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Gary Rubinstein’s Blog: Overwhelming Majority of Families of 143,000 Students ‘Trapped’ in “Failing’ Schools Would Recommend Their School to Others

One of the most dramatic catch phrases that New York ‘reformers’ have been saying, recently, is that there are 143,000 kids trapped in failing schools.

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The New York Post described this with the headline 143,000 abandoned kids .

And a press release from an organization called Families for Excellent Schools says

“With 143,000 students trapped in failing schools, it’s clear that another year of multi-year plans will not fix decades of failure,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, Executive Director of Families for Excellent Schools. “The only viable remedy is to immediately empower parents to choose better schools.”

This statistic comes from a seventeen page report released by Families for Excellent schools, themselves, called ‘The Forgotten Fourth.’  They have found that there are 371 schools, about a fourth of New York City schools where less than 10% of students have passed the new Common Core tests.  As the new tests were made much more difficult, compounded by a very unscientific cut score that caused only about 30% of New York City students to pass anyway, it is not clear why they chose the 10% threshold for ‘failing.’  They could have just as easily made it 20% and made the report about the forgotten three fourths.

This post, however, is not about analyzing the word ‘failing’ in the slogan — maybe another time for that — but for the equally charged word, ‘trapped.’  It evokes a picture of a burning building, the people banging on the door, unable to get out.

But with the help of a new data sleuth who is helping me out, Benjamin Lempert, I’ve learned something interesting about these ‘trapped’ students:

In New York City, every student, parent, and teacher has an opportunity to fill out an annual survey about how they feel about their school.  These ‘trapped’ families surely would use this opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with their school.

Question 3a reads “How much do you agree with the following statement:  I would recommend this school to other parents.”  Parents have the opportunity to answer ‘strongly agree,’ ‘agree,’ ‘disagree,’ or ‘strongly disagree.’  Out of about 54,000 respondents, which is, I think, a statistically significant sample, 49,000 responded to this question either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ and most of those were ‘strongly agree.’  This is 90.7%.

Is it accurate to call students ‘trapped’ if they are satisfied in their school?  Do I feel ‘trapped’ with my children because I can’t trade them in for ones who will do better bedtimes?  Are we all ‘trapped’ on Planet Earth?

For Moskowitz and the Families for Excellent Schools people to use this word ‘trapped’ certainly misrepresents how the families they are supposedly advocating for actually feel.  I might not like the hair style someone chooses, but it is not my right to tell the person sporting it that they are ‘trapped’ with it.  When you feel trapped, you generally don’t say to other families “come join us here in this place.  It’s terrible.”

No, ‘trapped’ is a clever invention of ‘reformers.’  Maybe ‘reformers’ think that the parents should feel trapped and that the families are not smart enough to realize they are trapped.  Of course the solution for these ‘trapped’ families is to give them the ‘choice’ to get away from their schools that they like and then to close down those schools, thus taking away their ‘choice’ to remain in their neighborhood school that they are satisfied with.

‘Trapped,’ ‘choice,’ ‘failing,’ ‘adult interests,’ ‘reform,’ and the rest of their lingo.  It’s all just slick manipulative advertising.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...