Teachers are often asked by fellow pedagogues and parents (not generally by administrators or politicians) what we would do differently if we at a say in running the school system. If I was in a position of power, one of my first acts would be to expand the number of schools that are exempt from most of the Regents exams as part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium Network.
I didn't know too much about the performance based schools until October 2014 when I was first sent to Middle College High School at Laguardia Community College as a rotating Absent Teacher Reserve. You can read my first impressions here. I was given a full time job in December and have now been at Middle College for almost a year and the experience has opened my eyes about how education at the high school level can be truly a positive experience for both teachers and students alike.
Keeping this in mind, the other day my friend Mike Schirtzer from the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) sent out an April 2014 Village Voice piece that reigned down tons of praise on the consortium schools. In describing the model, The Voice stated:
The 28 schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium network boast graduation, college-going, and college retention rates that routinely top city, state, and national averages, with a student body that is as diverse in income and ethnicity as the city as a whole. And they do it almost entirely without standardized exams, substituting student portfolios and oral presentations for most of the required state Regents exams.
Some of you are probably thinking these schools probably skim cream off the top and don't accept high needs students. This should be studied in depth for all 28 schools but at Middle College, we take mostly students who are at level 2 or 1 reading/math levels and many of our students have Individualized Education Programs.
What is different in a school like Middle College is we are not so focused on test prep so classes sometimes feel more like college discussion seminars rather than traditional high school survey courses. Add to this mix an administration that is supportive of classroom teachers. From the point of view of this 29 year veteran, I cannot overemphasize how going to school each day feeling that the principal is on my side puts me in a better frame of mind to teach.
Furthermore. there are smaller classes. This makes a real difference as we truly get to know the kids who we then mentor for their oral defenses of some of the final projects. Oral defenses are used instead of the Regents exams except in English Language Arts. Each student must stand in front of a three teacher panel to defend projects for an hour and a half or more. This is a very comprehensive way to assess pupils. In many ways it is more difficult that taking Regents Exams.
The Voice article says that Vermont and Kentucky are adapting a portfolio approach in their high schools. Since the consortium schools have been successful here in New York, shouldn't we push to expand the model, even if it is done slowly, to see how if it would work on a slightly larger scale? I am not saying the consortium model is a panacea, but something that is successful should grow a little.