2000-02-05 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Nobody asked me, but:

  • The board’s present plan to build new schools in Rockaway make no sense whatsoever. The central board has earmarked a middle school for Rockaway Beach boulevard and Beach 99 street, across the street from St. Camillus. Why they need that school when MS 180 on Beach 103 street is underutilized (67 percent of maximum) is beyond me. Perhaps somebody important owns that piece of land and the city wants to buy it. The local board plan is equally as stupid. Ernest Brown is pushing an elementary school on Beach 39 street and Beach Channel drive on a piece of land to be donated by the city’s Housing Department (HPD). The city would donate the land, but the building costs would come from our district’s capital budget. I know that Ernest wants a private little elementary school for his home project, but think about it for a minute. We have an elementary school (PS 43) on Beach 28 street. We have another (PS 106) on Beach 35 street. We have still another on Beach 51 street (PS 105). Add the new school on Beach 39 street and you have four elementary schools in an area roughly one mile long (23 blocks) by three blocks wide. Brown points out that the new school can help the overcrowding or such eastern boundary schools as PS 104, PS 197 and PS 215. What he must have forgotten is that a school zone cannot jump over another school and putting kids from those schools on Beach 39 street would jump both PS 43 and PS 106.
  • I don’t mind the new chancellor hiring two new aides even though it will add $225,000 to and administrative budget and take a like amount away from the schools, but I wish he could have hired somebody who knows what is going on. One of the new aides was reportedly hired "to provide an important and possibly helpful link to city hall." He was previously a honcho for the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau where he worked for mayoral aide Fran Reiter. That certainly is a qualification for running the school system. He will reportedly be in charge of "restructuring" the board of education (read, bring it under the control of the mayor) and to bring privatization of schools to our city. The other aide is an artist and writer. He will help "make connections with the arts community." Another thing that is critically needed by the system. In addition, the chancellor hired a management consulting company to figure out how to make superintendents more accountable. The cost of the company’s advice has not yet been made public, but you can be sure that it will be in the high six figures. It is business as usual at the central board and once again, the kids will suffer.
  • I am glad that the state has disapproved the proposal of alternative schools to use "alternative methods of assessment" as a standard for passing students from one grade to another. The proposal was simply a way of bypassing the Regents exams that all other students must pass. The alternative high school argued that they did not "teach to the test" and that what their kids do is more "authentic" that the Regents exams. I am not a big fan of the Regents (although I write questions for the Grade 11 Social Studies Regents and get paid rather well for it), but if you are going to have the test as a standard than it has to be a standard for everyone. Why should one group of kids be passed along for building and flying a kite or building a canoe and a teepee while other kids have to take a difficult test? Proponents of the waiver say, "it is a mistake to think that high-stakes tests mean high standards." I say that it is mistake to allow kids to bypass tests completely by doing a project or presenting a "portfolio" rather than using a standards-based test.
  • Now that school vouchers that are used for religious schools or for religious school dolled up to look like they are no longer religious have been declared unconstitutional by a federal panel, it is time for our education-hating mayor to stop pushing for them in our city. A federal judge has ruled that a program giving thousands of Cleveland children taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend parochial schools violated the constitution’s separation of church and state. The judge noted that "nearly all of the students receiving vouchers attend parochial schools and that a program so sewed toward religion necessarily results in indoctrination attributable to the government and provided financial incentives to attend religious –schools." The fact that Floyd Flake and Wyatt T. Walker want to dress up their parochial schools and remove the icons to make them presentable as voucher schools or charter schools does not make them any less parochial in curriculum and in outlook.
  • The kids and their parents who claim that the kids are disabled so that they can get a little extra time on the SAT’s and an extra look from college entrance committees are doing themselves and society a disservice. I know that everybody is looking for "an edge," but that is ridiculous. That is what happens, however, when society attempts to "level the playing field" by giving one group a break at the expense of another. Sooner or later people in the "out" group are going to find a way to buy into the "in" group so that they can get the benefit as well. When, in our city, you keep mainstream kids back but allow those with IEP’s to move on no matter what, you can bet that hip parents are going to be looking for IEP’s for the kids before long. It is only human nature.
  • I don’t like Peter Vallone very much, but I like some of his proposals for education. He wants to mandate that classes be limited to 24 students by 2004. That would make a big difference. He wants to use incentives to hire new teachers and to retain senior teachers who plan to retire in huge numbers over the next two years. He wants public developers to build schools rather than the SCA. We should listen to Vallone on those issues, simply because I happen to agree with him.


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