The truest thing I’ve read in a long time…

is Miss Brave’s account of the Quality Review, its outcome, and the eggs broken on the way to the omelette.

There is no chance in hell this would ever fly as policy, but one part of me wonders, mostly as a thought-experiment, what would happen if every school got “dropped in on” two or three times during each year, at random and with no warning, and maybe once with warning for meetings with key players, and from that came a review?  (The cynic in me knows that corruption would immediately take hold, with principals paying good money for advance warning).  But a good school should be a good school any day of the year or the week, and that should be self-evident.  If teachers are collecting and using data, it might not look beautiful or uniform, but evidence will be abundant, in binders stuffed to bursting with anecdotals, print-outs of grades, test scores, meeting notes.  Student work will be posted and some of it will be out-of-date or a little ragged ’round the edges, but it will be there and it will show rigor.  Kids will know where they need to be and what they should be doing and what their class goals are, and it won’t feel prepped or performed because it will be the everyday reality of a productive learning environment.  Teachers will be in their classrooms teaching dynamic lessons.  I’ve always believed that quality speaks for itself and need not be dressed up or polished.

Of course, this also assumes reviewers who understand that that when you’re watching practice in a real-life setting, you have to look and listen differently than you do when you’re watching a carefully rehearsed performance.  It also assumes that the things being looked and listened for are meaningful indicators of school performance, not just a bunch of numbers and a list of programs.  At the moment, the Quality Reviews emphasize what seems to me to be a strikingly narrow set of criteria.

I wonder, does a system like this exist anywhere in education?  How does it work?  I think InsideSchools does something like this but I believe they do provide some advance notice of their visits.  Still, their review of my school – which is now several years old – really nailed the strengths and weaknesses of our school as it was then in a thoughtful way.

Again and again, I realize that the key – the absolute key – to whatever education reforms are proposed, is that they have the funding and commitment to be done completely and well.  To get a really strong team of reviewers, you’d have to pay them well, train them well on top of that, put systems in place to guard against corruption, and provide enough time for them to spend more than one day in each school.  Just like you’d have to do with any reform to make it work.  Of course, at this point, the money would clearly be better spent on providing programming than on new accountability systems – isn’t that the lesson of 2007-08 NYC? – but here again I’m imagining in my possible naivete a system in which it wasn’t a choice – you could have abundant money for programming and a strong, well-designed, well-implemented, system of accountability.

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2 Comments

Filed under education, New York, politics, teaching

2 responses to “The truest thing I’ve read in a long time…

  1. Inside Schools knows NYC schools. The ‘reviewers’ did not.

    Inside Schools tells us what they are looking for, the reviewers do not (there is a rubric, schools don’t know it).

    Inside Schools makes mistakes, and are willing to fix them. There is no such mechanism with the reviewers.

    Inside Schools is a bit accountable to the schools (they are, after all, not anonymous) and very accountable to parents and users of their reviews (after all, who would read them if they were not accurate?) The Quality reviewers are accountable to? No one?

    It is the introduction of outside reviewers that creates the (very serious) disconnect. No way to fix that.

    Jonathan

  2. Gideon

    I think you need to remember that the Quality Review is just one piece of data in the accountability puzzle. But if you’re looking for more nuanced school observation and feedback, check out charter schools and the procedures their authorizers use to evaluate their success. I believe charter schools authorized by the Chancellor are reviewed every year, and those authorized by SUNY pretty regularly too. The latter has an explicit set of renewal benchmarks, the criteria used to determine if a school is worthy of renewal, that serve as the lense for all inspection visits. These benchmarks cover not only use of data, but curriculum, instruction, professional development and instructional leadership as well. As for schools putting on a show when schools are visited, good inspectors can pretty easily see through this. Students and teachers generally give it away if something new is being done just for the sake of inspectors. And if a school truly cares about honest feedback, it’ll go about its normal business.

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