Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who Is James Leibman? The "Civil Rights Connection" And School Reform

Outside of New York City, the name James Leibman will probably mean very little to educators, even critics of the panoply of current policies labeled "School Reform." But among New York City teachers and principals, the mention of his name evokes more than a little rage because he was the first "accountability officer" in the Joel Klein led Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg, responsible for developing the first "letter grades" for schools that were eventually to be used as the basis for policies ranging from school closings to evaluation of teachers. ********And who was Jame Leibman? Did he have years of experience working in the New York City public schools?. No, he was a Columbia Law Professor, an expert in death penalty litigation, who had children in the public schools and thought if he could develop a forumla for rating schools, he could put more pressure on them to better serve students of color. ********This noble goal let to a correspondence with the Mayor and his School Chancellor that ended up with Professor Leibman not only be hired in a new position, but given a team of statisticians to help develop a formula to rate schools on how much they helped children improve from year to year, based on results on standardized tests. The result of this was the first "letter grades" given to the City's Schools. *********Unfortunately, because of the narrow base of information used to compile the grades, the results, which were published in the press, not only humiliated many hard working teachers and principals, but defied common sense. Some of the best schools in the city, with the most innovative approaches to instruction, and the best community programs, got low grades, while schools widely seen as "struggling" got grades of A. This was true whether the schools were in high income neighborhoods, low income neighborhoods, or those in between. The grades that Professor Leibman came up for schools departed radically from the grades that would have been given had the input of parents, students, teachers and principals been the primary basis for compiling them *********The sad part of all of this, other than the careers and reputations tarnished, and the schools closed using this flawed system, is that Professor Leibman believed he was advancing the cause of Equity by imposing such a system. *********But swooping in to a school system that you have never worked in for two years, instituting radical measures without consulting the most skilled and experienced professionals in that system, and then going back to your original job is hardly a model for effective reform, much less Civil Rights activism

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