New York

High-stakes school accountability across the pond

At home and abroad, the ultimate consequence a failing school can face is closure. Under No Child Left Behind, schools can be restructured or even closed if they fail to make progress for several years at a time. Here in New York, the chancellor has the ability to close schools at will, and this past year he shut the doors of several schools where student performance hadn’t budged in years. In addition, last year the DOE released school progress reports for the first time; schools that receive a failing grade on those reports in the future will be subject to closure.

But the handful of school closures each year in the city is nothing compared with what Britain may face in three years. Last month, the British government’s year-old Department for Children, Schools, and Families launched “National Challenge,” an initiative to hold schools accountable for preparing at least 30 percent of their students to pass five comprehensive exams that are considered a first step toward winning university admission. The General Comprehensive Subject Exams, required before students can take the A-level tests required for admission to universities, are offered in dozens of subjects. Currently, only about half of all British teens pass five GCSEs, and a fifth of schools don’t meet the National Challenge requirements. The remaining 20 percent have only until 2011 to improve their performance.

In the initiative’s first phase, the government released a list of schools currently not in compliance with the National Challenge standards. The schools on the list contrast sharply with those considered unsatisfactory by Ofsted, the national unit that inspects schools. In fact, the BBC recently reported that only 10 percent of the schools given only three years to improve or be closed are considered “in need of intervention” by Ofsted. School heads resent the stigma being attached to their schools, with one telling the BBC, “Branding my school as weak is simplistic in the extreme and downright unfair.” The whole affair closely parallels the fallout  of the  progress reports’ release here in New York last fall, when it became clear that many schools with top grades were on the state’s list of schools in need of improvement, and some failing schools were actually quite high-performing. In England, pundits are asking, “Can naming and shaming help schools?” It’s a question worth considering. (Mike Baker,  the British education journalist who posed that question recently, said the answer is no — and that those who named and shamed schools in the past now regret it.)

Another question Britons are grappling with: whether the GCSEs are even valuable. GCSEs have traditionally been considered rigorous exams. But some believe the most popular exams have gotten easier in recent years. A new English course that focuses on “real-life contexts” where English is used rather than on literature will roll out in 2010. A media studies course requires students to analyze scenes from an action film. And in recent years, many independent schools have reduced the number of GCSE exams they offer, saying some subjects are “too easy” to merit class time. The British government seems to be out of step with A report being released this week by two influential British academics concludes that the multiple-test system encourages students to think of learning as a fragmented, disconnected experience. It suggests replacing the GCSE system with a single baccalaureate exam that all students must pass to graduate from secondary school. Here, Britain might learn from the example of the U.S. states that have adopted high school exit exams, only to find that they discourage high school completion.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.