2001-06-02 / Columnists

School Scope by Howard Schwach Some odds and ends from the education scene:

School Scope by Howard Schwach
Some odds and ends from the education scene:

The school in which I work recently got a package from the Education Department in Washington, D.C. It was addressed to "Principle, JHS 202" instead of "Principal, JHS 202." Is it any wonder that things are as they are if the federal bureaucracy that is mismanaging education can’t even spell the word that denotes the leader of the school?

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The Board of Education is taking a step beyond the "new math" to give us "constructivist math." "Experts" who have never been involved with classroom instruction drew up the program. No longer do students use addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Those are old hat under this program. Instead, students "discover" answers to mathematical problems by "working in groups utilizing reading passages." Those who push the program argue that pencil and paper are out. They say that forcing a student to learn to do the traditional things one always did in studying mathematics is "detrimental to understanding mathematical concepts." And, you wonder why Johnny can’t learn.

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Chancellor Levy recently announced that he will hand out individual bonuses of up to $15,000 to supervisors at 300 city schools whose schools "outperformed similar schools in standardized tests." The announcement came at a time when the CSA, the supervisor’s union was busy pounding out an agreement on how the money would be distributed. Why now, you ask? Because the chancellor and the mayor want to show the money to teachers and tell them, just as they are negotiating a contract, that they too can have the money if they would only give in on merit pay. Remember, the principals gave up tenure and summer vacations for the sake of vying for the bonuses and for the big bucks. Many are now having second thoughts. "City Hall is making a blatant attempt to end-run the bargaining process," UFT President Randi Weingarten said. "They want to wave a wad of money in front of teachers in entice them into a merit pay contract." I don’t often agree with Weingarten, but she is right on this account.

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The story I did on Matt Bromme’s memo to his troops last week has brought lots of comment. Many of those who E-mailed me wanted to know why UFT District Chair Harolyn Fritz was copied in on the memo. They questioned as to whether she had to obey all of Bromme’s edicts as well. If so, what is she doing in that position? She is at the district office to protect the rights of her members, not to obey edicts from Bromme. Another questioned, "What kind of leader needs to put that kind of thing in writing and distribute it to his staff?"

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There is a possibility that upwards of 15,000 teachers will retire between June and February. That number does not even include those teachers who will go on terminal leave and those who will leave for more money and an easier gig in suburban schools. In one school that I know of, a young teacher left to go to a Nassau County school last year. They liked her work so much that they asked her if there were any more teachers like her back in her old school that might want to come to her new school. Four young, top-notch teachers are now undergoing the hiring process at that Nassau school and will probably all leave at the end of June. That’s what happens when the pay is low, the working conditions are horrible, and kids get to call teachers and administrators names and get away with it.

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I am in favor of tests, but things are getting ridiculous. Check out what all eighth graders have to go through in May and June: A two-day ELA English Language Arts test; a two-day TEM Mathematics test; a two-day Social Studies test; a Science practical test and a Science written test and a Technology test. Those students in Regents and SP classes also have to take an accelerated English test, a Science Regents, a Sequential I Mathematics Regents test and a Spanish accelerated test. That is 13 test days for many of the eighth grade students over 40 days and at least nine test days for all students. That is just too many tests in too few days for kids who are basically 13 years old.

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Speaking of tests, those students who use public money in the form of vouchers for private and parochial schools do not have to take the state tests as public school students do. It is almost impossible to compare public school and private school performance. The private and parochial schools like it that way. Even the schools who do use the state tests are under no obligation to make the scores public, even to parents.

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I was wrong, by the way, when I said last week that Norm Scott was a member of the UFT’s Executive Board. He is not. He is, however a member of one of the organized opposition groups and therefore goes to all of the meetings. The fact that he is not an exec board member, however, does not take anything away from the things that he writes, because they are usually right on.

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Mayor Giuliani wants the city council to pass a law that would put a teacher or administrator in jail should he or she fail to report "sexual misconduct or anything else that injures the health of a child." That is a good idea, but it will be tough to prosecute. For example, a female student comes up to a teacher, points to a boy and says, "He touched my butt when I was walking down the hall." You ask, "did he do it on purpose, or was it an accident?" You can go to jail for that, because you do not have the right to investigate, simply to report. So, you go to the dean and tell him what the girl told you. He calls the kids in to find out what happened. He can go to jail with you. You go to the principal and he calls the police, as he must. A sector car responds. The girl’s parents have to be called and so do the boy’s. Somebody has to watch the kid until the police come. The parents arrive. The girl is questioned by the cops in the presence of the principal, the dean and her parent. She admits that they were just fooling around and it was an accident in passing. The girl and boy go back to class. The parents go home. The dean goes back to myriad other problems. The principal goes back to his paperwork. The cops go back on patrol. Everybody has wasted two hours. This will be repeated three or four times a day in every school in the city. Sure, real sexual assault has to be addressed, but school staff get the "He touched my butt" complaint ten times each day. There has to be some discretion to separate the wheat from the chaff prior to a police report. In this atmosphere, however, everything will be reported and nothing will get done.


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