By Alex Davidson
Borough politicians, elected officials and union representatives were quick to question what criteria Schools Chancellor Joel Klein used to draw up a list of 70 Queens schools that will be allowed to continue using their own curricula instead of the citywide unified instructional approach.
In all, 208 of the city’s 1,200 schools were named to the list — an average of 17 percent per borough. In Queens, which has the worst overcrowding in the city, 70 of the roughly 250 schools made the list, or about 28 percent of the borough’s schools.
District 24 in Ridgewood had four schools on the list, while District 25 in Flushing had 10 and District 26 in Bayside had 21. District 27 in Ozone Park had one school, while District 28 in Forest Hills/Jamaica had 11 and District 29 in Queens Village had one school. District 30 in Jackson Heights had 10 on the list. Twelve Queens high schools were also listed.
The selected schools, according to Klein, were identified for exemption based on academic achievement, including improvements in academic performance and student need. He said city and state standardized test results were used to measure the level of achievement at elementary, middle and high schools as well as the ethnic and economic compositions at each site.
But the list seemed to anger more than inspire Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who said the list was distracting people from the real keys to improving student performance: increased money and resources.
“No matter how much you tinker with the curriculum, if you don’t have school supplies or updated textbooks, none of that really matters,” said Liu, who represents a large swath of School District 25, which includes College Point, Auburndale, Flushing, Bay Terrace and Kew Gardens Hills. “I haven’t lost sight of what I see as fundamental needs, which are unfortunately not being met.”
Liu, who is on the City Council’s education committee, said the list was important but did not characterize it as a “fundamental” concern. He said instead people should be focusing on the number of classrooms and seats in the borough rather than whether a specific school makes a specific list.
Others were simply puzzled by the list and questioned why it was even drawn up.
School Board 29 President Nathaniel Washington said he wondered why only one school, PS 131, in his district was on the list when other area schools had comparable test scores. His district covers Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, St. Albans, Hollis, Fresh Meadows and Queens Village,
“I don’t know what criteria were used to choose the schools. There’s a whole lot of questions in our minds and nothing’s being answered,” said Washington, who had not seen or received any word on why certain schools were chosen. “Maybe it’s a popularity contest, but it definitely doesn’t have to do with education.”
School Board 26 President Sharon Maurer was more optimistic about the results but had reservations as to whether they would help rather than hinder future student performance.
Her northeast Queens district is the highest performing in the city.
“It could have its drawbacks if the Department of Education puts its resources mainly into schools that are not doing well,” she said. “One of the reasons well-performing schools do so well is because superintendents make sure their schools get all the money and training needed to keep scores up.”
Maurer also echoed Liu’s concern that schools need to have adequate resources rather than just city mandates to improve standardized test results.
Klein said individual schools can appeal the city’s decision not to place them on the list and also apply for waivers if they feel they should operate independent of the unified curriculum.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who covers School District 30, which includes Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Long Island City, said he agreed with most of the standards used to compile the list of schools.
“I support the idea of exempting schools that are working — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “I would have preferred more objective standards but I don’t have a serious problem with the methods they used.”
United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she was opposed to how the schools were chosen.
“Just as kids should not be judged on the basis of a single high-stakes test, neither should schools,” she said. “Any attempt to reduce the rating of a school to a single number — no matter how sophisticated the methodology or well-meaning intentions — will shortchange some schools and overrate other schools that should be doing even better than they are.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156