The big news last week was the release of data by the U.S. Department of Education showing that, as the press release stated,
Minority students across America face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
The report, part of the annual Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey, included data from 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s students and found, among other things, that black male students “are far more likely to be suspended than their peers.” In fact, it reported, though black students make up 18 percent of the students in the sample, they accounted for 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of the students expelled.
When I read this, I yawned. It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.
When I read this, I yawned. It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district. But just as my district pays little attention to the academic environment that these “bad” kids swim in, so too the ensuing national melee over OCR data didn’t mention curricula and teachers. Everyone wanted to talk about “discipline” practices, school “safety” and “racism.”
Wrote Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal,
The Obama administration's sympathies are with the knuckleheads who are disrupting class, not with the kids who are trying to get an education. But is racial parity in disciplinary outcomes more important than school safety?
No mention of the knuckleheads inflicting
In part 1 of my New York City teacher evaluation commentary, I explained the judicial decision which determined that the public had a right to know how individual teachers were doing. Most tellingly, perhaps, was Judge Kern’s dismissal of the argument that flaws in the data mattered to her decision. Referring to a previous ruling by the state’s highest court, Kern said, “there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed.”
We have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening in a system of baroque halls and closets.
This means that we have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening in a system of baroque halls and closets. The New York Times, one of the media outlets that had sued to gain access to the Teacher Data Reportshan (TDR), made the data available and issued an invitation to teachers to “respond to your data report.”
In fact, surprising many, Michael Winerip, the On Education columnist for the Times and normally no friend to education reform, had it about right:
At first, when I heard that news organizations were going to publish the list, I was angry, but that has passed. Good has come of this. People have been forced to stop and think about how it would feel to be summed up as a 47, and then have the whole world told.
Winerip’s would be a near-perfect conclusion if it weren’t such a reluctant one. If only he could bring himself to provide some context: that this imperfect new system is an attempt to right a terrible
Everyone predicted that Justice Cynthia Kern’s ruling last January to allow the release of the value-added scores for New York City teachers—with the teachers’ names—would set off a firestorm when the names were released (which is what happened when Los Angeles did the same thing in 2010). And it did.
“Teachers will be right in feeling assaulted and compromised,” declared Merryl Tisch, chancellor of New York State’s Board of Regents, just after New York City released some 18,000 teacher evaluations to the public last week.
“The arrogance of some people to say that the parents don't have the ability to look at numbers and put them in context and to make decisions is just astounding to me,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back. “This is about our kids' lives. This is not about anything else.”
It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have concluded that releasing teachers’ names was quite insane.
That pretty much set the tone for the debate: another assault on teachers versus the public’s right to know. And it turns out that the best window on to the question is the January 11 New York State Supreme Court decision itself, a sleek nine pages in which Judge Kern said her only job was to decide whether the city education department’s decision to release the teachers’ names with the Teacher Data Reports was “arbitrary and capricious under the law.” Did it have a “rational basis”?
It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have concluded that releasing
In another life, I was a crime writer. True crime. I’ve interviewed 14-year-old murderers and 15-year-old rapists, written books about college graduates who commit murder, about lowlife “woodchucks” who do the same. And anyone who has ever sat in a kitchen with a mother whose 12-year-old daughter was stabbed to death or sat alone in a room trying to recreate these gruesome scenes on paper—well, this is why I left the field and did not look back.
But my heart goes out to the parents, family, and friends of the victims of the Chardon, Ohio, shooting. And to school personnel at Chardon High School—this is when you earn your angel wings.
Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?
I know that educators all over the country are now huddling with their school security officers and school counselors and social workers. They are reviewing their building entry and lock-down procedures and reviewing the student suspension files, to look again at the records of children who may have been kicked out of school for carrying a weapon or threatening to harm someone or—or what? Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?
The answer is that we can’t. But what we might consider trying, as the next few sorrowful days unfold, is resolving to get to know our children, whether we are a parent, friend, or teacher. When we are able to look into the hearts of children, we will, of course, find their angels. But we will also find their demons and must help the child to banish them. That
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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