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Progressive education's vibrant past and uncertain future

The city is full of teachers and principals who consider themselves progressive educators. But their unorthodox ideas are constrained by policies that put test scores first.

That’s the conclusion that Jessica Siegel, a former high school teacher who now teaches journalism and education at Brooklyn College, made after attending a 600-attendee-strong conference about progressive education in April. In the GothamSchools community section, Siegel writes about encountering intrepid educators who try, with mixed success, to blend the alternative approaches for which New York City schools were once famous with the accountability-oriented policies that are currently in vogue.

One of the people Siegel spoke to was Brady Smith, principal of Validus Preparatory Academy in the Bronx. Smith told her that he makes sure his students develop their skills in real-world contexts, such as by proposing land-use projects for the Port Authority, and that he wants to join a consortium of schools whose students don’t have to take Regents exams to graduate. But he also said that he doesn’t totally discount the value of data analysis. Writes Siegel:

“We use data quite a bit,” Smith told me. “But we have a broad definition of data. We look at student work quite a lot. My stance is — what does student performance look like? There are ways to measure it authentically … more than any one test.”

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