School ratings raise skeptics' eyebrows

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If a prominent survey told you nearly all parents of public school students in the city are satisfied with their children’s education, would you believe it?

Or how about a survey that found the Bronx High School of Science, which has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other high school in the country, is not doing so well when it comes to “rigorous instruction.”

Findings like these have critics such as Leonie Haimson of the advocacy group Class Size Matters disdainful of the 2015 School Survey from the city’s Department of Education (DOE).

“It’s been 95 percent for the last three years,” Ms. Haimson said of the parent satisfaction rating. “So I don’t think that’s a meaningful statistic.”

She pointed to studies showing parents tend to say they are satisfied with their own children’s education — regardless of their thoughts on the system as a whole — as a reason for the high satisfaction rating.

When it comes to Bronx Science, which did not answer an interview request for this article, Ms. Haimson said the school’s below-average score in “rigorous instruction” was likely due to one statement that teachers were asked to evaluate: “In planning my last instructional unit, I was able to include opportunities for students to build students’ knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.”

Almost a quarter of teachers said they never did so. 

Ms. Haimson blamed this on the new Common Core guidelines, which have put a stronger emphasis on nonfiction texts.

“You can’t even really read novels in English class with quota that strict,” she said, adding that she commended teachers in Bronx Science for standing up to the new guidelines. 

Useful tool?

Nevertheless, the DOE insists the annual school surveys, which compile answers from parents, educators and students, are a useful tool.

“Feedback from families shows schools are better preparing students for college and beyond, and we’ll continue to use research-based methodology to improve the survey and best support student learning,” DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement. 

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