Now that ‘Won’t Back Down’ has become one of the biggest bombs in film history, we can forget about it and enjoy a new documentary called ‘Brooklyn Castle’ about the celebrated Chess team from Brooklyn Middle School I.S. 318. I’ve only seen the preview so far, but already know that this is going to be great.
Part of what I understand from the preview is that this school, I.S. 318, has a great culture in which Chess is cool. We can assume, then, that they must be a good school, at least in terms of student ‘growth’ and that they have ‘effective’ teachers, also in terms of how much ‘growth’ their students have relative to similar students.
As yet more proof that the NYC progress reports on which they have shut down over 100 schools, and the teacher value-added results which we can soon look forward to being used as a ‘significant’ portion of the teacher evaluations, are not accurate enough to be used for such high-stakes purposes, I took a look at their data.
According to The New York Times website, in this school only 4% of the English teachers are “above average” or “high” (insert joke here) compared to 25% of the teachers throughout the city, while 18% of math teachers are “above average” or “high.” Imagine how many Chess championships this school would have won if they had some good teachers.
In New York City schools get annual “progress reports” in which most of the grade is based on student growth relative to similar students. If a school gets three consecutive ‘C’s, or one ‘D’ or one ‘F’, they get on a list for possible closure. I.S. 318 got a ‘C’ in 2010 and another ‘C’ in 2011. In 2011, around the time this movie would have been filming, they were in the bottom 19 percent of all middle schools, according to this metric. In 2010, they were in the bottom 15 percentile. All this while they were winning national Chess championships for ten years! Lucky for them they narrowly missed getting a third ‘C’ and got a ‘B’ in 2012, which catapulted them to the 52nd percentile among New York City middle schools.
As a chess enthusiast, myself, this reminds me of the contrast between the games that NYC plays with their statistics vs. the honest game of Chess. In Chess, there is no deception. You can see all the pieces, yours and your opponents. There is no way to lie and claim that you are winning when you are not. This is in stark contrast to the games that the NYC DOE plays with the schools and teachers who they seem to view as worthless pawns.