[ProgressiveEd] 11)Latest DOE Spin on Math Choice 2)Recent Gotham Gazette Piece on REaction to the Universal Curriculum

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Thu, 03 Apr 2003 17:22:23 +0000

1) New Spin--The Department of Education homepage contains a link  
entitled:  "NYC Mathematics Curriculum CHOICES [emphasis added]."  Follow the 
link to the description of the no--choice math curriculum for different grade 
2) "Making the List":  Below is Jessica Wolff's piece for the Gotham Gazette on 
parent and school attempts to be exempted from imposition of a universal "one-
size-fits all" curriculum.  The article contains a very nice description of 
PENNY's efforts in this regard.   
Carolyn Prager
Advocates for Public
Representation in Public Education
Making The "List"
by Jessica Wolff
April, 2003
Dozens of New York City public schools have submitted petitions to the New York 
City Department of Education asking to be exempted from the uniform curriculum 
soon to be required for most of the city's schools. By the beginning of April, 
these schools should learn whether or not they will be added to the list of 209 
successful schools allowed to continue with their own reading and math 
curricula.  Schools not on  the list must adopt the new, system-wide 
comprehensive instructional approach mandated by the Department of Education to 
bring coherence to the schools and to ensure that all the city's schoolchildren 
progress in reading, writing, and math. (See my February column, "Shaking Up 
the School System," for a description of the proposed curriculum changes and 
other recent reforms.)
Exemptions for the 209 schools  were  based on academic achievement, including 
improvements in student performance, and student need. Chancellor Joel Klein 
and the Department of Education looked at school results on city and state 
tests, but they also  took into account schools' percentages of special 
education students, English language learners, and students in poverty. Schools 
not making the list as well as specific programs within schools wishing to be 
considered for exemption were permitted to petition for a waiver of either the 
literacy portion or the math portion of the new core curriculum or both. Those 
petitions had to be filed by March 3.
Anticipating objections to the consequences of creating a "top-200" list based 
only on test scores, Klein and the Department of Education factored in student 
need so as to bring diversity to the list of exempted schools. In spite of 
this, they have been accused of relying too heavily on test scores and, 
therefore, of skewing the list toward largely white, middle-class schools and 
leaving out schools that serve a more academically diverse student population. 
Parents and staff from some of the middle-class schools who thought they had 
been bumped from the list by lower-scoring schools serving higher needs 
students have also registered frustration and disappointment. Many of these 
schools have reportedly taken action so that they will be added to the list.
Drawing a line between successful schools and others in New York City is a 
risky enterprise, despite the clear logic and political necessity of saying 
that schools already achieving need not be forced to change. Nevertheless, 
there had to be some worry about the reaction of stakeholders in schools not 
put on the list, no matter how constructive the consequences. And that reaction 
has been sharp. Parents, students, and school staff from schools not selected 
have expressed anger and anxiety about the consequences of not making the list. 
Without the endorsement, parents and students worry about the quality of their 
school; and administrators fear they will lose the confidence of middle-class 
parents who bring valuable resources to schools but can opt to send their 
children elsewhere.
Though the now-required math, reading, and writing programs are similar to 
those already in use in a number of the city's successful schools, many school 
communities are concerned about the changes they represent. The Department of 
Education has not been able to avert fears about "cookie-cutter" classrooms and 
overly scripted teaching.
The new curriculum mandate is especially worrisome to those schools that 
identify themselves as "progressive" or "alternative" and see the programs as a 
threat to a specific educational philosophy and practices they consider 
successful. They believe that the imposition of this new curriculum will 
prevent their schools from offering the type and quality of education their 
students need and their families expect.
On March 26, parents and other representatives of schools throughout the city 
that are members of the Progressive Education Network of New York (PENNY) 
demonstrated in front of Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of the Department 
of Education. Objecting to the narrow use of standardized tests and other 
statistics to measure schools' success, they advocated for the development of a 
new definition of "successful" schools which recognizes their schools' work 
with diverse populations of students. They believe that any imposed curriculum 
deprives teachers of the independence they require in order to develop their 
own curricula in response to the needs, interests, and abilities of their 
students. "We want autonomy that allows us to continue with small class sizes, 
bridge classes, parental and child involvement in all aspects of the school.  
This can't be boiled down to a single curriculum," said Carol Barton, a Muscota 
New School and Computer School parent.  Few of the schools represented by the 
Progressive Education Network of New York were included on "the list," but they 
are hoping to secure waivers so that their schools' work can continue unimpeded.
Similarly, in the face of a uniform curriculum and district restructuring,  
parents, school staff, and administrators are fighting to preserve the 
alternative high schools superintendent position. The district that runs a 
number of high schools designed to meet the special needs of target populations 
of students -- gifted and talented, at risk, and special education students; 
drop outs; newly arrived immigrants; incarcerated youth, and pregnant and 
parenting teens -- is scheduled to be eliminated and its schools absorbed into 
regional superintendent districts.