Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eighth Grade Insanity

Well, New York City's education system just got a little more insane. And in a nice change of pace, this time the insanity isn't coming from the kids.

On Monday, the Department of Education created a new policy that all eighth graders have to pass core subject area classes and score at a basic level on statewide tests in order to move on to high school. There are already high stakes tests in third, fifth, and seventh grades. This latest move is just one more high stakes test that does nothing to actually boost achievement in schools.

On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable plan. As Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said, "In the end, passing kids through the system without making sure they’re ready for the next grade level is not a formula for success. Our job is not to move a kid out of middle school; our job is to move a kid from middle school to high school, prepared for high school.”

Fair enough, Joel. But you're forgetting a major part of that plan: the preparing them for high school part!

Such is the focus on accountability and high stakes testing right now that it alone has become the educational plan in NYC and across the country. Give the kids tests, punish them if they don't pass, and the system will get better seems to be the logic. How do you punish them? Well, you make them do the grade over again.

That's where the insanity comes in. I've always heard that a functional definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. Obviously, that's crazy. And just as obviously it's what the DOE is doing now. They aren't working to address the middle school crisis in the city. They aren't providing additional supports for the kids who are struggling. They aren't being sane. They're just saying, try again, try again, try again.

Accountability for kids is all well and good. But alone it's not an educational philosophy or strategy. You still need to find a way to teach the kids.

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