Property Grunt

Monday, December 08, 2008

SCARSDALE IS F**KED!: Scarsdale launches the charm offensive.

Fiendish Scarsdale High School! You done f**ked up now!!!

Well Whoppity doo, isn’t this a coincidence, Just when US News and World Report releases their college and ratings issue detailing Scarsdale's fall from grace and the ascension of Yonkers, The New York Times publishes this super fluffy bunny with a bit of bite of an article of how honky dory things are in Scarsdale with the Advanced Topics program.

I am not accusing anyone but I do question the timing of the publication of this article. I suspect that that certain parties wanted to soften the blow from Scarsdale High School's low rankings in the US News and World Report.

Here are some bits and pieces that I think you will find appetizing:

SCARSDALE, N.Y. — The Advanced Placement English class at Scarsdale High School used to race through four centuries of literature to prepare students for the A.P. exam in May. But in this year’s class, renamed Advanced Topics, students spent a week studying Calder, Pissarro and Monet to digest the meaning of form and digressed to read essays by Virginia Woolf and Francis Bacon — items not covered by the exam.
A similarly slowed-down pace came at a cost for some students in one of Scarsdale’s Advanced Topics classes in United States history; it was still in the 1950s at the time of the exam, whose main essay question was on the Vietnam War.
Sarah Benowich, a senior, said that the A.T. approach had improved her writing but that she would have liked more dates and facts worked in. Despite studying Advanced Placement exam review books on her own, she still felt “shaky on some of the more concrete details,” she said.

More objective measurements have been mixed, with fewer students taking A.P. exams, and average scores rising in five Advanced Topics courses but dropping in two: United States history slipped to 4.2 out of 5 from 4.4 the year before (Sarah got a 4) and United States government fell to 3.4 from 3.8.

And despite concerns from some parents, 49 percent of the 2008 graduating class are attending the nation’s most competitive colleges — a group of about 80 schools identified by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges that includes the Ivy League — compared with 45 percent in 2007.

Despite some students getting smacked around by the AP test due to the lack of proper preparation, the class of 2008 looks rather impressive.

And the principal is not wasting anytime swinging his testicles around and savoring the glory of this new age.

“We have the luxury of being able to move beyond the A.P.,” John Klemme, Scarsdale’s principal, said in a recent interview. “If people called it a gold curriculum in the past, I refer to this version as the platinum curriculum.”

Whoa there big stallion, there are others who beg to differ.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization, derives about a third of its $600 million revenue annually from Advanced Placement exams, which cost students $86 each (schools can keep $8 of that fee to pay for proctors and professional development). Schools do not pay to run A.P. courses.

Trevor Packer, a College Board vice president, questioned why Scarsdale was “pointing a finger” when each school is responsible for designing its own A.P. curriculum, subject to the College Board’s review. He rejected the notion that the Advanced Topics courses were better preparing students for college, and noted that Scarsdale continued to submit syllabuses from its Advanced Topics courses for review.

“To us, their courses don’t look any different from high-quality A.P. courses,” he said. “Simply changing the letters on the course from A.P. to A.T. looks very cosmetic to us.”

Scarsdale still has its fingers in the AP pot which is odd since if they are so confident with the new curriculum, the why are they collaborating with those they despise?

The change has also drawn criticism from some parents like Jill Rosell, a mother of two, who resigned as president of the Scarsdale Council of Parent-Teacher Associations and later moved to nearby Chappaqua.

“There was never a compelling rationale for them to change it,” Ms. Rosell said. “I have not changed my mind, one iota, about the value of A.P. courses.

Ms. Rosell, if you are reading this, you did the right thing. From what I have read there was no reason for Scarsdale to ditch the AP curriculum and God knows what the results will be down the line. Why subject your children to the unknown? You are better off in Chappaqua.

Richard Brodow, the superintendent in Millburn, N.J., said that he was considering adopting “the Scarsdale model” but that it would not be easy, noting that his high school was recently ranked best in the state by New Jersey Monthly magazine based partly on the number of Advanced Placement exams offered and the percentage of students scoring 3 and above. “The reality is that it means a lot to people in the community,” he said after observing Scarsdale’s Advanced Topics classes last month.

He is a top educator but he knows that the customer is always right i.e parents who pay taxes in the community. Brodow is not going to dare mess with the secret sauce unless he has the leverage to do so. That will only happen if Millburn High School’s status plunges and something drastic needs to be done.

As you can see there is a bit of dick slamming going on in this article, which can only be silenced when the true facts come out. That will only happen after at least ten years have passed and the numbers are compiled on students who participated in the AT curriculum and comparing it to students who were part of an AP curriculum. That also includes 10 years of college acceptances from that same pool of data.

I stand by my assessment that unless you plan on sending your kids to private school avoid moving to Scarsdale at all costs. Besides the drop in school rankings, the educators of Scarsdale are taking a spit and bailing wire approach to countering the to the Advanced Placement courses.

A handful of exclusive private schools, including Ethical Culture Fieldston, Dalton and Calhoun in New York City, have abolished Advanced Placement courses in recent years, but Scarsdale has set a precedent for high-achieving public schools. It did so deliberately, investing $40,000 to bring in 25 professors from Harvard, Yale, New York University and other top colleges to help develop the Advanced Topics curriculum, and having guidance counselors contact admissions officers at 130 selective schools to explain the change and gauge any concerns.

What does 40 K buy you? Not a lot. What Scarsdale is probably getting are some emails and phone calls from some tenured professors who are giving out some suggestions and maybe a couple of PDF’s of syllabuses of college courses that the teachers at Scarsdale can crib from in order to create their “original curriculum.” Besides lip service from professors, the guidance counselors now probably have a bigger expense budget to schmooze with college admissions officers and try to sell the Advanced Topics courses over a steak dinner.

In order to implement a serious curriculum change that will not only challenge the Advanced Placement courses but also prepare your students to take the AP tests you need not one, not two but a team of educators who have backgrounds in curriculum design, educational theory,testing and one statistician. These people will also need to have a proven track record of success in completing these types of projects. Through research and evaluation, the team needs to create measurements and benchmarks in order to reach their end goal.

And even after the curriculum has been designed and implemented, the job isn’t over for the team. They need to evaluate and update the curriculum to the needs of the students and the standards of the AP on a yearly basis. They need to constantly evaluate their findings in order to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of the new curriculum are and how to further augment it. Teachers can participate but only if they fulfill the proper requirements and they are placed under command of the team.

If you want colleges and universities to take your curriculum seriously you can’t just hand this task over to a bunch of cold calling guidance counselors. You have to a pull a Barack Obama and stage a massive campaign to inform and persuade the college admissions community that not only does your curriculum go beyond the standards of all AP courses, it will also produce enlightened students that will further enrich the student bodies of all colleges. You also need to hit the educational PR circuit to alert the academic community of your new phases. This requires a consulting/PR firm that has a roster of former Ivy League presidents and one former President of the United States. Preferably Bill Clinton.

40 K does not cut it. You are looking at a budget in the high 6 figures or low 7 figures because people who specialize in massive earth shattering change do not come cheap.

“The College Board sees a challenge to their brand, and what they’re trying to do is say we never intended these courses to be prescriptive,” said Mr. Hammond, a former Advanced Placement history and macroeconomics teacher. “That’s window dressing and public relations. The truth is you still have to cover these topics, but they don’t want to say that aloud anymore because they recognize they have a political problem.”

Scarsdale is guilty of doing the exact same thing. They are using window dressing and public relations to create the illusion that the Scarsdale brand is now new and improved. The fact is that the Advanced Topics curriculum is in the user acceptance-testing phase. The only difference is that students are the testers and they are not being paid but their academic futures are being put in question.

Getting accepted to the top colleges and universities has become a constant melee for students and Scarsdale has the right idea in trying to their students an edge. But their execution is rather poor and unfortunately none of us know what the results of their actions will be for quite awhile.

Maybe I am wrong and I am overreacting. Perhaps Scarsdale, through sheer force of will and lot of property taxes will come out ahead. But I would rather take my chances with the Advanced Placement curriculum in Yonkers than take the Advanced Topics in Scarsdale. Yeah, it’s Yonkers but at least I know what I am getting myself into.

For those of who believe that Scarsdale will prevail no matter what, well here’s my answer to that.