2000-04-15 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Only in New York City could summer school for failing students become a campaign issue in an election for congress.

The student’s summer school experience has been lost under a pile of questions about Social Promotion, standards, teacher summer school salaries, merit pay, finding a new chancellor, teacher certification, control of the school system and even the weather.

As Werner Wolfe would say, "Let’s go to the videotape" to take a closer look at some of these intertwined issues.

  • Social Promotion
  • : The idea was to kill social promotion once and for all. Students were to meet "standards" or to be left back. While the educational leadership talks a good game, social promotion is back with a vengeance. First, the board did away with the attendance standard. Late last year, the chancellor had announced that a student must attend school at least 90 percent of the time. Those translated to 162 days present, 18 days absent. That was changed shortly there after to "no more than 18 days of unexcused absence." All a student had to do to "excuse" absences was to bring a note from a parent or guardian excusing the absence for any reason. Recently, the attendance standard was killed for good. "Attendance shall not be used as the only indicator for holding a student back," the board’s memo stated. That means that a student who has good standardized test scores and passes all of his or her majors can have unlimited absences and still be promoted. In addition, plans were made to use "portfolios" to determine if a student meets "standards" rather than test scores or grades. It is possible under the new system for a student who is absent 100 days, fails a major subject or two and who is below 30 percent in standardized tests can still be promoted if his or her teacher determines that the student’s portfolio of work "meets promotional standards." You might consider that setting a standard, but I do not. Add to that the fact that special education students (and that includes all students with an IEP – such as resource room students) will not have to go to summer school and will once again be promoted whether they meet the promotion standards or not. Social promotion is once again alive and well in New York City Schools.

  • Teacher summer school salaries
  • : The State Supreme Court recently ruled that per-session salary earned by teachers in after school or summer jobs must be pensionable. If that is the case, the city will get all of the summer school teachers it needs. Experienced teachers will sign up in droves to increase their retirement income. The city plans to fight the ruling and to appeal it to a higher court despite the fact that it knows that it will lose in the long run. Instead of doing the right thing, the school board ran an advertisement in all of last Sunday’s daily papers. The ad called for teachers who want to teach summer school in New York City. It was not aimed at New York City teachers, because they already had applications and many had already applied on line through the system’s ATS computers (By the way, many believe that ATS stands for "aggravate the secretaries" rather than automate the schools). The ad seeks retired teachers, private school teachers, parochial school, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Jersey and Nassau County teachers. The chances of drawing any of those groups in the numbers needed is slim and none.

  • Who will be the next chancellor?
  • : The choice of a new chancellor has always been a political one, but the hiring of non-educator Levy as the acting has focused the media on the problem. As I write this, Levy has still not indicated whether he wants the job on a full-time basis. He was supposed to let the board know by last Wednesday, but I write this prior to the deadline. It has been noted in the media that many people did not apply for the job because they did not know where Levy stood. That is bologna. They did not apply because the job is not an envious one under the present circumstances and under our present mayor. Remember that the mayor has two reps on the school board and controls two others. He may be out of office in a year and certainly will be in two years. What person would take a job with a promise of only two years of job security? What person would take a job working for Mayor Giuliani? What person would take a job where the chance for success is small and where the promise of public disaster is so large? Let Levy keep the job, if he wants it. He has done a good job even if he has not yet directly had an effect on any classroom in the city. He can do no worse than the "educational experts" the board has hired in the past.

  • When is a teacher not a teacher?:
  • The whole issue of teacher certification has become a political one. Giuliani wanted to give summer school bonuses to "certified teachers" only. The present applications do not allow TPD"s (Temporary Per Diem Teacher) to apply. That is because the chancellor and others consider them unqualified. That is far from the truth. In fact, many of them are as qualified as any other teacher, but have been defeated by the Byzantine certification system demanded by the state and the city. Teachers who have passed all of the state and city tests and are qualified for appointment are called CPT’s. (Certified Per Diem Teachers). When they get appointed to a school, they become "appointed teachers." The State Regents recently demanded that all of the teachers in city SURR (School Under Registration Review – failing schools) schools be "certified." The chancellor just admitted that he cannot possibly meet that mandate. He cannot get experienced teachers to transfer to those schools even for a higher salary and other benefits. The state has refused to waive the rule. That is a little like the state mandating that we all be able to fly by flapping our arms and then punishing us when we cannot do it. The state wants to do away with "uncertified teachers." More than 8,000 of the teachers who entered the system this year are PPT’s. It will take them a few years to work their way through the system to become CPT’s and even longer to become appointed. That does not make them bad teachers, nor does it make them "unqualified" to teach in our schools. The mayor wanted to give bonus pay to certified teachers for teaching summer school, but not to "uncertified" teachers. The UFT could not approve that kind of plan, nor should they. A teacher is a teacher.

  • Give me the system!:
  • The mayor wants the school system to be his own play-toy so that he can dole all of its funds to parochial and magnet schools. He really does want to blow up the system. He also wants to punish the teachers for their union’s support of Hillary Clinton against him in the upcoming senatorial election. I can understand his anger. The UFT has been a steadfast supporter of Hillary even though most teachers are not. Had anybody but Giuliani run against her, the union would probably not be able to deliver promised votes to her candidacy. As it is, the mayor is so hated by teachers that Clinton will probably get the majority of the vote from teachers. This hatred controls all of his actions. The situation will not get any better between now and the November election. If anything, relations promise to deteriorate badly during the next few months. Who will suffer? The Mayor will be elected, or he will not and then he will run for governor. The UFT will survive and teachers will eventually get a new contract. It is the kids who will suffer, and that is the shame of it all.


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