A Failing Agency Gets A Pass

Oct 26, 2020 by

It’s been a long time since it’s not been an uphill battle trying to get the Department of Education to get serious about academic standards.  The pandemic is a convenient excuse, but it was a lost cause long before the Virus.

Nonetheless, it should be realistically conceded that this is not the time to crack down on the system’s embedded illiteracy. The DOE’s ensemble of prevaricators have plenty of other agenda items that should take precedence right now.

Instead of promulgating a  new grading policy, they have extended the original May prohibitions against giving students failing grades even if they did nothing.  Instead, terms like “needs improvement”, “incomplete” and “course in progress” will apply.

Elementary and middle schools can issue numerical marks, as long as it doesn’t suggest non-performance.  To complete grades, high school students will be granted an additional semester on request.

Critics of the DOE, which includes just about all sentient beings, accuse it of running scared of assessments, copping out and covering for accountability-averse educators.  One principal reportedly observed “They didn’t just lower the bar. They eliminated it”.

Pithy and almost precise.  That “bar” has been crumbling with rust for years.

This is one of those few and far between instances when I must demur from condemning the DOE.  My apologies to myself.

Still, a lack of formal examinations does not equate the educational neglect.  A lunatic fringe holds that all testing is intrinsically punitive and deplorable.   But most conscientious teachers know that conventional testing that may be normally suitable is contraindicated by the anomaly of a plague.

Unfairness is part of life and arguably its essence, so perhaps we shouldn’t exempt students from realizing the fruits of that lesson. Maybe as an exercise in “tough love” we should hold them answerable for their performance even when uncontrolled obstacles blocked all paths.

But there has been hardly any learning emanating from our schools since March, unless “learning to cope with isolation and deprivation” counts as a lesson.  It is not a “notch in the belt” of students, parents, educators or school-based administrators, but neither is it their fault. 

Covid-19’s occlusion of the opportunity to teach is not merely abnormal, it is asphyxiating.  Evaluating student and teacher performance would be a cynical pretense and a flaming fraud.

When the pandemic is over, the DOE will promulgate a new grading policy which will make up for lost time with renewed senselessness and the only virus we will have to censure will be the bureaucracy itself.

At present, students are attending schools once or twice a week, having their “cohorts” switched, transportation snafu-ed, having DOE-issues technical devices crashing or not being platform-friendly, comforting parents whose multiple kids have different simultaneous assignments as they too are pulled in many directions, struggling with massive logistical problems of childcare and their own employment and trying to replicate their memory of sanity in the hurly-burly of their studio apartments.
The DOE is getting hammered with investigative reports. One of them is that they haven’t a clue which students are present and which are absent. 

Chancellor Richard Carranza has his hands full and New Yorkers have their hands full with him.  A magnet for outrage, he indeed has plenty of pull.  There is a legion of causes for regret that he was ever hired.  But the DOE’s lenient pandemic-era grading policy is not among them.
Ron Isaac

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