if i was trapped on a desert island...

If I was trapped on a desert island with only two pieces of school information (and you know that I would still be talking about schools to my volleyball from Fed Ex) which ones would I choose?

the teacher's rankings from the school survey each year

the chronic absenteeism numbers

So, there is A LOT of other data that is really important and interesting and in the end going to see a school with your own eyeballs and getting the vib and seeing the kids and teachers in action is the MOST important thing. If you haven't seen it already, watch the great little youtube video from InsideSchools.org about "What to look for on a tour".

It is the summer though, and I feel like being provocative.

To find a snap shot of both of these for your school, go to Insideschools.org and search for your school number. Then go to the tab Inside Stats: Safety and Vibe

There is a lot more info available about what the teachers think about their school (it is from a yearly anonymous survey given by the DoE. You may need to do a bit of reading between the lines. You can find the full survey here (and it give parents' input too!)

  • in the middle of the page/School Search/name put 'k' and your school number in 3 digits (if your school is PS 9, you would put k009 ) then click return
  • in the window that pops up in the map, click "statistics"
  • then click on the most recent Learning Environment Survey and read away

If 100% of the teachers agree that everything is awesome, it is suspicious. There may be a concerted effort at the school to up their rankings - although if the teachers are willing to all agree there must be something there. If less than half the teachers weigh in - it may be a matter of "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all". Teaching is a terribly hard job but a respected and supported teacher is the person I want my kids spending their days with.

The chronic absenteeism is an interesting issue. A lot of my families are very interested in the "Free lunch eligible" numbers. Poverty has a huge impact on a school, but there are two things wrong with counting on those numbers. I don't find them terribly accurate, particularly in schools that are gentrifying quickly, and although the stresses of poverty (poor nutrition, expectations, lack of advocacy or enrichment, etc.) often shake out in low test scores and struggling programs, attendance and punctuality is the real indicator.

Just because you are poor doesn't mean that you don't really care about education, and that is the difference. For example, take a look at the amazing PS 172 in Sunset Park;
79% Hispanic, 23% Special Ed, 26% English Language Learners, 87% free lunch eligible
9% chronic absenteeism
plus a culture of achievement and great support for the teachers, that begins with the principal. If your child is absent, you better be ready to tell Mr. Spatola why.

Why is PS 249 among the top schools in D17 even though it 100% Free lunch eligible? One big reason: 12% chronic absenteeism. A big part of the tour was spent explaining that if your child doesn't show, Principal Brown is sending the school secretary to your HOUSE to see why. Now that sounds a bit drastic, but everyone knows what is expected from them and they focus up.

These attendance numbers shake out in higher test scores, not because of a prep culture, but because these kid's parents are making school the first priority. Kids who don't show up also slow down everything else that is happening in class because the teachers are constantly having to play catch up. I want to see chronic absenteeism in the mid teens or lower. I am unhappy if I see 20% or higher.

I see amazing neighborhoods growing in diversity, with active and optimistic parents ready to step up at struggling schools. The problem is that many of those schools have 30-40% chronic absenteeism. Changing that culture is like trying to turn the Queen Mary around in the Gowanus Canal. The stresses of poverty are no joke. There are many heartbreaking reasons why these kids are not making it to school. I am not trying to blame those families, but it is hard for a school to control that change. That is why they make Hollywood movies about people like Mr. Spatola and Ms. Brown. They don't come along every day.