2001-03-03 / Columnists

School Scope

School Scope

Some odds and ends on the education scene:

Matt Bromme should pay some attention to the statement made by Michael Horn, the lawyer defending Lakim Luster, a star running back for Christ The King High School. You’ll remember that Luster and Marcus Fyall (who was a standout basketball player at Bishop Laughlin before getting dumped back into Beach Channel High School) held up and shot a nursing home employee a year ago. They both pled guilty and are serving five-year terms for attempted murder. In any case, Horn told the media, "In that part of town (Arverne), people get robbed all the time. (Even) Good kids think that there are no consequences." Many teachers in this district have e-mailed me to complain that the district’s "no suspension" policy is making a mockery of education in their schools and that kids know that there are no consequences for fighting, for cursing at staff and for other transgressions that should be punished under the Code of Conduct.

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A little over a year ago, Ed Stancik issued a report that charged 52 New York City teachers, administrators and other staff members of "cheating" on standardized tests. Almost all were immediately suspended and many of them ended their career right there. Some time later, the UFT hired a private detective to check on the methods used by Stancik’s office and the conclusions of his report. The UFT discredited the report, but few took notice because it was the teacher’s union that funded the study. Now, the venerable New York Times has undertaken their own study and the paper reports that the union’s report was closer to the truth than Stancik’s. "The Times’ review has found that, in several cases, (the charges) were based on ambiguous statistical evidence and the fragmentary, unsupported testimony of young witnesses," the Times report says. "At least two of the most damaging student witnesses say they were misquoted or were misunderstood and now say their teachers did not cheat." Did Stancik apologize to those teachers? Of course not. Were they reinstated? More than half had been reinstated prior to the Times article. The other half is "pursing other interests" and has been lost to the system forever.

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I could not believe my eyes, but there was Floyd Flake (who I have some respect for even though we disagree often) sitting next to Al Sharpton (who is a racial arsonist and a liar). It seems that Flake, as the CEO of the Edison charter school program, wants Sharpton to flak for him. I suppose that Flake will now rename one of the public schools he is trying to take over The Tawana Brawley School and another The Rockaway Five School. The vote on the five schools designated for takeover by Edison will take place from March 12 to March 23. Parents will be able to vote over the phone and by computer by using their child’s OSIS number, a nine-digit number given to each kid when he or she enters New York City schools. There are two problems with that. First of all, few parents even know that the OSIS number exists, nonetheless what their child’s number actually might be. Secondly, those numbers are widely available in the schools and even parent volunteers often have access to them. There is a lot of room for fraud in that voting system.

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Carl Campanile is the education reporter for the New York Post (a little like being the conductor of a military band), and he has found that vouchers are a big hit if public money is not used to fund them. It is all in how you ask the question, he found. When the question was asked as "Should families be allowed to use school vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice," about 65 percent said yes. The same basic question, asked as "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to chose a private school at public expense," however, only 44 percent answered in the affirmative. Almost half of the people responded that they did not want to use public money to fund vouchers and the other six percent did not have a clue as to what the reporter was talking about.

* * * * *

If you really believe the mayor and the president when they say that vouchers are not necessarily used in religious schools, take a look at the recent court of appeals decision in Cleveland. The court’s finding was that 96 percent of all the children who used vouchers in that city used them in religious schools. In addition, 82 percent of all of the schools participating in the program were church-related. The majority struck down the program, saying, "This scheme involves a grant of state aid directly and predominately into the coffers of private religious schools and it is unquestioned that these institutions incorporate religious concepts, motives and themes into all facets of their educational planning." That is just what the mayor and the president (and, Floyd Flake) want, but there is no way it is constitutional.

* * * * *

The second marking period just ended and approximately 329,000 parents got letters warning that their child was not "meeting one or more of the standards for promotion." That is up from 275,000 at the end of last year’s term. Many of those students will pass in the last two marking periods and will not need to go to summer school. It is interesting that a study prepared for the central board found that private contractors hired to beef up summer school programs did no better than public school programs and that students in districts that held classes five days a week did substantially better than students in districts that held classes only four days a week even though the number of hours each student attended was the same in all districts.

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Many of the students who failed the standardized test at the end of the summer were passed along anyway because they met other standards, such as portfolio assessment. In the Chancellor’s District (those schools that were failing for three years or more), for example, only 30.7 percent of the students passed the test at the end of the summer, but 72.2 percent of the students were promoted. "There is a three-part promotion criteria," Chancellor Levy says. "Teachers appear to be exercising their judgment in a professional way."

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There are about 1,100 schools in this city. Even the Board of Education is not sure of the total number. In any case, nearly a third of the 1,100 principals in those schools have less than two year’s experience. About half of the principals have less than three year’s experience. What will happen next year, when about 500 of the most experienced principals retire? That is anybody’s guess, but the system certainly needs to address that problem now.

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Everything old when it comes to bilingual education is new again. The Hispanic powers-that-be have won the battle once again and the wording of the new rules giving parents the right to opt out of the program only after their kids are placed in the racist program goes back to the bad old days. I know that ASPIRA forced a politically correct judge to rule that kids who scored below the line on a test have to go into the program, but it is past time for the city to challenge that ruling. It may be politically correct, but it is not educationally sound and it destroys young Hispanic kids.

* * * * *

Sol Stern writes for the City Journal, a publication that really dislikes those who work for the city. Stern proposes a "quick fix for the shortage of teachers." He wants to do away with the board’s rule that experienced teachers coming into the system can only get salary credit for five years experience. I agree with Stern, but it is hard for me to believe that a good teacher with 10 years experience in a Nassau County district who is earning about $75 thousand a year wants to come to the city to earn $48 thousand. It just isn’t going to happen.


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