Monday, December 21, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and the School Quality Review

Well, our School Quality Review is happening pretty soon at the Morton School. Without giving too much away, this will not be the first or second quality review I've been through in as many years, so I'm pretty qualified to discuss why I hate this process.

Our principal is, to put it mildly, obsessed with the SQR--with admittedly good reason. It can make or break a school in so many ways. It's the DOE's stamp of approval (or not) on the job the principal is doing. I get why our principal is so concerned with it, I really do--I don't want to turn this into a principal-bash because I understand the admin's perspective. So let me make that clear right off.

But I do wonder how much time is spent (wasted?) on prepping for a quality review so explicitly. It's sort of like doing full-time test prep with kids: All we're learning is how to talk to quality reviewers, not actually how to improve our teaching. None of what I've learned about the SQR so far, this year or possibly ever, has helped me reach one child more effectively--just like, I suspect, the state ELA exam never actually helped a kid become a better reader or writer. I can see the need for some kind of review process, but I'm not sure that having some semi-retired principal and some person from England (no matter how lovely, smart, or well-intentioned the English I've worked with have been, which they are; they are usually much nicer and more professional than the DOEers who tend to do these things) really helps to improve things in a school.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. I pride myself on trying to be aware of and learn more about the larger DOE, but I certainly don't have the circumspection or history at this point in my career to know the difference; I've only known a DOE with quality reviews. Maybe things were worse before we had them.

But here's what I wish for: I wish someone, someday would stand up and say that the nicest thing you can say about the quality review rubric is that it's aspirational. It gives schools a lot of things to work on--not all of which are automatically unqualified goods, in my opinion, but it's certainly a starting point. But I wish some administrator would have the guts to say, This is not as important as the day-to-day business of educating children. Do that well and a positive quality review will follow. I wish some DOEer would be honest and say, Yes, this IS a "gotcha" exercise. We DO want to know what you're not doing. We DO want to catch you slipping up. And if that isn't the case, don't have a goddamn 100-point checklist/rubric/whatever (I'm exaggerating, but not by much) and make us feel like shit.

Good Lord. I'm so ready for vacation.