A progressive school finds some accountability religion

I was prepared for a rant against all things reform when I started reading the New York Times Q & A interview with Maria Velez-Clarke, the principal of the Children’s Workshop School in Manhattan’s East Village, about the school’s C-grade from the City.  The school is “one of several small schools,” said the Times intro, “started in the 1990s by people who had worked at the widely praised Central Park East School.”

Central Park East?  The school started by Deborah Meier, current scourge of standardized tests, charters, accountability, and just about everything associated with Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who initiatiated the school report cards program?  (See the Bridging Differences blog Meier shares with Diane Ravitch and this wonderful 1994 profile of Meier and her hugely successful Central Park East experiment written by veteran NYC educator Sy Fliegal.)  Children’s Workshop offers ballet and yoga, for heaven’s sake!

Instead of a progressive principal complaining about Gotham’s new accountability system squishing her student’s creative impulses, however, we hear an 18-year veteran school leader who was shocked by the C grade the school received in 2010 and determined to do something about it:

I shared it with absolutely no one because it was so devastating to me. I took it home. I sat with my husband and I said, “My God, do you know what this is going to do to morale?” And he looked at me and he said, “O.K., you have the weekend: have a pity party and then move on.”

Velez-Clark actually went to the Transit Museum and bought “C” buttons (for the C train), brought them to school, sat down with her staff and said, “O.K., now what do we have to do here in order to get off the C train and get on the B train?”

She then took her staff on a weekend retreat, where they reviewed every child’s test scores.  And what is most interesting about the school’s response is that Velez-Clark seems unafraid to admit that she has learned something that may be good for her students.

When she and her teachers began to dig into the test scores, for instance, they discovered

….a correlation between attendance and a child’s score. So we worked on attendance. I didn’t always send a note home before, but now sometimes if a child is absent too much, I have to send a letter home saying “this could lead to A.C.S. [Administration for Children’s Services] coming to visit your house” or “your child is at risk of being held over because of attendance.”

The school didn’t stop being progressive, it simply integrated cultural history into its ballet lessons and nutrition and science into its yoga classes.

This is how it’s supposed to work.  Congratulations to the staff and children of Children’s Workshop for their B grade this year – and showing that it’s okay to do well in tests.

–Peter Meyer

This post also appears on Flypaper

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