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The Soylent Green Approach to School Reform

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

The State Education Department (SED) announced the latest round of Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) schools in a virtually incomprehensible press release. Out of the 700 plus school districts, the many, many thousands of schools, these are the lowest achieving schools in New York State.

In the current Soylent Green world of the Department of Education, the newly identified SURR schools are recycled cadavers, bearing new “numbers,” housed in the same buildings, they are recidivist SURR schools.

Once upon a time: SURR schools were removed from school districts and placed in the Chancellor’s District and, in close collaboration with the teachers union, implemented a highly structured program utilizing nationally recognized tools that worked.

It is no surprise that most SURR schools are located in the poorest areas of the City. High numbers of student living in temporary housing, in foster care, in Special Education classes, namely, the most vulnerable children.

The typical SURR school has an inexperienced principal and many new teachers: a formula for failure. What is so sad is that neediest kids are paired with highly dedicated, motivated teachers who lack the basic classroom skills. Some give up after a few months, others struggle through the year and fall by the wayside, and another cohort takes advantage of the Open Market Transfer Plan and moves along to better run schools with fewer needy children.

The losers are the kids and their families.

Tweed is the antithesis of the Chancellor’s District. The Department has essentially left the education business and entered the field of marketing and referral. What remains is the entrepreneurial principal, purchasing services from an alphabet soup of support organizations and outside vendors. If one principal fails, pick another.

The kids are pawns, sacrificed for the greater good of “value-added,” merit pay, pay for performance … the initiative du jour.

What is so distressing is that the Klein “formula” resonates: at the 2007 NEA Convention candidate Obama supported merit pay … the Aspen Institute, the National Association of Governors … all support some form of merit pay or pay for teacher performance. Sitting in some soigné country club the self-described elite muses,

“ … taxes are out of hand … especially for schools filled children who will never amount to anything … these kids will never succeed … why pay teachers higher salaries … pay for performance will be much cheaper … will weaken unions … the marketplace, not school boards or elected officials, will determine the success or failure of schools … it shouldn’t be “our fault” … whether rich or poor, you should be responsible for your own future … and besides, there’ll be more maids and chauffeurs available.”