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Creativity, but not rigor, on display at a school that's set to close

I spent this morning at PS 27, the Red Hook school that the Department of Education announced in December would close at the end of the school year because of its persistently poor performance. I wanted to see what kinds of learning are happening at a school deemed so bad that it must close.

Today, the school’s gym and auditorium had been converted into a mini-museum to show off last semester’s projects, and I saw some creative ones. Some of the highlights: a video about how to solve algebraic equations by three seventh-grade girls; the fourth grade’s giant timeline of Red Hook’s history; and a model of nearby Coffey Park produced by second graders who had explored the neighborhood in depth. You can view a slideshow of these projects and others.

But overall, the caliber of the work on display wasn’t strong. In particular, the quality of the writing highlighted as top examples of student work did little to suggest that the school’s abysmal reading test scores aren’t a true reflection of students’ abilities. And at a progressive school that emphasizes projects and group activities, I was surprised by how much each student’s work resembled his or her classmates’.

PS 27’s administrators say they’re seeking not just high test scores but social and emotional security for their students. The children I spoke to were obviously proud of their work and had taken the responsibility of representing their classes seriously. And while several middle and high school students I spoke to said they had absorbed the shock of learning that their school would close, they also said they hoped their next schools would have teachers like PS 27’s, who try to make learning fun. A sixth-grader, Derrick, told me he liked how teachers help him when he makes mistakes, instead of penalizing him. “If we get it wrong, they help us until we understand it,” he said. “It’s a fun way to learn.”

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