1999-10-02 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Nobody Asked Me But (with apologies to Jimmy Cannon):

  • It is time to forget about the educational "innovations" like Whole Reading, The New Math, Holistic Marking, PAM Tests, Writing Process and the like and go back to the old fashioned way – the way we all learned and learned well. Kids need phonics. They need to drill their multiplication tables. They need to learn grammar and spelling. They need to get a grade consummate with their answer, not with their "work." In this regard, the old is better than the new. Ask any teacher. The problem is that a good number of university professors, many who have never taught a day in their lives, use the schools for laboratories, dropping in the latest of educational drivel and getting paid big bucks as a consultant to do it. While some, such as Bank Street and a few others, assist the schools, most act in the university’s best interests, not the public school’s best interests.
  • It often seems like the schools in Rockaway and the schools on the mainland are on two different planets.
  • When I took my exams for my teaching license, I had to have 36 credits in my major and pass a tough test of knowledge in that subject area. I also had to take an English writing test and an oral. Finally, I had to teach a lesson on short notice in front of three administrators. Today, you have to pass the "mirror test." That is, if you fog up the mirror by breathing on it, you are given a license. We have to go back to the days when a license meant something other than being alive. Many new teachers coming into the system cannot read or write English. They do not have the body of knowledge necessary to teach American kids. This has to stop. Diversity is fine, but qualifications are much more important.
  • The reimbursable reading and math programs funded by the State and by the Feds have been in place for two dozen years and they have yet to have an impact on reading and mathematics scores.
  • School boards have been trying for years to come up with a merit pay proposal that would work as well for education as it does for making widgets. They have not found it because education is not like making widgets. There is no way to measure "productivity" when kids come from unleveled playing fields and when kids lives are concerned.
  • The new School Leadership Committees have become less about education and kids and more about money. First, many parents wanted the cash for baby sitting expenses and for per diem pay. Now, there is a battle over really big bucks. Who will get to train the new school committees? There are millions of dollars at stake and the "grass roots" community organizations are fighting the colleges and the educational elite for the dough. Where do the kids fit in? Forgedaboutit.
  • If I were a parent of an immigrant kid, I would get that kid out of bilingual education as quickly as possible. The central board does not know what the bilingual infrastructure has wrought, but parents and teachers do know that kids do not learn English in a bilingual class and that the program in nothing but a racial boondoggle.
  • If I were an assistant principal, or even a junior principal, I would immediately go back to working on my teacher license. Come December 15, 1999, senior teachers (those with 22 years of more in the system) will earn $70 thousand while AP’s will earn $64 thousand and principals will earn $72 thousand. What do the administrators get for the lower salary? More hours, more aggravation, more accountability and less to say in the educational ferment. Why do they do it? Beats me!
  • The mayor has pulled a real boner by refusing to negotiate with administrators unless they agree to do away with tenure. What good is a $30 thousand raise if somebody can take your job away on a whim? He has forced many good administrators to flee to the suburbs for more money and better working conditions. In some district, applicants for administrative jobs have dried up completely. The system and the kids will be the ones to suffer and the mayor will keep on doing his thing.
  • Parents should be careful of the children’s book, "Of Pandas and People." It looks like a benign book, but it is not. It is actually a polemic teaching anti-Darwinism. It describes the origin of life as "an intelligent plan by an intelligent agent," without naming that agent.
  • The Board of Education should bring back vocational high schools. Those schools trained tens of thousands of our youth as highly skilled trades persons before the politically correct decided that everybody should go to college and that trade schools were somehow second class. Our young people need marketable skills and one way to give them is through the vo-tech program.
  • Hillary Clinton should have stayed away from JHS 226 on the first day of school. While the staff can’t say it, everybody knows that her visits are disruptive. All she wants is a photo op on her way to the senate, and the kids are her props of the moment.
  • What ever happened to the Second Opportunity Schools (SOS) that Chancellor Crew loudly praised only two years ago? I haven’t heard a word about the program since then, and I have never heard of a disruptive kid entering the program.
  • I like this new school board, even if I have had differences with some it its newer members. It acts professionally and has the desire to work for kids. Unfortunately, the new School Governance Law took away all of its power and most of its motivation.
  • If the state is going to force new teachers to take dozens of hours of advanced education that will cost the teachers thousands of dollars, then the state should pay for those courses. It is wrong to tell a person that they must spend $20 thousand to keep their jobs and to pay them $28 thousand a year as a salary. That will keep many good people from entering the system. I would not even care much is the courses were worth something, but most university courses are worth about what the new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum is worth less than nothing. The Regents simply found a way make the universities rich and to keep the teachers poor.
  • The Daily News piece that caused such a stir brought up once again the fact that the teachers are not failing the students. They are being failed by their community and by society. The teachers simply are put in place to clean up the mess that was caused by others. The school system has neither the expertise nor the wherewithal to do that job.




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