2000-05-13 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Some thoughts on the passing education scene:

The new district team led by Matt Bromme has made many changes, some that I like and some that I don’t agree with. One of the changes that I like very much is that there is no longer an Expo 27, that ridiculous show and tell that took hours and hours of manpower and had no upside. Once, when I was doing "bus duty" at the Expo for three days, one of the other district people asked me why the press did not cover the event. I told him that it was a non-event as far as the press was concerned. I told him that my first question as a journalist would have to be "If all of the schools are doing such great things, why can’t anybody read?" That still holds true today and I am not going to mourn the demise of Expo 27.

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Here’s a surprise for all of you. A recent study found that children who are in smaller classes have better test scores, fewer disciplinary problems and improved teacher morale. Anybody who has been in front of a class of 32 students during the winter and a class of 10 students in the summer can tell you that it’s an absolute lock. The smaller the class, the better the teacher can address the problems of individual students. For years, however, middle managers and ed school professors have pushed the idea that their "research proved" that smaller classes do not make a difference. The new study belies those findings and proves that the teachers were right all along. There is not much schools in this district can do about large class size, however, because so many of the schools are overcrowded that an infusion of federal money to make smaller classes in grades K-3 failed because there was no room to put the smaller groups. The solution, of course, is more classrooms, but the politicians and the community naysayers who don’t want schools to sully their backyards are stopping construction of new units dead in their tracks.

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I think that we need to do away with education degrees in our colleges and universities. There is a model that would work much better. A college graduate would leave college with a degree in a specific area -–mathematics, science, history, English, etc. After graduation, the student would apply to a district as an intern. He or she would be hired at half salary for two years. During that time the student would work with a number of master teachers and administrators in his or her specialty. The student would observe for the first few months, then team-teach and finally develop lesson plans and teach the class under the eye of the master teacher and adminis-trators. At the end of two years, the student would have the option of applying to any school in the city that he or she wanted to teach at. Most would choose to stay in the same school. The student would then go on full pay and would be tenured two years later. The student would benefit and he or she would really learn how to teach. The student would also learn the realities of the system and decide to hang around or not prior to being hired full time. The school would benefit by having an "extra hand" in the classroom and by developing its own pool of talent. Everybody wins but the colleges, who get lots of money by not training teachers. That is why it probably will never happen.

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The mayor still pushes charter schools as an answer to our educational ills at the same time that many charter schools are going under in other parts of the nation. A charter school in New Jersey that was started to give an "alternative form of education" (does that sound familiar) has gone out of business. According to one press report, the school failed because "given the freedom to learn the way they wanted, students were not learning anything, the State said." The school so threatened the education of its students that it was closed down two years before the charter ran out. This is only the latest episode in a series of embezzled public money, religious orientation, non-education and other reasons that caused schools to close or to be closed. There is a lesson in those closings. We should not be so quick to give public money to anybody without a proven track record in education.

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I cannot believe some of the pundits who took Chancellor Levy to task for "forcing" the school board members and the district superintendents to read books about education and poetry and to attend ballet and violin concerts. I don’t know if it will improve education, but it sure couldn’t hurt. Nina Segarra, one of the school board members, objected because she "prefers novels about serial killers to poetry." So do I, but I am not on the school board and I would never admit it in public. Steve Dunlevy, who hates everything about anybody connected to the school system, wrote in his New York Post column, "Who the hell is Levy to say that folks like me – who do not read poetry – lead a mundane life? Hey, Harold, ever drink a case of Bud in one sitting? No? Then shut up, Harold." That’s what we have come to in our city – novels about serial killers and a case of Bud.

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The teacher who left the answers to the mathematics test next to his pencil sharpener and then left the room should be fired for stupidity. The teacher who wrote the answers to the test questions on the board should be fired for cheating. The administrators that allowed a teacher to get the test a day early to prep her students should be fired because it is illegal to break the shrink-wrap on a test until an hour prior to the beginning of the test. The teacher, however, who changed the pitch of her voice should not be punished. We all read with emphasis. Those who should really be fired are the teacher hired by the board of education who read English so poorly that many of their students failed the test simply because they could not understand what their teacher was saying. The fact is that 99 percent of the teachers give the test the way it is supposed to be done but the one percent who do not get the ink. "There is still terrible cheating going on," said Ed Stancik, the board’s independent investigator. He found nine cases of cheating, some of them involving teachers who gave emphasis on the test while they were reading. That is nine teachers out of the 30,000 plus teachers who proctored the test. What percentage are the "bad apples" the Daily News writes of? Do the mathematics for yourself. I would not want to be considered a cheat by giving you the answer.

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Drug addicts should not be teaching kids. Period, end of sentence. A middle school teacher who allegedly was selling drugs from her west end home was arrested twice in one week a short time ago. Another Brooklyn teacher was outed by her doctors who wanted to break the doctor-patient confidentiality because they believed that she was a danger to her students. She is. The law should allow for the firing of any teacher who is found guilty of either using or selling drugs. And, it should require medical personnel to turn in any patient who they know is using drugs. This is no different that the law that educational professionals must call in suspected child abuse cases. We can do no less for our kids.

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