2000-12-02 / Columnists

School Scope Some items that are not important enough for a full column yet are too interesting to throw away:

School Scope
Some items that are not important enough for a full column yet are too interesting to throw away:

  • All the dailies were full this week of stories detailing the large increase in sexual assaults in our schools. In fact, there was no increase in sexual assaults. There was an increase in reports of sexual assaults; mostly those that really were not sexual assaults at all. Given what happened to the dean and the principal at MS 180 (What did happen to the principal? Does anybody know?), and at other schools around the city, school officials are reporting everything and anything that happens in the school, including "incidents" they would never have reported even six months ago. For example, a girl’s complaint that "somebody touched my butt when I walked down the hall," becomes a sexual assault reported to the powers-that-be. Now, you might argue that such incidents should be reported, but I have to tell you that the systems will break down very quickly under the time it takes to investigate these "assaults." Believe me, people, it is CYA time and I don’t blame the schools for doing just what they are doing.
  • Superintendent Bromme recently sent an e-mail to The Wave, decrying the paper’s decision to stop printing a number of columns, including the district’s "Focus on District 27" column (which was, in reality, not a column, but a round-robin news release) and complaining of inaccuracies in the paper. We sometimes have a problem with finding the "truth" from both the district and the central board. Both the district and the central board have high-priced public relations people on board, but they seem to have little to do with providing the public with information. In fact, I am not sure just what the district’s public relations specialist does do. He certainly does not provide information to this paper. Last week, for example, we read in a daily paper a story about a teacher at PS 43 who was involved in an assault outside of school. When we read the article, we called the district with the intent of confirming that he did, in fact, teach in a district school. They told us that they could not comment. The fact that the person who fielded the request was downright nasty to the paper’s reporter was noted to others at the paper. We followed up by calling the central board (as Bromme suggested in his e-mail) but they never responded (perhaps The Wave is not prestigious enough to call back). We then went with the story. Bromme says, "It is a shame that a tool for good has been turned into a tool for negativity and personal vendettas." He adds, "…your embellishments leave many of us to question the motives of the paper and its writers." I would like to give Bromme a D- for understanding what a newspaper is. It is not a "tool for good." It is designed and written with only one motive in mind: to tell the truth and to inform the public as to what it going on. If that pains politicians and educational leaders, that is a problem for them, not for the paper. There are no personal vendettas, only personal insights and the public has the right to read them and to understand what is being done in their name. That is the bottom line.
  • If teachers and administrators had any smarts, they would put in bids for all of the new Charter Schools coming on line. Norman Scott first made this proposal to me and it is a good one. Who better to run the schools outside the redundant rules of the Board of Ed than teachers and administrators? It is probably true, however, that the union leadership is as much afraid of a strong teacher group as the Board of Ed, and the union would not like to see teachers running schools that run outside the rules.
  • Chancellor Levy has copped out on the question of bilingual education. He had a chance to get rid of the racist, destructive program and he blew it by giving parents the right to opt in or out of the program. There are many parents who will be glad to get their kids out of the program because they understand that it is a death sentence to anybody who really wants an education. There are other parents, however, who exhort their kids to fail the LEP test so that they can stay in bilingual classes. Why? Those classes are made up only of Hispanic kids and many parents do not want their kids in class with "them," and we all know who "them" is.
  • When Levy became the chancellor, he loudly proclaimed that he would cut the bureaucracy to the bone. Has he done what he said that he would do? He moved 114 jobs from central to the districts. All that did was to increase the district budgets and cut the amount of money available to the schools. He has cut 23 low-level administrative jobs. At the same time, however, he created 18 high-paying jobs for friends of his and friends of the Democratic leadership. For example: A new chief executive for student health ($150,500); a new chief executive for organization management (The woman who fills the job at $150,500 is the former education advisor to Shelly Silver); a chief executive for corporate partnerships ($150,500); four people in a new teacher recruitment and certification office (total of $515,000); and four new administrators to oversee the Chancellor’s District schools (for a total of $460,000). Where does the money come from? Right out of the school’s budget. The question then has to be, are all of those people necessary?
  • It is no wonder that the voucher movement is on the rise. It has nothing to do with parents. It has everything to do with conservative politics and money (as usual). Two of the people, for example, leading the voucher movement are Richard DeVoss, jr. and his wife, Elizabeth. He is the president of Amway and she is a former Republican chairperson. They will spend up to a million of their own dollars to get voucher initiative passed in such places as Michigan and California. As an aside, they home-school their own four children. Another million comes from the Catholic Church. Why? Because the majority of voucher money would be used in religious schools and its passage could add tens of thousands of students to parochial school roles. The question that has to be asked here is whether the church (or, any religious institution that cannot be taxed) should be lobbying on an issue that will increase their already tax-exempt coffers?
  • School Superintendent Matt Bromme really surprised me when he announced at a school board meeting that he was planning to move away from the Carnegie Middle School Redesign Process (with its team concept) that all of us have been involved with for the past several years and which has become our driving force, to move back to individualized programming. He calls it "streaming," but a rose by any other name smells the same. Bromme has brought in Joe Capra, the able programmer from MS 226, to work with district schools on programming this "streaming" concept for next year. It seems to me to be a mistake in light of the fact that discipline and movement have been a constant problem in middle schools and under streaming, students will be moving about the building much more than under the more-contained "house" or "cluster" concept that is now in use.
  • Quote without comment from a letter sent to U.S News & World Report by John Calvert of Fargo, North Dakota: "…A century of progressive education has discredited academic achievement as the standard of success, and pseudo standards now govern the schools. Thus, the ‘successful’ schools featured in your story have low truancy, vandalism and dropout rates. They teach auto mechanics and cabinet making. And they send most of their students to college (never mind that a third of them can’t do college work without remediation). Their students are engaged, parents are involved, morale is high, they offer internships, "relevant projects," "real-world experiences" and impressive technology. And, whether anybody actually learns anything is utterly unimportant."

More in future weeks on homework and other important issues.

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