Admission to Private Preschool Isn’t Such a Stroll For NYC Parents

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Source: NY Mag; "the Price of Perfection"

New York City’s horror stories used to primarily entail the amount of crime and violence on the streets.  Today, however, many of the most horrifying tales are concerning parents and their desperate and relentless scramble to get their children into the most elite and prestigious private preschools. That said competition for admission to New York City’s private preschools is incredibly fierce with over fifteen applicants for every available spot. “Next year is going to be even worse,” warns Amanda Uhry, the owner of Manhattan Private School Advisors (Nursery University). Roxana Reid of Smart City Kids adds, “Several nursery schools had ten or more children shut out from getting into school altogether last year” (Nursery University).

As time has progressed and more studies emphasizing the importance of early childhood development have been conducted, preschools have evolved drastically both in their purpose and importance to society. Although private preschools have been highly sought after in New York City since their origins, in recent years the competition to get into these elite schools has never been greater. In fact, competition has reached such extremes that the admissions process to get into these schools has been completely transformed. Due to the combination of extreme wealth, change in demographics, the public’s perception of preschools, and the urban baby boom that has occurred in New York City, getting into a private nursery school isn’t quite as easy as the A, B, C’s.

Brief Overview of the History of Preschool and Its Development in the United States

The first nursery schools  appeared in the United States in the nineteenth century with the growth of the factory system. They were generally privately financed, designed for upper and upper middle class children under the age of five, and were typically affiliated to universities (McMillan). Moreover, they were often the places where child studies and psychological theories concerning children and their families—such as those of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget—were conducted (Read). As such, they formed part of a broader development of the professionalizing field of child welfare and development (Read). In the 1920s, however, the nursery school began to evolve when parents began getting involved in its running (Spodek).

Throughout the majority of the twentieth century, the nursery school began to integrate itself into public education systems around the country—though this effort was largely constrained by the high expenses and the general conception that the best place for young children was at home with their mothers (Beatty). Exceptions were made, however, for the children living in poor urban areas and in times of national emergency, such as during the Great Depression and World War II (Beatty). Day-care centers without the educational rationale of nursery schools still remained to dominate the area however (Beatty).

In the mid-1960s, the federal government undertook War on Poverty programs, such as Project Head Start, which provided nursery school experiences for underprivileged children (Beatty). These projects determined how important the first years in a child’s life are in respect to establishing healthy attitudes, a sense of values, intellectual interests, good learning habits and social behavior patterns–ultimately sparking the public’s interests and subsequently a drastic increase in public and private preschools, both in number and demand (Beatty).

The Importance of Early Childhood Education

President Obama recently emphasized the importance of quality preschool education in his State of the Union message, insisting on a substantial expansion:

“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Mr. Obama said in his speech. In his budget, he requested $75 billion over 10 years to help states dramatically expand preschool options for low-income children” (Paulson).

In recent years, early childhood education has gained a great deal of attention from both the public and the press. Data has shown how beneficial high-quality early childhood education is in respect to a child’s future academic success (Pepper). Dr. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) says that “Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not.” Scientific research has supported this argument. It is reported that approximately 90% of the brain develops before the age of five. Additionally, the first three years are supposedly the most vital in determining the child’s “brain architecture” (Gallen). The most recent of the NIEER reports claimed that children in high-quality programs earn approximately $143,000 more over their lifetime than the control group — and are less likely to smoke (Goldman). Although some argue that the beneficial impacts of preschool decreases over time, this is accredited to differences in the quality of preschool (Pepper).

New York City

In New York City, parents are facing a severe shortage of prekindergarten seats in public schools, with eight applicants for every available spot in some neighborhoods (Beekman). In spite of the city investing approximately $20 million this year to add 4,000 full-day prekindergarten seats in lower-income communities, the city is struggling to meet demand—especially in Manhattan and Queens (Beekman). Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, argues “We can’t continue to be a city where only a fraction of our kids has access to early education” (Beekman). The crisis is most evident in Brooklyn’s District 20 where allegedly more than eight children compete for every available spot. Additionally, Battery Park City’s Public School 89 had a prekindergarten admission rate of 7% (Beekman).

Given the amount of competition there is to attend one of the City’s public preschools, parents have turned to alternative academic routes. One of the most popular alternatives is sending their children to one of the private preschools. As Omar Davis, a Manhattan dad of two, explains, “There aren’t a lot of good resources for pre-K kids that aren’t private” (Beekman) However, competition to get into these private pre-kindergarten schools makes getting into Harvard look easy.

Change in Population

It is reported that the combination of extreme wealth and the urban baby boom has made private nursery school admissions incredibly competitive. In a place as affluent as Manhattan, the number of people willing to spend $15,000 a year tuition for private nursery school has flourished in recent years. This is in large part due to the rise in the white population and an increasing number of upper and upper-middle-class families staying in the city as opposed to moving to the suburbs.

According to 2010 Census estimates, for the first time since the 1970s, Manhattan’s population is predominantly non-white Hispanic (Roberts). The percentage of whites has increased exponentially from 40% in 1990 to 51% in 2009 (Roberts). In Lower Manhattan, the white population increased approximately by 25% between 2000 and 2005 (Roberts). Many accredit this increase in population to the increase of whites working on Wall Street and younger couples who stay in the city to start and raise their families (Roberts). Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, interprets the consequences this change in population has: “the borough is becoming a place for very, very wealthy people and enclaves for poor people and that middle-income people are finding it impossible to stay here” (Roberts).

In addition to the influx of wealth, the borough has also experienced a drastic increase in young children due to an urban “baby boom”. The Census Bureau approximates that the number of children in Manhattan under the age of five has increased by approximately thirty percent between 2000 and 2006 (Saulny). This is incredibly problematic in respect to entrance into schools as “New York City has about half the capacity it needs for its youngest students, public and private,” contests Betty Holcomb, the policy director of Child Care Inc., “Even if you’re rich, you’re not guaranteed a place in a preschool” (Saulny).

This change in the demographics of Manhattan’s population translates to a change in values and ideals of the society as well. In his article, “The Price of Perfection,” author Michael Wolff comments on the complete transformation of Brearley, the preschool his daughter had attended, from when his wife had graduated in 1970. He notes that this shift mirrors the change that has occurred overall in Manhattan:

“My wife’s Brearley class differs substantially from my daughters’ classes. My wife’s classmates were children of writers (predominantly, it seems, New Yorker writers), Columbia academics, publishers, doctors, and lawyers as well as socialites and product brand names — most of whom have largely been replaced in my daughters’ classes by the children of people in the financial industry. This clearly mirrors what has happened in the city itself — banking, providing never-before-imagined levels of cash flow and vastly scaled-up net worths, has changed these schools as it has changed (sleeked up, amped up, intensified, competified) Manhattan life”  (Wolff)

Ronnie Moskowitz, director of The Washington Market School (TriBeCa), comments on the transformation of TriBeCa from  “the old-hippie network”

to “the old-boy network”: ”It’s a new generation of parents,” she said. ”It’s the $2 million lofts. We were used to having aging hippies here and artists and pioneers. They were willing to live without much, no shoe stores or supermarkets. Now, parents walking in are asking about reading and worrying about testing. They’re parents who’re afraid of being judged.”

As the economic and social returns associated with college attendance flourish rapidly, higher education has become progressively more important to American social and economic mobility. That said to succeed in today’s global economy, a quality education has become essential. To many Americans a “quality” education translates to mean one that is solely attainable from an Ivy League College (Chan).

From Preschool to Princeton

As college admissions have become increasingly more competitive over the years, upper-middle and upper-class City parents have become increasingly more concerned about their child/children attending the right high school (Nursery University). Considering that the majority of private schools tend to children in grades K-12, admission to a quality preschool has taken on vast meaning. The competition for preschools is not merely over the quality of the nursery school, but rather the schools in which the preschool feeds the children to in the ensuing years (Nursery University). Most specifically, what many refer to as the ”Baby Ivies” — the private schools that have a reputation for their students gaining admission to the Ivy League schools (Nursery University).

The New York Daily News featured an article concerning Nicole Imprescia, a Manhattan mother, suing York Avenue Preschool for “jeopardizing” her daughter’s chances of getting into an elite private school, or one day: the Ivy League. Allegedly, the court papers filed by Ms. Imprescia implied that the school has essentially damaged her child’s chances of getting into a top college, citing an editorial that recognizes preschools as the first step to ‘the Ivy League’ (Martinez). “When their 4-year-old doesn’t get into preschools,” education journalist, James Atlas, says, “many of these social elite think it’s the beginning of the end. They didn’t get on the track. It’s not gonna happen for them. They might have to move to the suburbs. Every dire possibility unfolds before your eyes” (“Nursery School Scandal”). One must question how it is possible to even attain and formulate a legitimate argument against a preschool for supposedly “ruining” a child’s future academic success. The argument lies in the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA), a standardized test used for lower elementary admissions for private schools in New York City.

The Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA)

The Educational Records Bureau, known colloquially as the ERB, issues the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA) for lower elementary admissions for NYC private schools (Jones). The ECAA (most commonly referred to as the ERB) was developed in the 1960s to prevent children who were applying to multiple private schools from having to take numerous tests (Jones). It is comprised of a series of assessment tests designed to measure cognitive abilities and current development level (Jones). For preschoolers, the test is made up of eight sections—four that test verbal skills and four that test non-verbal skills including picture concepts, coding block design, and matrix reasoning (Jones). The scores are then combined to make a full scale composite score.

In New York City, the ERB has been interpreted by the public to be the determiner of a child’s future academic success. In large part this is accredited to the fact that it is an important component of a prospective student’s application to lower elementary private schools. Needless to say, many of the most competitive preschools acknowledge this and use it to their advantage to draw in future applicants (Anderson). York Avenue Preschool, for example, claims on their website that their students have consistently tested well on the E.R.B and that they “are very proud of [their] Kindergarten placement record and work closely with the ongoing school Directors,” accompanying this claim with a list of schools their children have been accepted into. 

The Mandell School, another highly respected preschool in New York City, also features a separate file for the schools their students have been admitted into over the years. Evidently, these preschools acknowledge the significance of the E.R.B. and many have developed curriculums that essentially “teach to the test”—making them even more desirable and the competition even fiercer.

The Building Blocks of Future Academic Success

As previously stated, many of these competitive private preschools have adapted curriculums essentially catered to preparing children for the E.R.B. Rather than allowing the children to whittle away the days of early childhood playing dress-up or chasing one another around the playground, these preschool programs enacted expose them to games and activities that help the kids develop a wide range of skills needed to perform well on the test. These games and activities go far beyond building blocks and coloring, however.

At Horrace Mann, where tuition costs approximately $26,880, four-year-olds are taught reading and computer readiness (Goldman). At the 92nd Street Y, a highly respected preschool in the City, children participate in an archeology “dig” and sculpture projects (Goldman). These are only two examples that provide some insight to the many diverse and advanced programs these private preschools offer. In reality, the vast majority of these highly sought after schools offer students on-staff child psychologists, yoga and music specialists, and language professionals (Goldman). Many even offer on-site testing for the ERB to insure matriculation at a good private kindergarten (Goldman).


The admissions process has become incredibly stressful for parents where observed play sessions, time-consuming interviews, escalating tuition costs and application fees, and preferences shown to legacies of the school have become the norm (Anderson). To cope with such an exhausting process, many anxious New York parents have even hired professional school placement consultants, such as “Smart City Kids” to get their children one of the limited, coveted seats (for the price of $4,000). With a preschool application process that resembles that of a collegiate one, it is not surprising that such corporations exist in the competitive environment of New York City (“Nursery School Scandal”).

At many of the most elite private preschools, such as Episcopal and Christ Church Day School, parents and children meet independently with the director and a few teachers for an interview. Other schools hold play-date ”interviews.” At the Y, for example, a small group of parents, their children and teachers assemble in a room and interact with one another for approximately forty-five minutes. One parent, an investment banker, recollects on her experience of taking her 20-month-old son on an interview at the City and Country preschool: ”The head of [City and Country], the head of admissions and several teachers were observing and taking notes on a clipboard, ‘I wondered, ‘What are they looking for? What are they writing down while he’s playing at the water table?”’

The truth of the matter is that the admissions process for these top preschools is incredibly daunting and difficult. The application process begins on the Tuesday after Labor day—a day many New York City parents refer to as “Black Tuesday” (Greene). This is the first and arguably most vital step in the process as it is the day that most private nursery schools send out their applications. If parents were to miss this day, they will not be able to receive an application to those schools for the year. That said parents are advised to start calling at nine in the morning, considering that many of the schools run out of their applications by noon. “Staying organized and on top of those dates and deadlines is really critical,” Roxana Reid, educational consultant and founder of Smart City Kids, adds, “Otherwise, you can be out of the process before you even get started” (Greene). Once parents receive the applications for the respective schools, the ensuing months are filled with open houses and interviews. This step in the process is incredibly vital in determining an applicant’s success as it is not only the children being evaluated, it is the parents as well. Wendy Levey, Director of Epiphany Community Nursery School, explains that school directors are “looking for families who will be a positive part of the community,” and therefore parents should, “From start to finish, treat the process with respect, care, and attention” (Greene). Moreover, many of the preschools require parents to compose short essays  that entail discussing the child’s strengths, weakness, and other personal attributes. This task, though seemingly simple, has proven itself to be incredibly challenging for parents as many have expressed the difficulty of “profiling” an 18-month-old (Saulny). Rabbani, Manhattan father of two, asks, “What do you say about someone who just popped out?” “You’re just getting to know them yourself” (Saulny).  After all of the applications have been completed and open houses have been attended, parents are encouraged to send a “first choice letter” to their favorite school. All that there is left to do is wait.

The sad reality is that regardless of how qualified an applicant is, acceptance to one of New York City’s private preschools is not guaranteed.  Subsequently, parents invest heavily into recommendations, connections, and referrals. Needless to say, connections matter—and many of Manhattan’s most powerful and well connected are willing to go through great lengths to secure their children spots. Jack Grubman, former telecom stock analyst and multimillionaire, is one man that will attest to this claim. Once considered a highly respectable figure on Wall Street, Jack Grubman was convicted of giving a favorable rating to AT&T stock in exchange for his twins’ acceptance into the 92nd Street Y in 2002 (“Nursery School Scandal”). In addition to this scandal, he had Citigroup donate one million dollars to the Y. Needless to say, his children got accepted into the school though the representative from the Y stated that the large donation had no influence in the decision (“Nursery School Scandal”).. Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, commented on the scandal and explained how this occurrence is hardly confined to this one example: “…buying entry into these schools has gone on in the elite community for as long as I can remember. Some of them tell you how much you have to put up, some of it’s done by winks and nods” (“Nursery School Scandal”).


The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the nursery craze largely involves white and affluent parents who perceive acceptance into these schools as a determinant of self-worth in New York City’s elite social circles (“Nursery School Scandal”). That said it appears almost as though the children are mere products and the parents are consumers. Preschools are supposed to be the places where children meet their first friends, learn to share, and bask in the innocence of childhood. The cutthroat competition that has emerged for entrance into these prestigious New York City private preschools contradicts the real purpose of preschool.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School opened its doors to eight children of the working poor in 1878. It was founded by Felix Adler who firmly believed that the children of the poor should and deserved to be educated. By 1890, the school expanded to accommodate the upper-class after they had began expressing interest in attending. Today, tuition costs approximately $30,000 per student. It is ironic that this school, primarily designed to serve children of the poor-and-working-poor classes, has evolved into an institution that caters to the most advantaged of families. With an annual tuition of $30,000 and an application form that has a $60 fee, applying to this school is practically impossible if you are not financially sound. To conclude, private preschools in New York City have evolved from institutions designed to provide relief for disadvantaged and low-income families to an institution that symbolizes pride, status, and success for the wealthy parents of New York City.


Anderson, Jenny. “At Elite New York Schools, Admissions Policies Are Evolving.” The New York Times, September 5, 2011, sec. N.Y. / Region.

Barnett, W. Steven. “Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education.” The Journal of Human Resources 27, no. 2 (April 1, 1992): 279–312. doi:10.2307/145736.

Beatty, Barbara. 1995. Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Beekman, Daniel. “Exclusive: Not Enough Free City pre-K Programs as Applications Outnumber Available Seats 8 to 1 in Some Neighborhoods.” NY Daily News, March 4, 2013.

Chan, Sewell. “Nursery School Frenzy, Caught on Film.” City Room, November 17, 2008.

Gallen, Thomas. “The Importance of Pre-kindergarten Education | Other Opinions | Bradenton Herald.” Bradenton, March 17, 2013.

Goldman, Victoria. Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools, 6th Ed. 6th ed. Soho Press, 2007.

Goldman, Victoria. “The Baby Ivies – New York Times.” New York Times, January 12, 2003.

Jones, Elise. “ERB Testing: What the Heck Is the ERB and What Do Moms Need to Know?” Mommybites New York, December 28, 2011.


Jr, John E. Pepper, and James M. Zimmerman. “The Business Case for Early Childhood Education.” The New York Times, March 1, 2013, sec. Opinion.

Kuczynski-Brown, Alex. “New York Class Size: Nearly Half Of Public Schools Have Overcrowded Classrooms, UFT Says.” Huffington Post, September 26, 2012.

Martinez, Jose. “Manhattan Mom Sues $19K/yr. Preschool for Damaging 4-year-old Daughter’s Ivy League Chances,” March 14, 2011.

“Nursery School Scandal.” ABC News, January 5, 2006.

Paulson, Amanda. “Pre-K Programs Take Biggest State Funding Hit Ever.” MinnPost, April 30, 2013.

Read, Katherine H., and June Patterson. 1980. The Nursery School and Kindergarten: Human Relationships and Learning, 7th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Roberts, Sam. “White Population Rises in Manhattan.” City Room, June 4, 2010.

Sangha, Soni. “For City Parents, a Waiting List for Nearly Everything.” The New York Times, February 22, 2013, sec. N.Y. / Region.

Saulny, Susan. “In Baby Boomlet, Preschool Derby Is the Fiercest Yet.” The New York Times, March 3, 2006, sec. Education.

Simon, Marc H., and Matthew Makar. Nursery University. DOCURAMA, 2009.

Spodek, Bernard, and Olivia N. Saracho. 1994. Right from the Start: Teaching Children Ages Three to Eight. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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Sheff Lecture–Amanda Gurren

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Amanda Gurren

Sheff Lecture

Professor Paris

April 18, 2013

Today,  I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture hosted by guest speaker Michael Paris, a professor at SUNY Staten Island, during common hour at the Rittenberg Lounge.  I came into the lecture feeling fairly on top of my game (as you will) considering I am rather familiar with the Sheff v. O’Neill case and the district’s ongoing and relentless pursuit for school desegregation.

After Professor Paris went into a brief history of the Sheff v. O’Neill case, he discussed the politics implemented by Sheff’s lawyers and offered some insight into the lawyers’ approaches. This intrigued me the most, because I never really explored the tactics employed by the lawyer and whether or not their strategies were that effective. That said Professor Paris provided his audience with a brief list of criticisms. To begin, he question if the lawyers were too focused on the consequences of the wrong, and not the wrong itself.  He explained that the lawyers might have put far too much emphasis on the “damaged children” (the consequences of the wrong) rather than the wrong itself (in this case, racial concentration and isolated poverty). Furthermore, he argued that the lawyers’ argument strayed away from the positive of racial isolation and identity. As he explained, Professor Bell was quite infuriated by this common misperception that Blacks are a damaged race. He then began asking his audience a series of questions, such as “How can you say it’s race,” or “What conception of racial justice allows it to be said that it is race and not poverty?” I looked around the room and the audience seemed to be struggling as much as I was to answer the question. How could one make a legitimate argument that racial segregation has caused this drastic inequality between the Hartford district public schools and the public schools of its surrounding suburban counterparts? In reality, it is a combination of race and poverty. However, I learned in Professor Dougherty’s course last semester that it was far too complicated to keep the economic component in the lawsuit and was subsequently taken out. Should the lawyers maybe have tried harder to include that in their case—if it had stayed in the original complaint, would we see more positive results with the school desegregation effort? I’ll leave you, the reader, with that food for thought. Moving on, the last criticism Professor Paris provided was that there were no real confrontation or protests. Professor Paris seemed to believe that the most effective way to get results is with protests and confrontation—pressure on those in charge, as you will. Needless to say, this criticism was met with some disagreements by the members in the audience. Members of the audience seemed to argue that confrontation and protests are not necessarily the most effective means of getting one’s point across. Professor Paris seemed to have backed down a little on this stance upon some debate with a member of the audience.

A Strategic Search for Scholarly Reviews: Doug Harris’s Value-Added Measures in Education

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#13 How do you locate a scholarly reviews of Doug Harris’ book, Value-Added Measures in Education? Describe your search strategy and summarize criticisms of his book.

A Strategic Search for Scholarly Reviews: Doug Harris’s Value-Added Measures in Education

To say the least, I was not entirely sure on where to begin my search for scholarly reviews of Doug Harris’s book, Value-Added Measures in Education. In part, my confusion was attributed to the ambiguity of the term “scholarly.” What exactly determines what would make a review “scholarly?” Is it a review written by a professor and/or a person with some higher level education affiliation? Regardless, I knew I had to start somewhere.

That said my motto has always been “when in doubt, use Google,” so I simply typed in “Scholarly reviews of Doug Harris’s book Value-Added Measures in Education.” Unfortunately (yet admittedly, unsurprisingly) my Google search did not provide me with much other than some blogs and articles citing the book. None of which seemed “scholarly” or at least appeared “scholarly” based upon my interpretation and understanding of the word.

I then decided to turn my attention to the “Search Strategies Resource Page” (compliments of Jack) and checked out Unfortunately, my attempt was yet again unsuccessful, as no results matched my search of “Value-Added Measures in Education au: Doug Harris.” I decided to make my search less specific and took out the “Doug Harris.” To my delight, I did get results, however, there were far too many “matches” and only one of which actually applied to Doug Harris’s book. Yet again, no “scholarly” reviews were found and it was back to the drawing board. 

With an escalating frustration, I decided to make an appointment with Jack the following day. Together we went through and discussed various alternative search strategies. I began by searching EBSCOhost for “Value-Added Measures in Education” in the “title field.” I was relatively successful with two matches—one written by Stephen Sawchuk called “‘Value Added’ Use at Secondary Level Questioned” and another review written by Lane B. Mills, featured in School Administrator. Two matches was a good start, but I knew it was not enough and my search resumed. 

More hopeful, I decided to try my luck again and check out the “Google Scholar” search engine. I used the “advanced search” and typed in “Value-Added Measures in Education” in the “with exact phrase” box and clicked on the “Since 2012” link to the left.

To my delight, about 36 searches appeared in approximately 0.06 seconds. One of the results I found was a rebuttal to a rebuttal, as you will.  The authors had written a review of Harris and his book, which was later greeted by a response from Harris and low and behold, here I was reading the reply to Harris’ rebuttal. It was written by Clarin Collins and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University where they were essentially defending and standing by their original interpretation of Harris’ belief that “value-added is good enough to be used for educational accountability” (Collins 2012 pg.3). After quoting various sections of Harris’s book, they conclude by asserting that they are standing by their original review of Harris’s book and furthering that “value-added is not good enough to be attaching any sort of consequences much less any such decisions to its output. Value-added may not even be good enough even at the most basic, pragmatic level” (Collins 2012 pg. 4).

In summarization, the book was incredibly controversial. Generally speaking, the criticisms of Harris’s book did not vary greatly. Many of the reviews praised Harris in his ability to express the pros and cons of value-added most comprehensively (Collins 2011 pg.2) Most common of the criticisms was that there was no real definitive conclusion in the book and in effect, “…readers will take away various perceptions on the author’s stance” (Collins 2012 pg.3). Furthermore, many of the criticisms featured claims that Harris’s logic was often times confusing “…even for readers who are familiar with value-added and the research” (Collins 2011 pg.2). Support for this claim was Harris’s belief that demographic information should be left unaccounted for when calculating value-added, however he maintains that “research evidence” indicates that students deemed as disadvantaged grow at slower rates (Harris pg. 75). Critics of Harris argues that this claim “counter[s] his logic that these factors should go away over time” (Collins 2011 pg.3). Additionally, Harris has been criticized for downplaying the importance of the various concerns and issues presented in the book that completely contradicts the very essence of value-added and its sensibleness—drawing support from Harris’s segment on the method’s inability to properly judge teacher effectiveness and the inadequate attention said issue received.

For some interesting reviews on Harris’s book Value-Added Measures in Education check out the following:

Collins, Clarin & Amrein-Beardsley, Audrey. (2011 November 23). Review of Value-added measures in education by Douglas N. Harris. Education Review, 14. Retrieved January 25, 2012 from

Collins, Clarin & Amrein-Beardsley, Audrey. (2012 January 27) Reply to Harris. Education Review, 15. Retrieved April 4, 2013 from

Scherrer, Jimmy. (2011). Measuring teaching using value-added modeling: The imperfect panacea. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 122-140.

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Research Proposal–Amanda Gurren

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Research Question: Has competition increased for entrance into top elite pre-schools in New York City, and why?

Relevance/Why it Deserves to Be Researched: How did we get to the point where competition for preschools is the norm? I have consistently questioned this ever since I had asked my mom why in the world we had moved from lively, wonder-filled New York City to that of a boring, seemingly bleak suburb in Fairfield county. After her grocery list of  mundane reasons, she blurted out that she could not get my brother into a decent preschool. Now, this response came to me as a complete and utter shock considering my brother was at that time pursuing his undergraduate degree at Tufts University. I remember chuckling to myself at the time that my seemingly “prodigy-esque” scholarly brother was incapable of passing a test that probably entailed differentiating colors from one another and the proper technique of finger painting. Granted, I was unable to grasp the reality of the situation at hand and what was occurring in education reform around the United States.

I have read various accounts of concerned parents and their experiences with this frantic (and many would argue, ludicrous) registration process for pre-kindergarten schools in New York City. What has caused parents/guardians of New York City to go through such extreme lengths to secure a spot for their children in a prestigious pre-kindergarten program? Could it be simply accredited to the fact that the NYC school system is ill-equipped in its ability to tend  to the educational needs of the volume of children within the five boroughs? Or could it be accredited to the belief that these pre-k schools will better a child’s academic success in the years to come?

Regardless of the cause, it is undeniable that the preschool application process has become cutthroat and incredibly heated in New York City. The admission process has escalated to the point where observed play sessions, interviews, parent-written essays and profiles of children have become a part of the application norm in many of the most elite preschools in New York City and other parts of the world.

How I Searched For Primary and Secondary Sources: To begin, I simply typed into the Google search engine “preschools in New York City” where I was immediately greeted with hundreds of thousands of hits. I found one website in particular ( to be completely intriguing where it provided me with a sort of database to search the best schools in my general area. That said I plan to revisit the website later on to discuss how elaborate, time-consuming, and confusing the entire application process actually is. I wished to narrow it down with adding “Competition preschools in NYC” and found a wide range of sources—ranging from blogs to discussion boards, all the way to New York Times articles. Most of these articles were about the competition that has arisen for the most elite private preschools in New York City and the havoc that has come to engulf the application process.

I then acknowledged the fact that I needed something of more substance and began my search for books. I know for certain that I will read some chapters of Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough for some of the studies conducted about the importance of a pre-kindergarten education in a child’s life and determine if and how these studies may have played an important factor in the competition that has arisen for preschools.

Furthermore, I searched “JStor” for scholarly articles written and studies conducted that explored the benefits and impacts of a quality preschool education. I stumbled upon various articles written by prominent scholars in the education field (listed below in the bibliography). In my opinion, “JStor” is an incredibly effective search engine in that most materials posted there are legitimate and credible.


Anderson, Jenny. “At Elite New York Schools, Admissions Policies Are Evolving.” The New York Times, September 5, 2011, sec. N.Y. / Region.

This New York Times Article provided great insight into Trinity, one of New York’s top pre-schools where the acceptance rate of 2.4% for those families who have no ties to Trinity,  joking that getting into Harvard that has an acceptance rate of 6.2% look “easy.” This article discusses the importance of legacies and siblings—a factor I previously only associated with high school and college admissions.

Barnett, W. Steven. “Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education.” The Journal of Human Resources 27, no. 2 (April 1, 1992): 279–312. doi:10.2307/145736.

Belkin, Lisa. “Competition for Preschool.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

“Competition for Preschool the Fiercest Yet – College Confidential.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

A comment that really stood out to me in particular, which was posted by member “Roshke” on March 3, 2006 at 2:23 p.m: “This article just about blew my mind. Safeties for preschools?? Thick and thin envelopes expected next week?? Essays for 18 month olds?? I kid you not, in NYC they now have seminars dedicated to “idea starters” for preschool application essays. And a sought after school consultant there claims that it is impossible to overstate the importance of the essay in determining, what else, demonstrated interest!!!!!!! And the icing on the cake had to be, are you ready for this…….an EARLY DECISION option – for PRESCHOOLERs!!!! What is this world coming to? I’m (almost) speechless.”

I feel as though this discussion board in particular will really provide me with great personal accounts and feedback on the issue at hand, which will in effect add that extra voice I need for my research paper. I understand that this is not an incredibly valid website, but it does provide me with some insight into the public’s mindset and reactions.

Karoly, Lynn A. Preschool Adequacy and Efficiency in California. 1st ed. RAND Corporation, 2009.

Saulny, Susan. “In Baby Boomlet, Preschool Derby Is the Fiercest Yet.” The New York Times, March 3, 2006, sec. Education.

This New York Times article provides astounding statistics about the “baby boom” that has occurred in families and in part explains why the competition has escalated to such a high degree. It explains that “In 1995, there were 3,707 twin births in all the boroughs; in 2003, there were 4,153; and in 2004, there were 4,655. Triplet births have also risen, from 60 in 1995, to 299 in 2004. Because preschools strive for gender and age balance in generally small classes — and also, some parents suspect, as many potential parental donors as possible — it is harder to get multiple slots in one class” (Saunly).

“Think Applying to University Is Tough?  Try Applying to Preschool in NYC.” ParentDish. Accessed April 2, 2013.

NPR Staff. “N.Y. Preschool Starts DNA Testing For Admission : NPR.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

This article I found to be most startling. This was done as an April Fool’s Day prank by a radio host claiming that a new prestigious school was opening, which actually required students to take DNA tests to determine his or her admission. Allegedly this article stirred up so much chaos people were calling the radio show asking immediately where to send the applications and where the DNA tests could be performed. This joke and the parents’ reactions to said joke reiterated the fierce competition that engulfs the admission process of these top pre-schools in New York City.

Palacios, Kim. From Preschool to Grad School: Strategies for Success at Any Level of Competitive Admissions. Luxe Publishing, 2012.

A book that provides the admissions fundamentals needed for the top pre-school all the way to the top grad school. The author claims that these fundamentals are the same—regardless of the age of the student or the level of education.

Wana, Jenifer. How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School. Sourcebooks, 2010.

This book is a step-by-step guide for parents to choose and get their respective children into the right preschool—from schools that enroll essentially every child to competitive preschools that only accept a few applicants. I am interested to see what the book suggests for those parents looking to enroll their children into these competitive schools.

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More Funding= More Diversity: Addressing the Issue of Racial Imbalance in West Hartford’s Magnet Schools

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More Funding = More Diversity

Addressing the Issue of Racial Imbalance in West Hartford’s Magnet Schools

By Amanda Gurren and Emma Hayes

The Connecticut State Board of Education Assembles

HARTFORD, CT–On Wednesday March 6th, the Connecticut State Board of Education assembled at the Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut. Members of the Board, including Commissioner Stefan Pryor, opened with kind words in remembrance of a colleague, Ellen Camhi—a member of the State Board of Education since March 2011. Camhi was regarded as having “a fierce commitment to providing opportunities that would result in significant improvements to academic achievement for all students, including those who need greater assistance.” After kind words and memories were shared amongst the Board, a brief time was allotted to members of the audience. They were then given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding pressing education issues of the Connecticut public school system. Invitations were extended out for the Board to attend. Concerns of escalating racism in the schools were voiced and emphasis was placed on the need to close the student achievement gap across the state. Members of the West Hartford Board of Education then came to the floor to address the racial imbalance in the Florence E. Smith STEM School and Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford. The meeting continued as scheduled.

The West Hartford Board of Education along with the district’s superintendent passionately began proposing their plan to promote racial diversity in two of their magnet schools, with the hope of approval from the State Board of Education. The eyes of the West Hartford Board of Education members lit up with great hope for the community as they began to explain their proposal. The audience was asked to direct their attention to their right, where a plasma television screen fiercely projected a simple yet efficient power point and in essence, the vision held for the future of West Hartford.

The Board of Education Listens to Proposal to Decrease Racial Imbalance in Magnet Schools

The reason for this meeting  was due to a report received by the Connecticut State Board of Education on May 17th 2012. The report revealed that the Florence E. Smith STEM school and Charter Oak International Academy were deemed racially imbalanced. The Connecticut State Board of Education subsequently asked the West Hartford Board to come forth and explain ideas to fix the racial imbalance within the schools. The West Hartford Board accredited their failure to overcome racial imbalance in their magnet programs to the lack of available magnet slots in the respective schools. Their vision for West Hartford is that all of the schools reflect the rich diversity found in the community as they achieve at the highest level. In addition they expressed their hopes to start at pre-school, confident in the belief that the earlier the youth embark upon education, the more of an impact education will have upon the children.

Similarly, the vision they have for Charter Oak International Academy is that of a magnet where students from all over the area are eager to attend due to its unique educational offerings—“The school that everyone wants to attend,” a member of the board exclaimed with utmost enthusiasm. The board smiled in agreement. The representative continued, voicing his hope that the school will be composed of an expressive, curious, collaborative, and creative student body with an enhancement of academic achievement.

The proposal is to increase the proportion of magnet students to approximately half the student population of each school by increasing classroom space. The West Hartford Board proposes to add onto Charter Oak’s building, a luxury Smith does not have due to lack of space. Yet they propose to set aside fifty spaces at Charter Oak to accommodate transfer students from Smith. Specifically in attempt to draw students from other attendance zones, the West Hartford Board intends to expand out-of-school activities and gifted level instruction for all grades. They also propose having math acceleration for kindergarten to fifth grade students as well as the option for eighty students to enroll in a pre-kindergarten program.

The West Hartford Board is thus requesting grant funding for the purpose of school construction in accordance with Section 10-286h of the Connecticut General Statutes, which allows construction reimbursement for schools deemed as “diverse” by the state. Although both magnet schools are technically considered racially imbalanced in the eyes of the state, the section says “If one or more schools under the local board’s jurisdiction is racially imbalanced and such board has demonstrated evidence of a good-faith effort to correct the existing disparity in the proportion of pupils of racial minorities in the district, as determined by Commissioner of Education”, a district is suitable for the grant.

The West Hartford Board appeared incredibly eager to begin the project and expand both schools’ influence over the community of West Hartford. Their vision, however, cannot become a reality without the proper funding. They express their acknowledgment of the racial imbalance, but draw everyone’s attention again to the plasma screen television and begin reading down the bulleted list at the steps they have taken thus far. They argue that they already have extended the distinctiveness of the offerings at each respective magnet school—International Baccalaureate (IB) at Charter Oak and STEM at Smith. Additionally, the board has increased the marketing effort for both magnet schools, in hopes of attracting a larger and more diverse applicant pool. Although there has been a recent improvement in results, the numbers will not get below the 25% threshold with the current approach alone and thus, more funding is a vital component for the success of their proposal.

Video Analysis: American Teacher

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American Teacher Film Analysis

As Nelson Mendella once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” An excellent educational system has always been regarded as a fundamental component for a strong democracy. Today, however, America’s public school system is rapidly deteriorating, with those attending schools in urban districts suffering the greatest of the repercussions (Carey). That said the debate concerning what can be done to improve the educational system has been prominent in the United States for decades. In spite of the amount of attention and money invested into the issue, little progress and improvement is evident. One conclusion that has arisen from the debate however is that there is a need for better teachers. Although research has proven that a great teacher is an imperative factor in a child’s future success, America’s teachers are incredibly underpaid and often unappreciated–receiving criticisms left and right for why America’s public schools are in the condition that they are (Carey). Vanessa Roth’s “American Teacher” portrays the disturbing truths of today’s teachers, the trouble of attracting qualified educators, and why the majority of America’s greatest and most qualified teachers are abandoning the classrooms and turning to alternate professions. Is there hope for American education? The filmmakers of “American Teacher” believe that there is, but only if Americans are able to disregard this misconceived notion that teachers are the number one public enemy of the education system. Instead, teachers must be considered dutiful “public servants” who are there to cater to the children and transform them into good and able citizens well adjusted for this democratic society (Turan).

The renowned documentary “American Teacher” was created by the Teacher Salary Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness on the working conditions of public schools throughout the country. The project began with the publication of Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, a hard-hitting exposé on the struggles educators endure, retaliating against Fox News commentators who claim that the country’s public schoolteachers are merely “public servants who are only serving themselves” (Harvey). Since the project’s creation, supporters–ranging from concerned parents and teachers to large foundations, such as the Isabelle Allende Foundation–of education reform have contributed greatly to the movement in hopes to see positive change made in the public school system. The film addresses the hot-button problems in education reform: how to not only find, but maintain capable teachers as well. Experts in the field have argued that it is an absolutely imperative thing a school must do to sustain and improve student achievement levels (Turan). The staggering statistics presented in the film concerning our serious deficit of qualified teachers and our inability to keep those that are qualified in the field exemplified this problem further. For example, approximately 1.8 million teachers will be eligible for retirement in the next ten years (Turan). Moreover, an astounding 20% of teachers in urban districts quit every year, while reportedly 46% of new teachers leave before their fifth year—a turnover that costs an estimated $7.34 billion each year for school districts (Turan). The question has evolved from “Where are all the good teachers?” into “Where are all the good teachers going?”  Perhaps most importantly, the filmmakers question, is “Why are all the good teachers going?”

Real wages for teachers have been in a thirty-year decline, the filmmakers argue, which has led to a weakening in teacher effectiveness. According to Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, the low teacher salaries are accredited to the recruitment and prevalence of female teachers in the profession. The common belief during the early to mid twentieth century was that women are to be supported by their husbands. Thus the belief was that their teaching wages would be a mere supplementary income that did not need be very high. This has had terrible repercussions in that by decreasing teacher salaries, fewer qualified candidates seek out careers in education (Roth).  By the 1970s and 1980s, the reduced quality of teachers was exemplified through the low academic performances of students in the United States (Carey).  Increased salaries, the filmmaker’s maintain, would alleviate the damage done. To depict this, the film introduces you to four principal characters—Erik Benner, Jonathan Dearman, Jamie Fidler, and Rhena Jasey—whose lives and careers are closely portrayed over the course of several years. These characters, through their personal stories and recollections of teaching, have inadvertently provided great insight into the lives of the 3.2 million teachers in the country (Turan).

In spite of the vast differences in backgrounds, sexes, races, geographical locations, and departments in which they teach, there is one underlying similarity between all of the teachers—the insufficient salaries involved in the teaching profession. Erik Benner is a middle-school history teacher and coach at Trinity Springs Middle School in Keller, Texas. He is also one of the few men remaining in the profession, where the decline of male teachers has allegedly been dropping steadily from 34% in 1970 to a staggering low of 16% in 2011 (Turan). Erik confesses to viewers his love for teaching and coaching, however that his $54,000 annual salary is not sufficient enough to support the needs of his family. Subsequently, Erik was forced to take an additional job. Erik comes to symbolize the two-thirds of teachers in America who are also forced to take up second and third jobs.

American Teacher (50:48)
American Teacher (50:48)

Erik discusses the time demand of teaching and coaching at length, which contradicts what many people presume are the regular work hours of teachers. The filmmakers weave in an animation that involves the actual number of hours teachers work per week, which often exceeds sixty-five hours (Turan).

American Teacher (29:46)
American Teacher (29:46)

Furthermore, the documentary introduces you to a character by the name of Jonathan Dearman. Mr. Dearman reminisces on his time teaching at Leadership High School in San Francisco, California. As an African American male (only 35% of teachers are African American) he finds the issues surrounding the urban schools—which are primarily minority—particularly disturbing (Harvey). The producers included interviews with former students and peers of Mr. Dearman who speak of this beloved teacher with utmost respect and admiration. Unsurprisingly, the two students chosen to provide commentaries were incredibly successful academically: a law student and a graduate of UC Berkley. The producers deliberately chose these two student success stories to further persuade the viewers of the importance of a good teacher, such as Mr. Dearman. Loran Simon, one of the former students of Dearman and a current law student at the University of San Francisco considered Mr. Dearman “a pillar of Leadership High school.” Mr. Dearman ultimately left behind his life at Leadership and took over the family business in real estate sales where the filmmakers shot him in his new office showing around a client. They contrasted this image with a rather sad looking school that seems void of life and deplete of happiness. He is one of the many teachers who, despite being good at his job, has to make a sacrifice to support himself financially. This only contributes to the already bleak status of inner-city schools.

American Teacher (45:29)
American Teacher (45:29)

The viewers are also introduced to Jamie Fidler, a first-grade teacher at Philip Livingston School in Brooklyn, New York. Ms. Fidler reports how she annually spends approximately $3,000 of her own money on classroom supplies that should be supplemented by the school. Jamie Fidler is incredibly concerned with this, as she not only serves as the primary source of income for her family, however has a newborn child. The filmmakers deliberately chose a scene of Jamie Fidler frantically trying to find a place that she can pump her breast milk. It truly tugged at the hearts of the film’s viewers as this woman had just given birth six weeks ago and cannot be with her baby. Instead of taking care of her newborn, she is taking care of twenty children that are not her own. The strain of work is indirectly affecting the lives of teachers’ families, to the point that teachers need to essentially choose between their professions and their respective families.

Lastly, there is Rhena Jasey. Ms. Jasey earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and two master’s degrees. She recalls her friends’ and colleagues’ reactions when she told them of her decision to enter the teaching profession. She got responses that usually entailed, “You went to Harvard!” and “You should be a doctor or a lawyer.” In spite of her desire to make a difference by educating the youth, Rhena found that the lack of salary made it incredibly difficult to stay at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey. Although she loves her students and “thinks about them everyday” she found the offer from TEP Charter School in Washington Heights, New York City far too compelling with a starting salary of $125,000 per year. Teachers cannot afford to take low-paying public school jobs, robbing children in those schools of effective, well-educated teachers. Overall, the combined testimonies of these four teachers offers a very grim outlook for the future of our public education system and our children.

Ninive Calegari, one of the co-producers of the film, said in an interview that she wanted to create a film that exposed not only the troubles, but also the ludicrousness teachers face on a day-to-day basis. Absurdities that include (but are not limited to) buying their own supplies for the classroom or having to hold down second jobs to support themselves, all the while trying to disprove the old saying: for those who can’t do, teach (Harvey). I would have to commend her on this, because the film painted a vivid portrait of the poor conditions and obstacles teachers in America must endure. While I do agree that teachers do face a great deal of criticism and are in many respects underpaid, I do not believe that increasing teaching wages, or rather, improving the working conditions for teachers is the sole solution to school reform. Critics of the film have argued that the film primarily focuses on pay as if it is the only factor plaguing educational dysfunction, yet very little is said about student absences, disengaged parents, among other pressing issues (Willmore). Even if it were, with consideration to the current political debate over teacher salary reform, the film never specifically addresses how to finance these increased salaries. The film has also been criticized for presuming that teaching is the most vital of the undercompensated jobs, while farmers, social workers, and others might disagree (Willmore).

Moreover, as made evident by the teachers featured in the film, they all shared similar sentiments about “knowing” they were meant to be teachers. Teaching is a challenging and demanding profession that attracts a very particular type of person. This “type” of person is generally characterized by his or her ability to be patient, compassionate, and must have some sort of liking of children. Unfortunately, not everyone in this world fits this particular “type” and consequently the selection pool of teachers (let alone qualified) is already a relatively small proportion of the population. Additionally, I was fairly confused in respect to the ambiguity of what the filmmakers defined as a “good teacher.” Is it one who forms strong bonds with his students like Mr. Dearman? Or is it someone who is an incredibly intelligent Ivy School graduate, such as Ms. Jasey? They also fail, critics argue, to mention how one should properly assess a teacher and what distinguishes a teacher from being either “good” or “bad.”  They failed to mention that the current method of assessing the success of a teacher has created a climate of fear within the schools (Ravitch). In fact, the method of assessment has actually given way to school scandals and reported incidents involving school officials changing incorrect answers on tests to raise their students’ scores (Ravitch).


Carey, Kevin. “An Admirable Move From the Country’s Biggest Teachers’ Union (Yes, You Read That Correctly).” The New Republic, July 11, 2011.

Harvey, Dennis. “» American Teacher.” Variety, n.d.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. First Trade Paper Edition, Revised and Expanded. Basic Books, 2011.

Roth, Vanessa, and Brian McGinn. American Teacher. Documentary, Biography, History, News, 2011.

Turan, Kenneth. “What the ‘American Teacher’ Has to Teach Us.” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2011.

Willmore, Alison. “American Teacher.” AV Club, n.d.,62512/.

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Avoiding Plagiarism

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Example 1: Plagiarize the original text by copying portions of it word-for-word.

The value-added scores also vary between years. A teacher who obtains a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the following year. There will continuously be instability in these rankings, some of which will reflect “real” performance changes.

Example 2: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, without copying it word-for-word.

No measure is faultless, but the approximations of value-added and other “growth models,” which try to separate the “true effect” of a particular teacher via his or her students’ test scores, are disturbingly prone to error in any given year. Economist at New York University, Sean Corcoran, examined the teacher assessment systems in Houston and New York City.

Example 3: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, and include a citation. Even though you cited it, paraphrasing too closely is still plagiarism.

He discovered that the mean “margin of error” of a teacher from New York City was plus or minus 28 points. Thus, a teacher who has tiered at the 43rd percentile contrasted to his or her contemporaries may perhaps be anywhere between the 15th percentile and the 71st percentile (Ravitch 271).

Example 4: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, and include a citation to the original source.

Although there is no way to properly evaluate a teacher, the value-added and other variations of “growth models” are especially detrimental and prone to error—regardless of the year (Ravitch 271). For example, Sean Corcoran, an esteemed economist at New York University, carefully assessed the systems used to evaluate teachers in a number of public schools consisted within both New York City and Houston, Texas districts (Ravitch 271).

Example 5: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, add a direct quote, and include a citation to the original source.

Because of how the system essentially functions, there is a strong likelihood that there will be no stability in teachers’ rankings (Ravitch 271). Fundamentally this means that although a teacher may receive one particular ranking in his or her first year, the teacher is most likely not going to receive the same ranking the ensuing year (Ravitch 271). Due to this sort of instability, only some of the rankings will truly “reflect ‘real’ performance changes” (Ravitch 271). Consequently, the system is incredibly faulty and it is no longer a system evaluating teachers’ performances—rather, a system that evaluates the teachers’ luck (Ravitch 271).


Works Cited:

Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books, 2011, pp. 270-71.

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My Learning Goals

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I wish to learn about the policies that have come to shape today’s schooling system. I wonder which previously enacted polices essentially compromised certain individuals’ and/or group’s educations and which proved themselves to be considerably successful. Are there any plausible solutions to today’s arguably unequal educational system?