Winerip the Manichaean

Poor Michael Winerip, every ed reformer’s favorite punching bag. The long-time New York Times columnist plods the Gotham edu-beat like clockwork each Monday morning, juxtaposing another example of the cravenness of slick profit-minded charter school profiteers alongside hagiographies of public school saints who piously toil in the gutters of New York, proffering salvation through union-sanctioned scripture.

Winerip got slammed pretty good this week after his column on Oyster River Middle School in New Hampshire (usually he sticks to the NYC area), an indisputably fine school. All the children there are smart, good-looking, and above average; 85% of score proficient or above on the state tests. Winerip profiles an English teacher who “has eighth graders do a semesterlong “genre” project. They pick a subject area like mysteries, read masters like Agatha Christie, study the writer’s craftsmanship (“Explain how the author foreshadows doom”), then draft their own.”

The villain in this piece (in Winerip World there’s always a villain) is, of course, NCLB, which interferes with the laying on of hands from inspired teachers who gently develop the genius of children in an unfettered environment. While the unholy intrusion of NCLB won’t affect the kids in Honors English, “Oyster River is a failing school because about a dozen of its 110 special education children did not score high enough.”

A dozen of its 110 special ed kids? That’s about 10%, a not unsignificant percentage. And isn’t that the point of NCLB: to spotlight, even in high-achieving schools the subgroups of kids who fail amidst a background of success?

Peter Mayer at Fordham’s Flypaper notes,
Remember Princeton, NJ? Great SAT scores. Among the the best performing school districts in the country, right? Right, unless you were poor and black. (If someone could point me toward the report on Princeton schools, published before NCLB, I would appreciate it.) In fact, the state of New Jersey has the same problem today – it ranks in the top ten in the country on NAEP scores, but has the 47th and 48th worst achievement gap.
Andrew Rotherham at Eduwonk sums it up: "Winerip basically says it’s a great school and this is just more evidence of the folly of accountability," despite the performance of poor students and kids with disabilities. He continues,
In his own subtle way Winerip’s work is actually a spectacular argument for No Child Left Behind-style policies requiring disaggregation, transparency, and accountability. It’s pretty clear that absent those policy elements students who lag behind are swept under the rug. This is one reason special education advocates, for instance, are in favor of No Child Left Behind’s approach. The performance targets required by No Child do need to be changed, yes, because the law is several years overdue for reauthorization. But it’s exactly this ethos that makes many people leery of various alternatives to today’s policy and is consequently slowing progress on Capitol Hill. Or, put another way, ‘except for them’ sounds reasonable, unless it’s your kid.

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