City high schools that don't require students to take Regents exams beat city averages on most metrics, even though they serve high-need students at the same rate as other schools, according to a new report.
The report, released this week, was produced by a group of the schools, the New York Performance Standards Consortium. But it examines independent data about student performance and persistence in college to find that students in consortium schools graduate at higher rates and are more likely to attend and remain enrolled in college. And it comes as Department of Education officials are increasingly touting the consortium's approach to assessment.
The graduation rates are especially high for students with disabilities and English language learners. Nearly 70 percent of ELLs in consortium schools graduate on time, according to the report, compared to about 40 percent across the city. And half of students with disabilities in the consortium schools graduate on time, compared with fewer than a quarter citywide.
"What's in [the report] is dynamite," said Michelle Fine, a professor of urban education at City University of New York's Graduate Center.
Fine was speaking at a press conference hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union on alternatives to high-stakes testing earlier this week to announce that more than 1,100 academics had signed a letter opposing states' increasingly reliance on test scores.
iSchool students taking part in a Model United Nations class that the IDEA tour visited
Ammerah Saidi, a program coordinator with Detroit Future Schools, meandered in and out of classrooms in the iSchool one morning last week. She had her pick of classes to observe – classes such as "Sixteen," a course designed around the question of what it means to be 16 in New York City, and Cartography, where students creatively mapped their hearts and fictional worlds.
Saidi was one of nearly 30 educators, advocates, and consultants from across the country and world taking part in a two-day, three-borough tour of schools and programs that promote democratic education.
“To hear about student-centeredness is one thing, but to feel it is something different,” Saidi said later in the day. “I love being reminded that it should be about the students at all times.”
That getting up close and personal with democratic modes of schooling is likely to inspire educators to change their practice is the theory behind the Institute for Democratic Education in America's "Innovation Tours" of city schools. Inspired by an Israeli organization, IDEA promotes the vision that students and communities should be democratically invested in their schools. To get educators to sign on, the group exposes them to democratic models of schooling in action. The goal of each Innovation Tour, which IDEA co-founders Dana Bennis and Jonah Canner lead, is for participants to walk away with ideas about how to broaden participation in their own communities — and then to implement those ideas, with IDEA's help.
“We’re not just creating a certain school and modeling it and building it out around the country,” said Bennis, now IDEA’s director of research and programs. “This is about communities coming together and asking: What are our goals for education? What do we want to achieve?”
During last week's tour, the group's third since its founding in 2010, participants visited the iSchool, a centerpiece of the Department of Education's Innovation Zone, and Urban Academy, the alternative high school on the Upper East Side whose students demonstrate proficiency through presentations and projects instead of Regents exams. They heard the principal of Brooklyn's P.S. 28 describe her vision for a school that helps everyone in the community, not just the students who are enrolled. And they saw how The Point, a community group in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, works with new schools, develops green spaces, and provides outlets for creativity.
Has President Obama finally picked a side in the education wars? Three prominent New Yorkers are worrying that he is at least leaning — and that it's not in the right direction.
Deborah Meier, the respected small schools pioneer, said President Obama's appointment of Arne Duncan as education secretary "leaves me sad." Today, Diane Ravitch, the NYU historian and Meier's blogging partner, described Duncan as "Margaret Spellings in drag." "This is not change I can believe in," she wrote in Politico. And on Saturday, Ann Cook, another small-school movement doyenne, said she is also concerned about Obama's choice of Duncan.
All three women sympathize with the "Broader, Bolder" manifesto, which argues that schools alone cannot be expected to close the achievement gap and whose members are more suspicious of popular innovations such as charter schools and test-driven accountability systems. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein leads another camp, which strongly supports test-based accountability, the No Child Left Behind law, and charter schools. Klein's Education Equality Project circulated a rival petition.
Obama made a point of not selecting a side in the debate. He chose two top education advisers, one from each camp. And he touted his chosen education secretary, Duncan, who had signed both petitions, as a pragmatist. But in the last few weeks, concerns about Duncan have begun to surface.