t we do a better job of making sure that the system was not cheating kids if we got rid of high school admissions altogether? I’m not sure if I really believe that, but I’m throwing it out. It bothers me.


  3. My burning question is why do we corral older students into school, having them do seat time when they would be better served working and learning a trade. Our voc. center would love to have more students. Many of the kids I have in my junior senior math credit factory courses would be much more engaged to do part of their day in that kind of training and then go off to work.

    I’m thinking require school until Jan. Junior year and then go off to work if you want. Return in January of your senior year with a year’s worth of pay stubs and we’ll give you a diploma.

  4. I think that what’s “fair” to the schools is irrelevant. Come up with a way of placing students that’s fair to the students, and is in their best interest. Then come up with a way of evaluating schools that takes into account the inherent “unfairness” of the distribution of students.

  5. We are teachers in NY, and our schools are being evaluated, without any fair system in place – not fair to the kids, not to the teachers, not to the schools. The unfair evaluation system is in place. It is reality. Every school publically got a “letter grade” today.

    People’s jobs are on the line today. What’s fair to schools matters to us. It has to.

  6. I understand that. But the fix mustn’t be to break the placement system for the kids in order to make it fair to the schools. The fix must be to change the evaluation system to account for the unequal distribution of kids into schools.

    I think you already know that you’re going to have the same problem with merit pay. Not every teacher will have the same type of students. Some students are a priori more likely to show improvement than others. Some students are a priori more likely to achieve high test scores than others. But the solution isn’t to “fairly” distribute students to teachers, because that breaks a system where students, at least at the secondary level, can be at least approximately grouped by readiness for the material to be presented. (What the solution is, I have no clue. I can’t imagine doing merit pay fairly!)

  7. The placement system for kids in NYC is in the main dysfunctional. I wrote this last Spring. We are not discussing taking something that works and screwing it up.


  8. Even so, the emphasis on fixing the placement system must be in fixing it for kids. What must be fixed for schools is the evaluation system. I believe they must be separate. Ms. Frizzle states here that she thinks that what would be best for kids would be somewhat different than what would be best for schools. I think when fixing the placement system, people ought to be considering only what is good for kids, but keeping in mind that a new evaluation system must also be developed that is (more) fair to schools.

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