The most prevalent theme about academics in City Schools is that schools’ standards and expectations for students are too low. The feeling is that the district’s focus is on getting kids to graduation, rather than preparing them for what lies beyond. Some people talked about higher graduation rates for the district as a negative, as they may be a sign that more kids are being passed despite not having mastered concepts. Combined with participants’ comments about how many City Schools graduates need remedial courses in college, there was a clear call for the district to increase rigor and standards so that kids are prepared for college or a full-time job when they graduate.
Participants also expressed a belief that the curriculum is too test-focused. Education was described as test-driven rather than knowledge-driven, and participants worried that the overreliance on testing is hurting kids. Many participants feel that the current system, in which teachers and administrators feel pressure to increase test scores, should be changed. One participant from Remington sums it up well: “Everyone—teachers, administrators—seem to be so worried about these standardized tests. If I had a magic wand, I would either get rid of standardized tests altogether or, at least, much reduce their impact on kids.”
Respondents also commented on strong programs within schools, including Ingenuity (a highly accelerated math and science curriculum for middle school students), Advanced Placement courses, and the International Baccalaureate program. There was also praise for the vocational or trade programs offered at schools and a call for more of these offerings for students.
In general, participants requested that the curriculum be more flexible so that students receive instruction that is appropriate for their learning style and academic needs. We heard a number of comments about how the pace of instruction in many classrooms is determined by low-performing students, leaving higher-achieving students bored. Participants also suggested that schools need a richer curriculum and that students should have access to a wider variety of courses.