Carmen Farina, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently appointed chancellor for the New York City Public Schools, has been on the job only since January. She is, however, a lifetime educator, teacher, principal, and former district administrator who came out of retirement to serve.
This week we have begun to observe pivots from the school policies in place under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who regularly appointed non-educators to run the school district—most notoriously Cathleen Black, the publisher of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Farina’s recent moves bode well for education and for children.
According to a press release from the New York City Schools (also covered by the NY Times), in a new policy announced this week, New York City will no longer use one standardized test score to determine whether a child is promoted to the next grade. “We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place. This new way forward maintains accountability, but mitigates the unintended consequences of relying solely on a single test. Through a comprehensive evaluation of student work using multiple measures, our new policy is a step forward for students, parents, and schools.” The New York state legislature has recently passed legislation to support the use of multiple measures to determine promotion.
Students who lag will still be required to attend summer school, but they will not take another test (with enormously high stakes) in August to see whether they can move to the next grade. Their summer school performance will be represented by work added to the “promotion portfolios” that will now be maintained for all children in danger of being held back. School personnel who know a child will consider the test score as one piece of evidence as they decide on a plan to enable that student to thrive. The NY Times quotes Genevieve Stanislaus, principle of Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan: “The decision should be based on if the child could really benefit from repeating the grade. It shouldn’t be for any reason other than that.”
Earlier this week, Chancellor Farina also launched a new program to improve schools that struggle. While the federal School Improvement Grant program has emphasized hiring often expensive outside consultants and threatening to close schools whose scores lag, Farina’s program pairs struggling schools with other NYC schools that model innovation and rigor. This program is expected to be ongoing after its initial activities this spring.
Chalkbeat New York reports, “Officials said the new initiative—which Farina said was so important that she launched it faster than some confidantes advised—is meant to foster ‘collaboration, not competition’ among schools.” “Over the 12 weeks before the end of the school year, the host schools will send teams on ten school visits and host six visits of their own—in addition to carrying out their regular activities.” Details and arrangements will be provided by the Department of Education.
“We have put this together in basically a month, and the degree of commitment and excitement is just palpable,” announced Farina. Some of the host schools were once struggling schools that have since turned around.
“We don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. We can replicate what works and just refine it.” “We’re hoping that by June, we’ll bring them all together and say, how do you think your school got better?”
Notice that all this activity is built around encourage-and-improve. What a refreshing departure from test-and-punish.