Originally Written for TheBlot Magazine October 2, 2014.
No matter what the cause of the moment is, all leaders revert to the same fail-safe comment: “With education we can overcome any obstacle.” But, as announced yesterday, the New York City public school system is about to turn education into a joke.
The sad part is, the joke was actually written back in 2004 on an episode of “Arrested Development” when Michael Bluth (played by Jason Bateman) said, “Well, the bar for the refrigerator has been lowered” to his sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) when she was proud of her daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) for getting a C- on a test. “Oh, grades are meaningless,” Lindsay responded airily. “Maeby’s last school didn’t even have them.” You see, before Lindsay and her family moved to SoCal to be with the rest of the Bluth family, Maeby attended the Boston Sunshine Academy, a progressive school that didn’t award students traditional grades, but rather measured their progress in pictures and emotions. For example, Maeby received a crocodile in spelling and an Elvis in science. Progressive schooling was a concept mocked by the show then — and again on another episode two years later — for its ridiculousness, something that may now become a reality in New York.
In a speech given by the New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña yesterday, she announced plans for de-emphasizing test scores in evaluating schools and getting rid of A through F letter grades. The new report cards will have “snapshots” for parents and a lengthy “school quality guide” for school leaders, with a range of indicators. As a parent with a child in the New York City public schools, I am horrified at the thought. The message that we are sending to the rest of the country and the world is that we’re giving up on trying to make better students and instead just find it easier for everyone to dumb down the process.
School is not supposed to be easy — we are preparing our country’s future leaders by challenging them to take responsibility and obtain the skills they need in order to be successful in life. If our kids aren’t learning at what we once considered an acceptable rate, it is up to us to find new methods to make it happen. Changing the way we grade our children is not going to magically help them to learn what they need to. What it will do, however, is mask the fact that our educational system is failing and allow those in charge of our schools to sidestep their responsibilities, a skill politicians are becoming more known for, rather than the jobs they are actually supposed to uphold.
If there was any question how out of touch with reality the 72-year-old school chancellor is, it was answered when she announced that there would be no more letter grades. Fariña said schools “are not restaurants,” referring to the Department of Health program that gives letter grades to city eateries — a method so nationally understood that it was adopted by the DOH back in 2010. The difference is eateries are still going to be held accountable for their letter grades whereas educational facilities are going to be let off the hook.
Although her aides promised more details on tackling the grading issues soon, there is a deep concern about watered-down accountability. The upcoming months should be interesting with new political agendas and announcements that will affect our city’s children for the rest of their lives.
For any parent who has a child in a New York City Public School, waiting for these details will not be easy, but while we wait for others to carve an easier, less-challenging path for our youth, why don’t we go ahead and give Fariña her grade for the job she has done so far, based on what could be part of the new grading process. Inspired by Maeby’s report card on “Arrested Development,” I’d give Farina a solid Donkey-.