When will they shut down the ‘Brooklyn Castle’ school?

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.

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12 Responses to When will they shut down the ‘Brooklyn Castle’ school?

  1. Jesse says:

    Perfectly said Gary. Yes this is a game the DOE is playing with the lives of our children, teachers, and community schools. We are their profits, and their targets.
    Keep fighting the power Gary.
    Jesse The Walking Man Turner

  2. Diane Ravitch says:

    I saw the movie at a screening. It’s inspiring. Wonderful students, teachers, principal. Facing budget cuts that will close down the chess program.

  3. DOE suspends teacher for using a “wonky” grading policy – it’s own

    http://studentslast.blogspot.com/2012/10/teacher-suspended-for-using-same.html #satire

  4. Brad Miller says:

    I was lucky enough to see screening at The School for Visual Arts (NYC) and participate in Q&A after with director and two of the now high school chess stars, a wonderful young man and woman. Much can be learned from this film. Very interesting the pedagogical and knowledge based approach used to teach chess….. might we not learn something from this?…. How might learning the huge number of chess positions be similar to general content knowledge and vocabulary building? Maybe if we taught more kids knowledge….

    Please see Robert Pondiscio on a chapter in Paul Tough’s latest book…


    Below from Dan Willingham….

    Indeed, in some domains, knowledge is much more important than reasoning or problem-solving abilities. For example, most of the differences among top chess players appear to be in how many game positions they know, rather than in how effective they are in searching for a good move. It seems that there are two processes to selecting a move in chess. First, there is a recognition process by which a player sees which part of the board is contested, which pieces are in a strong or weak position, and so forth. The second process is one of reasoning. The player considers possible moves and their likely outcome. The recognition process is very fast, and it identifies which pieces the slower reasoning process should focus on. But the reasoning process is very slow as the player consciously considers each possible move. Interestingly, a recent study indicates that the recognition process accounts for most of the differences among top players. Burns (2004) compared the performance of top players at normal and blitz tournaments. In blitz chess, each player has just five minutes to complete an entire game, whereas in a normal tournament, players would have at least two hours. Even though play was so sped up that the slow reasoning processes barely had any time to contribute to performance, the relative ratings of the players were almost unchanged. That indicates that what’s making some players better than others is differences in their fast recognition processes, not differences in their slow reasoning processes. This finding is rather striking. Chess, the prototypical game of thinking and reflection, turns out to be largely a game of memory among those who are very skilled. Some researchers estimate that the best chess players have between 10,000 and 300,000 chess-piece chunks in memory (Gobet and Simon, 2000).

    Burns’s (2004) study of chess skill meshes well with studies of science education. A recent meta-analysis (Taconis, Feguson-Hessler, and Broekkamp, 2001) evaluated the results of 40 experiments that studied ways to improve students’ scientific problem-solving skills. The results showed that the successful interventions were those that were designed to improve students’ knowledge base. Especially effective were those in which students were asked to integrate and relate different concepts by, for example, drawing a concept map or comparing different problems. Interventions designed to improve the students’ scientific problem-solving strategies had little or no impact, even though the goal of all the studies was to improve scientific problem solving.

  5. Nancy says:

    Such a pity these kids aren’t learning anything

  6. Pat says:

    IS 318 is a wonderful school with dedicated, caring administrators and staff. My child was given an excellent education there academically and socially. Although she was not a member of the chess team, she was involved in many other activities that the school offered,

    This school takes in many special needs children and English language learners from all over the district, The DOE over the years has forced them into higher and higher registrations so that the school became very overcrowded. This is a good way to bring a school down. However, the leaders never gave in to the DOE and their budget cuts, high enrollment and low school grades. They continued to provide for their students an environment that let them know they were going to be taught excellence and given as many extracurricular activities as they could provide, allowing the education and growth of the whole child. Students are knocking the doors down to be part of this enriching, nourishing place of learning. With the widespread showing of this movie and the determination of the staff, students parents and wider community we will not let this school be shut down!

  7. B says:

    Gary, I am close to someone at a new, high-profile charter school in NYC. Sure enough, 6 weeks in and they’re already in the process of counseling out two students. My question is, is there a certain amount of allowance for this? Or is it just straight-up not supposed to happen? Seems ridiculous.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Hi B, I don’t think they should get any free passes. I’d really like to get some more details, if possible. I could interview your friend and I can change some of the details so that it doesn’t get tracked back to them maybe.

    • Alan says:

      Well, it’s October. This is the terminus post quem when they can boot kids out but keep the public money.

  8. Jesse says:

    B, it is well known that charters educate take some children. While regular public take all children, and keep them regardless of their scores.

  9. skepticnotcynic says:


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