1999-06-26 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Some comments on the passing education scene as we move into the last week in the school year: 

  • Charter schools are a dead issue as far as the city is concerned. The idea died because the mayor and his minions are afraid that those schools will pay teachers more than the going city rate and that will force up salaries across the board – the last thing that the mayor wants. It is strange that everybody is giving lip service to bettering the schools, but nobody seems to have the cash to do it.


  • Even those eight charter schools announced by the State last week are dead in the water. Seems that the State did not follow the letter of the law by not holding public hearings prior to the charters being granted. When the teacher’s union and others called them on it, they said that the charters were announced, but not formally granted, so they had time for public hearings. Sure! If you believe that, I have a bridge you might like to buy.


  • One of the millionaires who got a charter guaranteed that he would raise reading scores. I want to talk to him a year from now, when the scores are in. If he takes a cross section of kids, and not all gifted students, he will have a hard time keeping his word.


  • Rudy Crew can fire all of the superintendents he wants and those superintendents can fire all of the principals they want. It will not matter. One school in Rockaway has tried very hard to raise scores. The best Language Arts teachers have the lowest performing kids. They have stellar reading teachers. They use all of the latest materials and gimmicks. In many cases, there are two teachers in the class at the same time. Yet, scores went up only a percentage point or two. When the principal, frustrated by the scores, rhetorically asked what she could do. Nobody really has an answer that the city can afford.


  • The City Charter forbids one city entity from fining another. Recently, however, schools were told that they were going to have to recycle just like you do at home. Picture the difficulty your family has in keeping everything straight and multiply that by 1000 kids and 100 adults. There are going to be mistakes, and the Department of Sanitation has been threatening principals, who are largely unable to keep kids, teachers and custodian helpers going in a straight line. Recently, one principal in the district got a personal $100 ticket with his home address. Just one more reason for principals to skip this city and to move on to some place that values what they do instead of punishing them for something they have no control over.


  • This is going to be quite a summer session, with upwards of 200,000 kids citywide pointing towards summer school. This is going to be an all-hands evolution, with retired teachers brought back to fill the spaces where active teachers cannot be found. By the way, because of their contract problems with the city, principals will make less of a salary than either teachers or guidance counselors. Maybe that’s why so few supervisors decided to work this summer, and I don’t blame them. The city continually tells super-visors that they are lower than whale you know what at the bottom of the sea and then it asks them to work for less than the teachers they are supervising. C’mon!


  • I want to welcome the two new members of the community school board, Delores Bevi-lacqua and Ronnie Schwab. Both will bring a different perspective to the board and both will soon learn that there is little they can do to further their agenda. In Ronnie’s case, her goals have probably already been recognized as I write this (Phyllis Mellone will be leaving as the Principal of PS 114) and the question is, where does she go from there. Delores has been involved with the PA and with leadership teams in a number of schools and she will bring a parent’s perspective to the board. One of the long-sitting board members told me that, when he first came to the board, he expected that he could bring change that would insure that all children would learn. Now, he knows better.


  • It will be interesting to see who takes over as principal of PS 114 now that Mellone is gone. Those parents who supported Mellone in her tenure at PS 114 are convinced that the animosity of a small group of teachers and parents with an entree to the Democratic power structure was touched off by a need on the part of that group to "control" the school. Mellone reportedly did not give them the control they wanted and she had to go. Mellone’s supporters tell me that there is one candidate who did not get the job when Mellone did, and she seems to be the darling of that group because they know that she will turn control of the building over to them. If she gets the job, Mellone’s supporters say, they will know that this was all a political power play. Stay tuned!


  • Juan Gonzalez is a columnist for the Daily News. He is convinced that Hispanic and African-American kids do worse on the standardized test because of racism. He is right. It is not the racism he is talking about, however. It is the racism of keeping kids who cannot read English in Bilingual classes where they spend 85 percent of their time speaking their home language. It is the racism of not admitting that there is a problem with the ethic of the community and its lack of male role models. It is the racism of arguing that "Black English" is as correct as standard English when they know that the kids will have to learn standard English in order to pass tests and to operate in our society. They are the true racists that impact our kids. The response of Gonzalez and others of his ilk would rather cry "racism" and demand that the tests be given in the kid’s own home language rather than admit that the kids will need standard English one day.


  • Those who push for incentives or merit pay for teachers or supervisors should look at the results of the experiment in District 32. Teachers and supervisors were promised large bonuses if the reading scores in their schools rose by a certain percentage. In fact, they fell despite the best efforts of all concerned. What does that teach us? It’s the kids, stupid!


  • With only one week to go in the school year, this will probably be the last School Scope until September unless something comes up that is noteworthy (and, it usually does). Until then, look for some school-related issues in the Short Takes column. Have a good summer. Send comments and complaints to hschwach-@hotmail.com. Thanks for reading.



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