Opinion: ‘Corporate model’ is failing public education

Scarsdale, N.Y., Public Schools Superintendent Mike McGill is retiring at the end of this school year after 16 years in on of America’s most successful, financially privileged and, some might say, rogue school districts.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time covering the Scarsdale Board of Education as part of my community coverage of that upscale Westchester County community for The Daily Voice in 2011-2012.

Under his guidance, and with the cooperation of the local Board of Education, McGill guided the school district to success by bucking the trends and conventional wisdom, placing little emphasis on “teaching to the test” and stressing critical and creative thinking. In a controversial move, Scarsdale turned away from offering Advanced Placement courses and, instead, chose an in-house course called Advanced Topics.

The district also has taken part in the Global Learning Alliance in cooperation with Columbia University’s Teachers College and several of the world’s top-ranked school systems.

This week, McGill has written an opinion piece published in Education Week addressing the national focus on what he calls “high-stakes testing and related reforms.” With educational reforms and budgeting at the forefront in Norwalk and throughout the state — and while acknowledging the vast differences in resources and demographics between Scarsdale and Norwalk — we would like to share McGill’s thoughts with NancyOnNorwalk’s readers.

Click here to read “When Education is But a Test Score.”





14 responses to “Opinion: ‘Corporate model’ is failing public education”

  1. John Hamlin

    Scarsdale’s is an incredibly wealthy community with none of the inner-city demographics of towns like Norwalk. The success obsessed parents of Scarsdale provide a platform that is absent from most homes in diverse cities. What works in Scarsdale is not likely to work in Norwalk. What Norwalk needs is to crow bar our children’s future away from the teachers unions so we can reward good teachers and terminate the bad ones. But that’s never going to happen because the public is devoted to public employee unions and their mediocrity.

  2. EveT

    While I agree that most Norwalk students are significantly different from most Scarsdale students, there is merit to the argument that test scores have assumed more importance than they should.

    Is it important to have objective standards to measure whether students have learned key concepts and facts? Yes. Do students need to learn things that are harder to measure, like how to think critically and how to generate ideas to solve problems and channel creativity? Also yes.

  3. anon

    This Scarsdale superintendent is in dream land. Complains about high stakes tests, brags that 96% of his students go to 4 year colleges mostly highly selective. High stake test results like SAT or ACT needed for admittance to most colleges, parents pay big bucks to have their kids get top scores. Ignores the fact that most urban public schools in America are producing kids who can’t do math, write or read, let along critically think. The tests are the least of the problem. Students in his district are children of corporate titans with all the bonuses that come with that but he doesn’t like the corporate model.

  4. David

    “…while acknowledging the vast differences in resources…” Holy understatement batman! Mark, seriously, that line should have been a disclaimer listed at the top of this article, not buried at the end.
    That family income is the leading indicator of academic performance in this country should come as no surprise. Scarsdale has 0 (zero) high school students eligible for free lunch assistance (link: http://high-schools.com/report/ny/free-lunch-assistance-rank-in-new-york.html), average household income is $220,000. Mark, we’re not in Kansas any more, ok?
    96% of students go to college? In a town like Scarsdale, one could make a case that that’s tantamount to a failed school system. What did the other 4% do?

  5. Bsmith

    Teachers unions are corporations too. And they are fighting ‘corporate reforms’ like accountability, documentation that supports progress (also known as metrics) and, last but not least, competition.

    Scarsdale public schools don’t need competition or offer parents choices. They can do that themselves.

  6. the donut hole

    Scarsdale’s budget is north of $30k per student.
    We are somewhere around $18k.
    If we packed 15 kids in every classroom it would cost $270k. The teacher gets about a third of that. Where does the rest go? Lunch ladies? Janitors? Bus Drivers? Librarians? Overpaid administrators who can’t figure out how to save a few bucks and when they do we’re supposed to gush? When does this racket end?

  7. David

    @Donut Hole: Scarsdale’s budget is $30k per student? Seriously? Where did you get that figure from?

  8. the donut hole

    @David. Scarsdale’s website links you to the proposed budget for this year. Page 1 shows $148MM. Page 5 shows 4800 students. This FY is not done, but last FY they spent $29k per. Page 3.


    1. Mark Chapman

      @ DonutHole, et al

      Just to clarify, the intent of running the piece was to provoke some thought and conversation about the emphasis on testing and scoring rather than putting the emphasis on educating students in the way that works best for the individual situation. and es, my bias is showing here, but it is not a partisan bias. Many school systems, such as Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport and most other cities, have their scores and ratings skewed by a significant population of students who are disadvantaged financially, who are just learning the language, and who have other obstacles to overcome. There are man students who will never go to college in those schools, but they are scored and thrown into the mix that is used to rate the teachers and the schools’ success. In conversations with Dr. McGill, he played down Scarsdale’s success relative to more urban schools, pointing out that many of those schools are doing great work educating their students, but their ratings are being pulled down by the demographics. Obviously Scarsdale spends a lot of money on education (not unlike some Connecticut communities), but this is not about money. It is about the system and how we judge our schools and teachers. And, FYI, in NY the voters get to vote on thee school budget, while the municipal governing board votes on the city/town/village budget. NY has a tax cap. If the budget is under the cap it needs a simple majority of voters. If the budget exceeds the cap it needs 60 percent. Scarsdale rejected its last budget for the first time in more than 40 years, I think it was. Even wealthy communities are saying “enough, already” when it comes to increases.

  9. the donut hole

    Mark, shed some more light on it. The vote for the school budgets as you say is separate one. Let me tell you how it works having lived in Westchester for a few years. If you agree with the school budget it gets passed usually a 6 to 8% hike every single year to feed the beast. A no vote usually only means a 3 to 4% increase in YOY budgets. This is why NY is the slowest growing state in the union, not that CT is far behind. People are voting with their feet. It just happens now that CT wastes less money on education. If you want to see our future look across the sound to Huntington. 85% of their town budget goes to education now, the city’s infrastructure is crumbling, businesses won’t locate there, and the same $400,000 house with $6k in property taxes here is $15k in taxes there.

  10. LWitherspoon

    Steve Jobs on education:
    Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.

  11. David

    Mark: If that was your intention, I didn’t get that from this article. I don’t know anyone who says the current format of testing is ideal. I think, given the option, with a blank slate, we’d go a different route with education. People marvel at how the Nordic countries do education, I think we’d all love that model in place. But that’s completely unrealistic in this environment. Look at the formula for success in Scarsdale: Be rich, spend lots of money. There are very few other variables at play here. The teachers are American educated, they are unionized, they’re only a half hour from where we are. Denmark spends something like 5.5% of its GDP on education compared to ~3.5% here, and that’s heavily skewed towards primary and secondary level education – In America we heavily skew our education spending towards Third level education.
    The vitriol that is released in our community when ANY sort of school budget is proposed is incredible. I mean, it’s treated as theft. So I think the article you posted has merits, but the formula for replicating that success is so out there, it’s hard to even take it seriously. But hey, we need dreamers, right?

  12. the donut hole

    David, it is worse than theft. It is done using our children as human shields to protect those who are riding a gravy train of meaningless jobs that add no value to human existence whatsoever.
    The cost and expanse of administration is disgusting and I dare you to cite your facts on education spending as a % of GDP. When you add in college it is well over 10%.

  13. David

    @Donut Hole: You don’t have to dare me, I’ll give you a link: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2014USbn_15bs2n#usgs302
    I’ll start by correcting myself, the US is 5.8% GDP spending on education, Denmark last reported 7.8% of GDP. Higher numbers, similar differences. Perhaps you could respond in kind with your citation of “well over 10%”?
    @Mark: I offer the last response as exhibit A: “meaningless jobs that add no value to human existence whatsoever”.

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments