2001-01-06 / Columnists

School Scope

You might not believe me, but there was a crystal ball on E-bay and I won the auction at only six bucks. That allowed me to see into the future and make some predictions about the education scene this coming year.

January: The second marking period ends early so that parents can be notified in a timely manner should a child be "not meeting standards." After looking at the students who failed one or more subjects, were Level I in either math or reading, and absent more than 10 percent of the time, district schools send out 29,635 letters to parents.

February: The new semester begins and the district superintendent fires five principals. He has nobody to replace them, so he chooses five teachers at random from District 15. "I know where to find the good people," he says. Three hundred and fifty teachers, 70 assistant principals and eleven principals retire or go to Nassau County schools. There are no replacements for the teachers. Seventy teachers from District 15 are brought in to the district as assistant principals. Eleven teachers are brought in from District 32 to replace the principals. The mayor continues to argue that there is no teacher shortage in the city, maintaining that it is a "negotiating ploy on the part of the unions." Class size in the elementary schools rises to 43. Class size in the middle schools rises to 57.

March: The chancellor announces a new program to bring new bilingual teachers into the system. The city will pay teachers from Spain, Puerto Rico and Mexico a bounty of $175,000 each to come to New York City to teach. There is no requirement that the new teachers speak English nor that they know anything about any of the subjects they will teach. "They will be able to address their students in their native language and that is the important issue," Levy says. The mayor’s negotiating team makes a new offer to the teacher’s union. The city will require only a six percent reduction of each teacher’s pay and will be able to move him or her from school to school at will. There will be an extra two hours of instruction each day and an extra 25 days of instruction. "This is the best deal the teachers will ever get," the mayor crows. He argues that the city is out of money because of all it has to pay new bilingual teachers coming into the system. The union turns down the offer and the mayor calls teachers "maggots who want to destroy my city."

April: The end of the third marking period shows a reduction to 7,065 of the number of students who are "promotion in doubt" because they do not meet standards. This is due to the fact that 30 teachers are fired for failing students and seven principals are fired because too many of the students in their schools failed. "We have to maintain standards," the superintendent says. "Haven’t they ever heard of portfolios?" A staff development day is held in each school and teachers are "reeducated" to pass students who have a "standards-based portfolio." Examples of such portfolios are exhibited to teachers as a guide. One such portfolio contains three math problems with the wrong answers (but the work shown in detail), two drawings of portions of "Harry Potter," two lists detailing the inert gases and the names of seven volcanoes and a picture of an Iroquois longhouse. "There is no doubt that this portfolio meets the standards for promotion," the trainer tells teachers. In addition, the attendance standard is modified so that a parental note can excuse any absence. One such note to a district school says, "Please excuse my son’s 73 absences. He did not feel well." That is accepted to meet the standard.

May: A new math test is introduced for grades four and seven students. It requires no computational skills to pass. "Teaching computational skills is mutually exclusive to children learning mathematics," the test expert who designed the test says. A student who draws a picture that correctly depicts the problem in question gets a perfect score. The student who somehow manages to get the right answer but adds, subtracts, multiplies or divides to get the answer fails automatically for "not following the testing rubrics." The mayor makes a new officer to teachers. He will only reduce teacher’s salaries by only two percent, but those who work in schools where the reading scores are below grade level will have to take a 10 percent cut. "That is real merit pay," he crows. He demands that teachers provide home phone numbers and home addresses to parents and students. "If those scum really cared about the kids, they would want to be available to them and their parents," the mayor says as he locks the gate to Gracie Mansion to all but his staff.

June: The school year ends. Seven children (all of whom have been truant the entire year) in the district have to attend summer school because they do not meet standards. All of the others meet two of the three "indicators" for promotion. More than 23,000 fail one or more subjects, but are passed along because of a standard-setting portfolio. Seven thousand students who are absent more than 60 days each are promoted because they all had notes excusing the absences. The district staff crows that "so many students have met standards that we do not have to run a big summer school program this year." They point to that fact as a great success and proof that the new standards are a success. The mayor makes a "final" offer to teachers. If they promise to allow transfers and to work 300 more hours each year, he will allow them to take a five year contract with a raise of 0-0-0-0 and 0 percent. "I have backed off on merit pay," he says, "and the scum still reject me." Students take standardized tests.

July: One summer school class runs in the district. None of the students who are required to come do so, but they are all promoted at the end of the program because they are all given Individual Education Plans that say that they can miss school 100 percent of the time. "They have met the standards we have set and deserve promotion," the superintendent says.

August: The system begins to gear up for the coming year. Teachers work for the election of a Democratic mayor. Three thousand teachers and 750 administrators put in their retirement papers. There is a workshop for the 300 Spanish-speaking teachers coming into the system to implement the bilingual program. "Because of the outflux of teachers, we are going to allow these fine teachers to work with general education students as well as bilingual students," the chancellor announces. When he is asked how they will do this since they do not know any English, he responds, "It is important for everybody to know two languages. I am sure that our English speaking students will quickly learn enough Spanish to get along in the classes."

September: Teachers continue to work for a Democratic mayor. School begins in District 27 with 753 vacancies. The mayor calls the lack of teachers a "negotiating ploy" and raises class size. "I brought in all of those teachers from other nations to alleviate their shortage. I offered them a contract with no reduction in salary. What more can the teachers want?" he asks. Class size in elementary schools rises to 53. Class size in middle schools rises to 71. Parents pull their kids from public schools all over the city. "See, I told you that parents wanted vouchers because the public schools have failed," the mayor announces. "My legacy will be parental choice for all public school parents."

October: Test scores come in. Reading and mathematics scores go down in the district. One student, whose scores went down, was asked how he could have done worse on the test from one year to the next. "What difference does it make, I’m going to get promoted anyway because I always have a standard-setting portfolio and I meet the E1A standard." At the end of the first marking period every student in the district passes all of his or her subjects. "What’s the sense of failing kids?" one mathematics teacher asks. "It just gets the principal angry with you and the student will pass anyway."

November: A Democrat is elected mayor with a big push by the municipal unions. He promises a "fair and equitable contract for all city workers."

December: The mayor takes one more swipe at getting the teachers to agree to a contract before he leaves office. He offers a one percent raise over five years. "Those maggot scum better take my deal if they know what is good for them," he screams. "They can’t do this to me in my city. I have done more for education and for teachers than anybody in history. What do they want?" The teachers turn down the contract.

January: The mayor leaves on January 1. By the tenth, the teachers have a contract that includes 45 minutes more each day and 10 days more each year in return for a $20 thousand raise across the board. Thousands of teachers rescind their retirement papers. Class size drops. The Board of Education and the local boards are abolished in favor of a board chosen entirely by the mayor. The president of the teacher’s union is the first one appointed to that board.

My crystal ball might have been cloudy on some of those issues and those quotes, but that is the general outline of what could happen in the next 12 months. Stay tuned here to find out what actually does happen.

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