1999-07-29 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

What do you say to a twelve year old girl who failed three subjects this year when she asks you why she has to go to summer school for five hot, grueling weeks in order to graduate to high school, when her two best friends, who failed all of their subjects and skipped the standardized tests sit at the beach and will be promoted without doing a thing?

Do you tell her that it is her fault that she failed three subjects and that she should grin and bear it? Do you tell her that her two friends are resource room students and therefore exempt from the rules that everybody else lives by? Do you try and explain that life is sometimes not fair?

There really is nothing that educators can tell that girl. There is no rational explanation for why students with Individual Education Plans (IEP’s), be they resource room students who see a special teacher one period a day or be they students who are in a specialized class, will be promoted while others without IEP’s must attend summer school or be left behind.

It was a stupid, politically driven decision by a Chancellor who increasingly makes decisions based on politics rather than on edu-cational rationale.

When the decision to end to social promotion was made, all of those eighth grade students who failed two or more majors and/or failed standardized tests were ordered to summer school. Special Education advocacy groups screamed bloody murder.

"The idea that special education students would be held back was a shock, because for years there weren’t any standards for special ed," said Ed Leahy, the president of the New York United Special Education Parents.

That’s precisely the problem. For the first time there were real standards for all students. Now, they are gone. What are these special ed parents (if they indeed are parents and not advocates) telling their kids? They are telling them that, because they are special, they can fool around, do no work, fail all of their classes, refuse to take tests, but they will still be promoted. I don’t know them, but I certainly would not want to send that message to my kids.

One Queens principal quoted in a daily did not like the idea.

"First, it’s special ed students, then they start making excuses for regular ed students; so much for one set of standards for everyone," the principal said.

He is right. We set up new standards and a new rationale for promotion that motivates kids to learn. Then, we take the very kids who need those standards most and take them out of the mix. Only in New York City.

If I were a parent of a regular ed kid who did not make it in summer school and was left back, I would sue the city and I would win. There is no possible rationale for excluding special ed kids from the rules that everybody else must follow.

Who changed the rules at the last minute, taking special ed kids out of the summer school mix? Our Chancellor, Rudy Crew. What did Crew say about the change? He did not make a statement. He was probably too busy planning to raise student achievement by adding more counseling and more physical education to the curriculum. He made that commitment only a month ago.

In his stead, his minion, Judy Rizzo said "The school system remains committed to ensuring that students with disabilities meet high standards."

What a joke! What standards, Judy? Sit by the pool and get promoted?

So, 220,000 kids must attend summer school to get moved ahead. Another 18,000 stay at the beach and get moved ahead anyway. What kind of standard are we setting for our students in that way?

All we have done is proven once again to those students who must attend that life is not fair and that the only way to get their share of the pot is to be somehow different, to move from the mainstream. What a lesson!

Speaking of lessons, our students certainly can’t learn about consensus and mediation from our local School Board.

The school board held the Election from Hell last week. Shalom Becker was absent, so there were only eight members present. Steve Greeenberg and Donna Marie Caltabiano were both nominated for President. The first vote was four to four. The second vote was four to four. The third vote was four to four. Somebody made a motion to table the election, something that is not a legal motion under Robert;s Rules of Order. They tried again and again. The vote to table the election failed repeatedly, as did several ballots.

Nominations were reopened for President. Four names were put forward: Greenberg, Art Beroff, Caltabiano and Ernest Brown (the present President). Brown dropped out. So did Beroff and so did Greenberg (at least he’s a gentleman). Caltabiano, the only candidate, could not get five votes because the Rockaway contingent abstained.

After eight votes for President with no result, the board finally tabled the election.

Usually, the board members get together and decide before hand who will win the election for President, vice-president, Treasurer and Secretary. The vote at the meeting is a foregone conclusion. This time, however, it did not happen that way.

That does not bode well for the district because it usually means that the board will be at odds with each other on major issues.

A board that is stalemated in that way does little to enhance education.

They will try again in August. Come out and see it. The election might well be the best comedy show in town.


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