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Kevin Welner

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New York's Rebellious School Principals

Posted: 11/10/11 12:49 PM ET

Principal Skinner may cower in the face of authority, but his counterparts on Long Island have not hesitated to take a stand against policymakers pushing a wrongheaded agenda.

Head over to www.longislandprincipals.org and see what I mean. And read the front-page article in Newsday. When confronted with New York's new system that uses students' test scores to evaluate teachers and principals, they responded with a clear statement that the policy will hurt students and should be opposed.

This was not a group of 50 or even 100 school leaders. The letter had 330 principals signed on initially. The group has now -- as I write this -- grown to 433, which is two-thirds of all the principals in two heavily populated counties in New York. And the number is still growing.

The principals' letter is detailed and strong, and the website includes a "Reading Room" that explains the research and rationale behind the letter.

Principals sometimes joke that if you put 10 of them in a room, you will have 11 different opinions. Not this time. Over the past decade, these principals had a front-row seat as they watched NCLB and related policies create perverse incentives to teach to the test and narrow curriculum, they are pushing back against ramping up those incentives. As they point out, the New York evaluation system is (ahem) untested and, in fact, flies in the face of a solid research base documenting the limitations and harms of accountability and evaluation approaches dependent upon student test scores.

In particular, these principals know from experience that the curriculum will narrow, electives will disappear, and struggling students will be steered from more challenging courses. They also know that the evaluation system will provide teachers with disincentives to teach classes with at-risk students. And so they wrote a letter that straightforwardly sets forth these and other concerns.

Importantly, the letter also includes sensible recommendations such as piloting the evaluation system, creating a common index based on scores and local concerns, and evaluating teachers and principals without attaching an invalid and unreliable number between 0 and 100.

Indicative of what I see as a growing movement of parents and others who have simply had enough of the status quo "reform" agenda, teachers, parents, superintendents, professors and others are signing on and expressing their gratitude and support (almost 1,400 names as I write this, including the 433 Long Island principals). There are, it would appear, a lot of battered but wise educators in New York who were just waiting for a letter like the one these principals wrote. And there are a lot of us outside of New York cheering these principals on. I, for one, just added my name to their list.