2003-02-15 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The "No Child Left Behind Act" is the largest unfounded mandate ever to impact the nation’s schools.

It is yet another example of a well-intentioned law that cannot work in cities such as New York and it is another example of the fact that the U.S. Department of Education, with its EdD’s from places such as Ohio State and East Pudunk U. have no idea of what education is really like in the nation’s big cites.

There are a number of aspects to the law that clearly show that lack of understanding.

The main portion of the law that impacts on New York City is the one that says that students in poorly performing schools should have the absolute right to leave that school for a better performing school.

The underlying theory behind that rule is that low performing kids in a low-performing school who are placed in a high performing school will become high-performing students.

You know as well as I do that the underlying theory is ridiculous.

You and I both know that it is not the teachers or the administration at a school that makes a school high or low performing. It is the kids.

Do you really believe that the administration and the teachers at PS 114 (Rockaway’s only high-performing school) are that much better than the administration and teachers at PS 104 or PS 105? If you believe that, I have a bridge that you might want to buy.

Under the law, every kid now attending any elementary school in Rockaway will have the right to transfer to PS 114 next September, whether there is room in that school or not.

Congressman Anthony Weiner recently issued a report on the new law and the problems it will cause the city. His report says that in School District 27, there are 8,439 kids eligible for transfer, most of them in Rockaway. There are exactly 296 open seats at high-performing schools to take those students (about 45 of them at PS 114). That leaves a minimum of 8,143 kids who "deserve" the right to transfer but who will not be able to find seats.

Weiner calls the new law "a prescription for disaster," and I believe that he is right on target.

What will happen when school opens and hundreds of kids flood the Education Department with requests for transfers to PS 114?

The decision on who will go and who will not and how many kids will flood the west end school will be made by Matt Bromme, who is now the superintendent of District 27, but will soon be in charge of zoning, transfers and the No Child Left Behind Law for the entire city.

Will Bromme obey the letter of the law and flood PS 114, overcrowding it with students who are well below grade level? Will he allow the school to maintain a reasonable class size, thereby flouting the new law? It is a tough call.

I would be willing to bet, however, that if as many as 150 kids are transferred into PS 114 from other Rockaway schools, you will see an exodus of west end parents from the school to parochial or private schools. Then, PS 114 would soon become a failing school as well.

That is the way things realistically happen in New York City.

All one has to do to see that fact is to look at the history of such schools as PS 104, IS 53, MS 180 (all in Rockaway) and of MS 202 and 226 on the mainland.

Each of those schools was considered, in the not to distant past, to be successful schools.

As more and more low-performing (mostly minority) students entered the school, parents of high-performing kids, whether minority or non-minority, began to flee the schools and the community as well.

There are those who will say that statement is racist, but it is true, and something that is true cannot be racist.

If you do not believe that this happened, you could look it up, as Casey Stengel once was fond of saying.

I know that there are not that many options anymore for west end parents. The parochial schools, such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Camillus, are already overcrowded. District 21 schools such as Mark Twain, Boody and the Bay Academy may no longer be an option for Rockaway kids once there is no longer a District 21.

The parents, however, will find a way. St. Francis will build a new school building on the empty lot it owns across from the playground. Jewish families will found a new day school somewhere in the west end. They will make it happen and PS 114 will become a SURR school, just as many Rockaway schools have become in the past.

Look at the list. Rockaway Schools Under Register Review (SURR) schools, as they call low-performing schools now include MS 198, PS 42 and PS 43. Other Rockaway schools are under "Corrective Action," which means that they are a year away from becoming SURR schools. They are PS 104, PS 183, PS 197 and PS 225.

The second rule that impacts on the city is less critical. It impacts on curriculum. The rule says that programs cannot be funded by the federal government unless they are scientifically tested and found to be successful.

I do not want the federal government deciding on curriculum for New York City.

Which reading program is better – Phonics or Whole Learning? I do not know. I am not an expert in reading education.

The problem is, neither are many of those in the federal government who are making these decisions.

In fact, many of those in university education programs who do the research that decides whether a program is successful or not have little idea of what education means in a large city.

I firmly believe that educational decisions should be made at the lowest level, at the schools. I do not believe in one curriculum dictated by the Education Department is the way to go, and I certainly do not believe that the federal government should have anything to do with local education.

Perhaps we should call the new law "No Good School Pushed Ahead," and let it go at that.

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