2007-05-30 / Editorials


School Consultants Come Up Short

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, according to an article in a daily newspaper, seems increasingly inclined to hire outside consultants for core management duties and functions. Most such outside consultants, we're sure, are more than capable of performing the duties they were hired to do. Some others, however, have us scratching our heads.

Last year the DoE hired British firm Cambridge Educational Associates to conduct detailed evaluations of individual schools. Among the features of the city high schools studied was how schools use testing data to shape lessons, how the schools set goals and how they engage parents and students. Given these criteria, high schools were deemed, in descending order, "well developed", "proficient" or "undeveloped". A school rated "well developed" is improving the performance of students in greatest need and has attendance and engagement as high priorities; a school deemed just "proficient" conveys high expectations to parents and students, has instructional programs that actively engage students and is headed by a principal who is respected and has the capacity to effect change. The schools rated "undeveloped" still have staff that know and respect students and respond to their academic needs, as well as personal needs that affect academic performance, and each student knows and trusts an adult on staff who is concerned about that student.

Aside from what we could consider an unfortunate choice of words as a name for each of these categories, the categories themselves don't make much sense to us. We would hope every school in the New York City school system, from Pre-K through high school, numbers attendance and engagement among its priorities. "Improving the performance and progress of students in greatest need" is, indeed, a goal worthy of attainment, but seems more appropriate for a school attempting to raise its ranking, rather than one said to be at the top of the achievement list. As for staff who "know and respect students", a criterion for categorizing a school as "undeveloped", a two-part response comes to mind: staff members of a school who do not know their students at least by sight are in the wrong business, and "respect" cuts both ways. According to all the information we presently possess about the Cambridge evaluation, nowhere is there any responsibility placed on the student to fully participate in the learning process or demonstrate any sort of respect for faculty or staff.

According to the standards set forth in the Cambridge study, Stuyvesant H.S., the city's premier public high school, earns only a "proficient" (average) rating. Apparently a school that graduates 96 percent of its 3,000 students after four years, in which 100 percent of the students who in 2005, the latest year for which statistics were available, took and passed both the English and math Regents exams and has a 97 percent attendance rate does not number "attendance and engagement" among its highest priorities and misses the mark on "improving the performance and progress of students in greatest need". Surely we are far from the only ones to whom this makes no sense.

The federal Census Bureau reported last week that New York spends more on its public school students than any other state in the country- in 2005, again the last year for which statistics were available, $14,119 per capita for every student in every New York state public school. Given the graduation rates of some schools- and the proficiency, or lack thereof, demonstrated by some of the graduates- we think we're right in questioning just where that $14,119 per kid is going. If it's used to pay consultants to conduct a study that slams the best school in the city and offers nothing concrete to help other schools improve, then we think the time has come to scrutinize the use of consultants very carefully indeed. After all, that $14-grand-per-student is our tax money. We have every right to have some kind of a say in how our money is being used to educate our children, especially with the results as they presently are.

Nonetheless, we congratulate Bryant H.S. and the other schools that received top marks from Cambridge Educational Associates. We've known for years that Queens students are among the best in New York City. The Cambridge assessment confirms our opinion.

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