1999-12-11 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Some comments on the education scene with 20 days to go in the millennium:

  • Matt Bromme is doing a decent job as acting superintendent, but I believe that Chancellor Crew has an outsider in mind for the permanent job. Bromme has bumped heads with a mainland community board over the siting of a new school and its organization. I believe that Bromme is right in proposing a middle school organization for the new school. That will allow the local board to move the sixth grades from each of the mainland elementary schools (the Rockaway schools are already K-5 and 6-8) to the newly-named middle schools. That will free up elementary space that can be used for capping the lower grades and might put a stop to all of the overflow busing that now is a regular feature in this district. It is a bold move and it should be applauded and respected.
  • I have to laugh when a principal writes to the Daily News that he does not know what his teachers are doing in their classrooms because he can’t collect lesson plans on a regular basis. The principal’s comment went something like, "I cannot collect lesson plans on a routine basis to see what is being taught in the classrooms and I cannot mandate format of the plans, even when systematic educational changes are being made by the board." I have a tip for that principal and others who feel the same way. What they have to do is leave their offices more often and get into classrooms on a regular basis. That is the best way to see what is really going on and they should quickly be able to ascertain if the teachers are really teaching the curriculum and if their lessons are addressing the new standards. The problem is not lesson plans, but rather the fact that many principals are too busy with candy sales and comprehensive educational plans and safety plans and attendance plans and other paper work details to actually ever step foot in a classroom. Some principals actually prefer it that way, finding that addressing paperwork an easier route than addressing AP’s and teachers whom are not doing their jobs. One solution would be for the district to fund an administrative assistant in each school and allow that AA to do all the paperwork. That would free the principal and assistant principals to do what they should be doing: work with teachers and become true educational leaders.
  • By the time you read this, administrators might just have a new contract. Under the proposed contract, principals (nobody is sure whether AP’s are included in the pact) would get a 33 percent raise in return for working 12 months a year and in return for giving up tenure. They would work under three-year contracts and the superintendent could terminate them each year if the school they lead fails to perform up to its goals. Those who choose to work in the poorest schools (schools under Register Review) would earn even more. Why anybody would take the job when they know that there is no reasonable chance of success and that they could be fired for not being able to bring that success is beyond me.
  • Speaking of principals, the union must have read my column when I called for the renewal of the "department chairperson" slot. Of course, they don’t call it that anymore. The slot will now be called an "instructional lead teacher." They will teach and work with teachers and it will lead to a principal’s slot just as the AP slot now does. The teacher’s union is all for the job, but the CSA, the union that represents the principals and AP’s is flat against it. "Schools needs instructional leaders who can serve as mentors and models," the UFT reports says, "It is a rare supervisor who is looked up to as a master teacher." Wonder why the CSA is opposed?
  • Sheryl McCarthy, writing in the Daily News, has once again missed the point. "Each year public school systems announce that they’re making major reforms," she writes. "They’re going to end social promotion, fire incompetent principals and teachers, create smaller classes, provide more academic help to potential dropouts, raise standards and improve morale by giving parents and teachers more say in running the schools. But steady improvement–measured by test scores and graduation rates–remains elusive. McCarthy takes it for granted that the promised reforms are carried out. They are not. Social promotion still lives on, especially for special interest groups such as special education and minority groups. Class size goes up, not down, largely because there is no room to but the increased number of classes. There has been more academic help for potential drop outs in the form of Project Read and summer school programs. They seem not to work. Standards are being raised but, once again, special interest groups rile against standards for "their kids," even calling the new standards "racist." As for School Leadership Teams, they are mostly lip service in most schools and they probably will never be much more, especially in the schools where they are needed most. It is easy to announce reforms but it is much tougher to carry them off.
  • John Leo writes for U.S. News and World Reports. Last month he wrote a column on "anticulturalism" all educators should read. He says, "anticulturalism is the dominant ideology among child development experts, and it has filtered into the courts, into the schools, into the parenting magazines, into Hollywood and into our kitchens and family rooms." It boils down to the notion that children should be able to develop on their own; that parents and schools should stimulate and encourage but otherwise stay out of the way. The emergence of the moral self must not be quashed by what Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan calls the ‘foreign voice-overs of adults.’ Children are not to be raised, but simply allowed to grow..." He adds, "anticulturalism has swamped the schools with fuzzy concepts like ‘discovery learning,’ ‘thinking strategies,’ ‘learner-centered math’ and ‘learning to communicate mathematically (as opposed to coming up with the right answers.’" If that doesn’t sound like what I have been writing about for the past few weeks, they I should take up the writing process and do some "I-searches."
  • Jim Dwyer is a columnist who often writes on Irish topics and on education. He usually pushes the wonder of parochial schools. In a recent column, however, he points out that Belfast’s future lies in integrated schools so that Catholic kids and Protestant kids can truly get to know each other. Why then, doesn’t he argue that public schools are best here in New York City? Isn’t it as important here for kids of varying religions and ethnic backgrounds get to know each other? I think that he knows the answer.
  • All of the "educational experts" in those think tanks out there look at the Japanese school system as a model for us to emulate, at the same time they are lauding multiculturalism and diversity. The fact is, there is no diversity in the Japanese school system, nor is there any diversity. A new report says that "the Japanese way of education often means unrelenting pressure on families, biting competition between children and fiery jealousy among parents." Recently, a Japanese housewife was arrested in the slaying of a 2-year-old girl. Police say that the 35-year-old woman killed the girl because the girl had been accepted to a top kindergarten program and her daughter had not been accepted. She wanted to open a slot for her daughter. That is certainly what I want for American education.


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