2000-03-25 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Nobody asked me but:

  • By killing the summer school contract with the teachers before it was even presented, the mayor has sent a message to Chancellor Levy. That message is "Welcome to the city bureaucracy, now go home."
  • The idea that teachers will volunteer in droves because they could possibly earn a free domestic airplane ticket is laughable. If Randi Weingarten, the UFT president (who was never a teacher), thinks that a plane ticket would do it, she is even more out of touch with her members than I thought.
  • I have taught summer school the last two years and would have probably done so again this summer, bonus or not. The fact is, however, that the system will not get the needed 17,000 teachers without some sort of signing bonus. Probably, the $1,500 figure that had been bouncing around before the mayor gave it the kibosh would have been enough, but now teachers are angry and it might take more. One incentive that would not be considered a gimmick would be for the money earned during summer school to be made pensionable. That would draw all of those teachers who are within three years of retirement because the summer school money would then increase their pensions. The state would have to approve that move, however, and there is little chance that the mayor would go for anything that improved a teacher’s pension.
  • If the UFT were a real union rather than a social welfare organization that is more interested in the kids than the teachers it is supposed to represent, it would call on all teachers to eschew summer school this year just to teach the mayor a lesson. I would love to see Giuliani going into an election season with 322,000 parents angry with him because their kids were left back without the chance of redeeming themselves in summer school. He really can’t afford to anger that many people and he knows it. It would be interesting to see what the teacher’s refusal to work in the summer would mean not only to summer school, but to the impending end of the teacher’s contract. If Weingarten tells the mayor that she is going to withhold teachers from summer school unless his administration comes through with a decent contract that matches that of teachers in surrounding counties he might have to come through with a fair contract. This could not be considered a "strike" or a "blue flu" because teachers are not mandated to work over the summer. It would be a financial burden to those teachers who count on summer work, but it might be worth it to them in the long run to say "no" to Giuliani.
  • The federal government says that Latino students are twice as likely as blacks and three times as likely as whites to drop out of high school. There is one easy explanation for why that is happening. Take a look at bilingual education. It destroys Latino students like an A-10 destroys tanks. Yet, the feds keep mandating the program because it is politically correct and it has become a major educational industry with a life of its own. The solution the feds have come up with to stop the drop out rate? More dual-language programs and more bilingual education programs. It’s time to stop the bologna and move to an English language immersion program that will teach the one language that the kids will really need to lead a normal life.
  • I know that I have said before that the mayor is trying to destroy the public school system in New York City and that some people think that such a statement is just hyperbole. It is not! The mayor would like to take all the money now used for public education and put it into charter schools and vouchers that would allow parents to send their kids to parochial schools. Floyd Flake, who will most likely be our next mayor, probably agrees – especially since he runs one of the largest parochial schools in the nation and would love to get some of that public money. The two politicians had a setback last week, however, when a Florida judge threw out the state’s voucher system just days after the liberal New York Times lauded it as the nation’s "boldest voucher experiment." The Times said that the experiment’s fate would depend on two things: the progress of the students in the program and its impact on the schools they left behind. It actually rested on a third thing, and that is the Florida Constitution. The judge said that the constitution barred public money from being spent on private education. That is true of the New York State Constitution as well. "Pushing vouchers in the wrong thing to do and it is the unconstitutional thing to do," says Steve Sanders, the chair for the Assembly Education Committee. "It would certainly be struck down in New York Courts." Add to that the provision in the U.S Constitution that bars spending public money to advance a specific religion. Most of the voucher money in Giuliani’s plan will go to parochial schools, and it seems that both Giuliani and Flake are now stymied unless they can get private donors to come up with the money.
  • The bill that will make it a Class D Felony to attack a schoolteacher is still bogged down in the state assembly. The bill sailed through the senate by a vote of 51-4, but the assembly does not like it because it is too tough and the assembly members believe that it will wrongfully punish kids. Tom Duane voted against the bill in the senate because it was not "broad" enough. Duane, a gay activist, wanted to see bias incidents treated the same way as assaults. Other senate members who voted against the bill say they did so because the bill would "criminalize children." I guess that kids who attack teachers are not to be considered as criminals, but as "misguided youth." The days for such thinking are long past. The assembly is, as one editorial put it, "the home office of liberalism." We have to keep the pressure on our two assemblywomen – Audrey Pheffer and Pauline Rodd Cummings. They must be made to understand that, liberalism or not, this is a seminal issue with teachers and there is no place that they can hide should they not support this legislation.
  • It is not clear to me what the district was trying to do when it sent out letters to the parent(s) of each student who had been identified as "promotion in doubt" on an individual school’s A-501 list. The school had already sent out letters (two or three times in some cases) to the parents. The telephone contact numbers listed in the letter were not always numbers at the district office. The people who were to be contacted (many of them were not even Board of Ed personnel, but instead work for Aspects 27) had no information to give the parent. They could do no more than tell the parent that the kid was indeed on the list. Why the individual student was on the list was known only to those in the school – to the principal and AP’s, to the guidance counselors and the person who had generated the list in the first place. So, the parent gets a letter from the district and calls one of the telephone numbers listed. If they get through to the district, they get a person from the attendance program. Their conversation might go something like this: "I got a letter from you that my child is being left back," the parent says. The person at the district checks the list and says, "yes, your child is on the list." "Why?" asks the parent. "I don’t know," says the person at the district office. "You will have to call your school to find out." Now, was that calling necessary? Why not simply have the parents call the school in the first place? Why not save all that expense and forget the district letters entirely? Tis a puzzlement that can be answered only by saying that the letters were an exceedingly expensive way of checking that the schools were doing their jobs.
  • I did lunch duty last week and it seems to me once again that special education students are the major disciplinary problem in the majority of schools. The federal mandate is that they must be "mainstreamed" with general ed students for both lunch and gym. That is a mistake and the union should begin to address that with the people who make the rules.


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