Sunday, April 6, 2008

Quality Review?

Tomorrow I will head back to work, as always on a Monday, and I will be met with a British review team that has been hired by the DOE to determine the quality of our school. The preparation for such an event has been going on for some time. There have been meetings where we were told the fate of the school rests on our performance, practice questions and reflections, data collection, more data collection, portfolio reviews, bulletin board get the idea. The overwhelming message from each presenter has been that a quality review IS NOT the time to air grievances, make a point, or bear a grudge. As teachers we are forced into a tight spot, do we keep our mouths closed and present the image the school wants us to? or do we take advantage of an opportunity to reveal the truth as we see it?
I'm not sure which answer is right. While I have spent hours this past week cleaning, reorganizing, and preparing for the visitors, I have been excluded from preparation meetings and classroom visits. As a result I fear that the right information will not be presented to review team. Though I trust many of my colleagues, I worry that yet again our school will be able to present whatever image they want.
Like most bureaucratic institutions, the facade can feel impenetrable. When you walk in the building our students are generally quiet and in classrooms, there is work on bulletin boards, and there are friendly faces to greet you. However, when you look closer you can see that the level of student work is low. This is not because the students aren't trying--it's because they are behind and unable to complete grade level work. Though we can "dress-up" student work by typing it, or water-down projects so that they are easier to get a '3' or '4', what we are NEVER allowed to admit is that our students are significantly behind. The more we ignore the root of the problem, the more we feed the feelings of shame and denial that already exist within our school and those like it. Our students become more resistant to help, because their day is so often filled with work that is simply too hard. Should we ask them to accomplish less? No, but we must learn to meet students where they actually are--NOT where we want them to be.
Though this seems easy, it is much more difficult than it appears. To many, the solution seems impossible. Thus the only other choices are to divert the problem, rationalize the problem, or simply ignore the problem. This is the approach administrators take towards students, and this is the approach the city takes towards their failing schools. There is no secret to why urban schools fail. They are under-resourced, they service the toughest population, and they are led by some of the least qualified administrators. NYC has seem some huge changes in its most struggling schools, but not until the administration and a number of staff have been replaced. This is not to say that those in place are not trying their best, but when we cannot be honest about what is actually happening inside of our schools, we will never be able to change the lives of our students.

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