Vox populi

Comments of the week: Divided views on school surveys' truth

Each Friday, we highlight a sampling of the most thoughtful, substantive, and informed comments that readers left on the week’s news articles. We believe that a constructive conversation in the comments section helps us meet our goal of elevating public dialogue about education.

Unfortunately, with emotions high this week, particularly over the collapse of the Department of Education’s “turnaround” plans, many comments did not rise to that standard.

As a reminder, part of the very first rule in our comments policy reads, “Disagreement with people’s arguments is fine, but personal attacks — including on other commenters and GothamSchools writers and editors — will not be tolerated.”

But there were constructive comments, too! Back on Monday, we wrote about the results of this year’s Department of Education survey, which showed that teachers, parents, and students hold their schools in high esteem, even when the schools’ performance data might lead to other conclusions.

One commenter, “Larry,” offered some advice for interpreting the results, which he said had been rendered meaningless:

1.  Many high schools coach the kids into putting good things about the schools on the surveys.  The common narrative is either “they’ll close us down” or “you won’t get into good colleges” if the school receives a low grade on the progress report.

2.  Many high-school students fill out the surveys for their parents, especially if the school has given them an incentive to turn in the completed survey.

3.  Teachers will positively rate their own schools and the DOE positively out of fear, rather than honesty.

In short, these surveys, which were a good idea at the time, have become meaningless.  As long as they continue to be factored into progress report scores, they will continue to be meaningless.

Several readers responded to say that Larry’s warnings were well founded. “Follow the Money” wrote,

This is actually true. At the last school I worked at, one with a culture of fear, many teachers remarked to me that they were scared to put down their true thoughts, as they weren’t sure if the administration would find out and if they would be risking reprisal. Now I’m not saying there was any validity to these fears … but the fears were there.

“Elaz Laz” went even further, saying that not only fear but pressure informed survey responses at her school:

Yes this is true.  We coach the students as to what to write down.  We get coached by our administration as to what to write down.  We were told the surveys are not the place to air complaints.  The surveys are a huge waste of money.

“Justaparent” said she only leaves positive comments, too — but that’s how she wants it:

I am just a parent and have always boycotted these surveys. However, this year I did complete the one for my 9th grader’s high school because I have been so Impressed with the teachers and administration.

Travis Dove, a student at CSI High School for International Studies who wrote in the GothamSchools Community section last month about problems with the school’s physical education program, was the lone dissenter. He said he thought this year’s surveys would produce accurate results at his school:

No, my school does not bully students to put good things on the survey. This year my bubble sheet was brutal.

And one reader, who commented as “a teacher,” said it was the survey itself, not the pressuring surrounding it, that could skew results:

The questions about the rating system were absurd.  Of course a system with only two categories, satisfactory and unsatisfactory, doesn’t “recognize excellence”, but that doesn’t mean I want it replaced by some value-added nonsense. Even as I answered the questions, I resented the DOE for asking them in a way that seemed designed to get as many teachers as possible to agree with their position.  If they’d asked “Do you think the current evaluation system should be replaced with a system of evaluation that relies heavily on standardized test scores?”, they would probably have seen very different results.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”