Accountability

N.Y.C. Chief Unveils New Accountability Plan

By Jeff Archer — April 18, 2006 3 min read
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Signaling a new phase in the reorganization of the country’s largest school system, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein unveiled plans last week to grade all of the city’s 1,400 public schools on student performance and the quality of instruction.

Under the accountability plan, schools that fail to measure up could face leadership changes or restructuring, Mr. Klein said. At the same time, he pledged to continue efforts already begun to give principals added decisionmaking authority and to give educators more data with which to gauge student progress.

British consultants, paid for by private donors, are helping pilot the initiative this spring by visiting schools to evaluate how well they make decisions about instruction. Those kinds of reviews, along with achievement data, will be used to give all schools new performance ratings in the 2007-08 school year.

District leaders cast the plan as the next big step in the overhaul that began after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, took control of the system in 2002. As the mayor’s handpicked schools chief, Mr. Klein, a former assistant U.S. attorney general under President Clinton, has sought consistency in teaching methods across the 1.1 million-student system.

Now, with the help of outside experts, the district is planning to give schools more flexibility. In a prelude to last week’s announcement, Mr. Klein said in January that he would dramatically expand a program that rewards high performance with increased autonomy over such issues as how to spend their budgets and how to train their teachers.

“Our strong belief is that schools are only going to succeed to the highest levels if school leaders are given the authority to design their own paths to success, but also are held accountable for meaningful gains in student achievement,” Kristen Kane, Mr. Klein’s chief of staff, said last week.

In the new rating system, schools will get grades from A to F, based on factors related to achievement and school climate. Test scores and surveys of parents and students will be part of the mix. A key feature will be value-added measures that reflect gains made by students while at their schools.

An Imported Process

In addition, schools will get ratings based on annual site visits. To pilot the process, the district hired Cambridge Education, a consulting company based in England, where school evaluations have long included such ‘inspections.’

James S. Liebman, the district’s chief accountability officer, said the two- to three-day visits will focus on how each school uses data and professional learning among its teachers to address students’ academic needs. Each review will yield a rating of either “well-developed,” “proficient,” or “undeveloped.”

“We would like everyone in the system essentially playing to the same tune,” Mr. Liebman said. “Not with the same curriculum, or the same schedule in every school, but the same way of thinking about how you use information to individualize your program and measure your progress going forward.”

The district hired Cambridge Education with $500,000 raised by the Fund for Public Schools, a charity formed under Mr. Klein that has provided research-and-development money for many of the chancellor’s initiatives. District administrators now are being trained to do the site visits themselves.

Some school leaders expressed skepticism about the plan. Jill Levy, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union representing the district’s principals, said she doubted the rating system’s usefulness.

“I think it’s very interesting that people are calling it an accountability piece instead of an educational improvement piece,” said Ms. Levy. “What’s missing is the diagnostic piece that can help schools know why certain students are not learning,”

Others said the plan was worth a try. Carol Stock, the principal of Public School 199, an elementary school in Manhattan, volunteered last week to take part in the piloting this spring. Still, she said, she’s withholding her final judgment.

“I think this has a very interesting premise behind it, and certainly evaluating schools by more than one measure is one of the most important things we can do,” Ms. Stock said. “What happens after that, I can’t say.”

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