Friday, December 21, 2007

Dumb down class, asks principal memo

I think it's possible that situations similar to this are occurring in struggling schools but few instances have written documentation. Very sad. -Patricia

December 13th 2007

The principal of an East Harlem high school last month stunned his staffers by suggesting they dumb down their classes.

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities," Principal Bennett Lieberman wrote in a Nov. 28 memo to teachers at Central Park East High School. "You are setting your students up for failure, which in turn, limits your success as a professional."

The memo, obtained by the Daily News, urges teachers to review their homework and grading policies, and reminds them that "most of our students ... have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

One teacher who received the memo said she and her colleagues were "outraged," especially because the school is one of 200 where teachers will receive $3,000 bonuses if their schools improve.

"It's like bribery," she said. "It's not the achievement. It's just the grades."

Lieberman, a graduate of Mayor Bloomberg's elite Leadership Academy, defended the memo and denied he was advocating lower standards.

"I pretty confidently stand by my words and don't expect my teachers to dumb things down at all," he said. "The goal is to find where a student is at and work with them from that point forward."

His school was in danger of being closed several years ago but has bounced back after showing improvement on test scores. "Really good things are happening here," he said.

Students shown the memo Wednesday were insulted.

"Why are they going to let some pass who don't deserve it? It's not fair to those who want to work," said Estevan Cruz, 16, an 11th-grader.

Senior Richard Palacios, 17, said 65% of his classmates don't even show up for school. "It's already too much of an easy ride," He said. He estimated that only three or four of the 15 kids in his math class routinely appear.

Teaching experts said he should be ashamed.

"I'm just appalled," said Deborah Meier, the educator who founded Central Park East High School in 1985 as an alternative school where, she said, "our expectations for all our children were the same."

Back when Meier ran the school, she said, "We would have used the example of the letter you are quoting as exactly what we were trying to fight against. I'm horrified."

Now a New York University professor, Meier said she's worried the memo came as a response to the city's new A-to-F grading system, which factors how many credits students accumulate per year. If more kids pass their classes, the school, which got a B this year, will get a higher grade.

"This is so wrong, I could cry," Meier said. "What's embarrassing ... is that he could have put that in writing and not understood what he was saying."

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