2003-04-19 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor's Desk By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk
By Howard Schwach

Those of you who have been following my writing over the dozen years or so that I have been writing for The Wave know that education is one of my ongoing interests.

Even after 30 years as a teacher, programmer, staff developer and curriculum writer, I cannot get it out of my system.

That is why recent events have both interested me and angered me.

There are certain truisms in education that those in the system know well but that those not involved with the system do not seem to be able to see.

+ Nothing will be done to make the city school system any better until the discipline question is addressed and until disruptive and dangerous students are removed from the schools. No new governance system, no new curriculum, no new math system or reading system will amount to a hill of beans if the schools are dangerous and education is disrupted by the same students over and over again. Much of the problem in our schools is that the parents of those who do want to learn have opted out, sending their kids to private and parochial schools. Many of them are disenchanted with the religious education their kids get, but will not put them into what they consider to be "dangerous" classrooms situations. This must be addressed before anything else can be accomplished.

+ Politicians should not be allowed to have anything to do with schools. They should specifically be barred from writing laws that impact the schools. The same is true of the courts. Both have had such a negative impact on schools that the schools may never recover. Witness a few recent examples: State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno telling teachers who were asking for the restoration of school budget cuts to "take a plane and go fight in Iraq;" the mayor's decision to use a standard math and reading curriculum that has been panned by teacher's groups and researchers for the federal government; a group of State Senators trying to stop the reorganization of the system, arguing that the present 32 school boards are necessary. What world does he live in? Where has he been for the past forty years? "The mayor is fiddling as the public school threatens to burn," says Senator Karl Kruger. "It is evident that the legislature and the courts must intervene to right these wrongs." Turning this over to the legislature and the courts would be like turning the reorganization of Iraq over to the Arab League.

+ Forty percent of the students in the city's schools get an excellent education, go on to college and to live productive lives as adults. The other sixty percent seem not care one way or the other.

+ The old educational mantra that "all children can learn" is patently ludicrous. Not all children can learn, and not all want to learn. Even those who do want to learn do so at different speeds and in different modes. Those who truly want to learn can do so in any of the city's schools. Those who do not care will not learn no matter what we do until they are ready to do so.

+ Parents do not belong on leadership teams any more than they belong in a room telling doctors how to do a delicate operation or in a courtroom telling lawyers how to run a case. They are lay people. It is fine to have a "board of directors" kind of situation whereby a group of lay people with a knowledge of the situation decide on broad policy goals, but to have parents involved in the day to day running of the school when you hire professionals for that duty is downright strange. By the way, I blame the UFT for allowing that to happen. That organization played a large part in the downfall of the system, and not only because it sought better pay and working conditions for teachers. The UFT is a trade organization and should begin behaving that way. It should have only one goal: better wages and working conditions for teachers and others in the union. It should stay out of school politics and feel-good solutions that the entire membership knows cannot work.

+ The entire system has to begin to respond to the community's concern for information of what is going on in the schools. The chancellor's order that nobody, from teachers to principals to district superintendents, can speak with the press without the permission of his press office is ludicrous. The disinformation that comes under a system like that is worse that what we saw from Iraq's Minister of Information. People who have master's and doctorate degrees and who earn more than $100 thousand a year should be trusted to speak with the press. Until that restriction is changed, the schools are going to get a bum rap from the press because only one side of the story will get told. The schools belong to the people, not to the chancellor. The people have an absolute right to know what is happening in those schools, the good, the bad and the ugly.

+ The city and state say that the new, tougher standards set by the State Education Department and by the city's Department of Education are working. In truth, they are not. Sure, more high school students have passed the Regent's testing program. That is because the state has lowered the passing grade from 65 to 55. If they lowered it to 25, even more kids would pass. What a success rate that would create. The city also has a program called New Standards. It is not the same as the state's new standards. It is a commercial product peddled by the University of Pittsburgh called "New Standards in English Language Arts," "New Standards in Mathematics," etc. There are no new standards in Social Studies, because nobody has figured out how to do that. What the present school leaders, at least in this district, are concerned with are bulletin boards, lesson plans and that the students are engaged. That is very important. That they are engaged does not mean that they are learning, but nobody seems too concerned with that fact.

September is going to be very interesting. Look for some changes in staff and administration at a number of Rockaway schools.

Look for changes in the pattern of which schools kids are zoned to go. Look for some chaos, some confusion. Don't look, however, for information about what is going on. You will not find that anywhere, because the chancellor does not think that you have the right to know.

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