2003-10-24 / Community

School Scope

Class Size Redux, Part II
By Norman Scott
School Scope By Norman Scott Class Size Redux, Part II

Why are we not surprised that the people who rule public  school systems often seem to send their own kids to private schools? Former Chancellor Harold Levy’s children went to the Dalton School. In Part 1 of this article we chronicled the saga of how Mayor Bloomberg affirmed his strong belief in small classes by sending his daughter to the equally exclusive Spence School.  Few if any of the teachers in either school are certified to teach in New York City schools while the class sizes are extremely low. (A rule: The more spent on tuition, the lower the class size.)

We also chronicled how Bloomberg exposed his double standard on class size reduction when he opposed the attempts by New Yorkers for Smaller Class Size, a coalition of groups that includes the UFT, parent and community groups, to place a referendum on the November ballot that would create a commission to explore class size reduction in the the public schools. The Mayor’s belief in "one size fits all" standardization apparently has limits.

Lately, we have heard the Mayor’s spokespeople make comparisons between the attack on crime and the attack on the problems in education and how they will use similar tactics to fight educational malaise:  use statistics to target the problem areas and make principals responsible for "failure"  just as precinct captains are held accountable for rises in crime rears; manipulate these statistics in a political manner to get the results they want (ie. felonies reclassified as misdemeanors); make the teacher corps into a police-like quasi military organization  which can be shifted  to problem areas without regard to  seniority or the contract; browbeat the entire workforce into compliance no matter how harmful their policies are; claim the moral high ground in their "noble" efforts against the forces of evil (in this case the teachers union).

The only part of the equation they don’t want to talk about (intentionally) is how the streets were inundated with police officers, which most people credit as having had a major impact on crime reduction. The current top-down, command-style ideology pervading our school system emphasizes the effectiveness of managerial pressure from above (with statistical shaming) to beget fear, which they think begets better performance. While we may see short term effects (when is the next Mayoral election?) this philosophy will be a long term  Titanic-like disaster for the schools.

So, why not try to solve the problems in education by inundating the classrooms with teachers and paras and all sorts of school personnel so that every child will get the resources they need? Do we think we would have the same problems in the schools if there were enough teachers to really work with the kids? Nah! They just want to do it on the cheap: place the blame on the kids, the teachers, the union, the principals, the weather. But never on large classes. (You will hear them argue that a bad teacher will be bad with 10 kids or 30 kids. But think of the 20 kids who benefit by NOT being in that teacher’s class).

Let’s just imagine a school anywhere in the New York city school system where sizes of the classes matched those of exclusive private and suburban schools? Teachers could provide individual attention to children with much greater needs than Bloomberg’s daughter. Maybe children who are now bused all over the place might be able to stay in their neighborhood schools. Think of all those buses off the road. Maybe even apply some of the money saved to, guess what? Reducing class size even more. Try it in just one school. Throw out the staff developers and the standardized curriculum and all the extra administrators. Just teachers and children figuring out what will work for each individual child. Nah! What if it worked? What would that do to their theories? It’s much easier to promote phony reform on the cheap and spread the blame around to everyone but themselves.

We will hear arguments that there is no space in the schools to massively reduce class size. That argument goes away when we talk about the ratio of students to adults. While we’re waiting for all those masses of schools to be built (after all those stadiums for the Jets and the Olympics, of course) if the referendum should pass, why not put 2 teachers or a teacher and a para in a class to at least make a dent in the ratio? (Oh, I forgot, The BloomKlein team laid off masses of paras.)  And we can reduce crime at the same time:  More teachers, more attention paid will keep kids in school and off the street. (Wise guys are saying: Let’s take crime off the street and bring it into the schools).

And, why not use the opportunity to train inexperienced teachers by pairing them with experienced ones? That’s a win/win. Team teaching can work for everybody.

So, why are we not surprised when people making basic decisions like Bloomberg and Klein have different standards for the schools their kids go to and the schools they are managing?  So much for them and their "standards." Double standards that is. One set for their kids and another set for the much more needy kids in the public schools. Let the children in NYC schools eat cake. Or at least Jamaican beef patties.

Here’s a suggestion on how to reduce the child/adult ratio immediately: Take the 2000 coaches, the 100 sub-regional superintendents (the so-called Lizards), some not even certified for their jobs, with many of the rest getting their jobs based on politics at $100+ thousand a year. Take the 1200 parent coordinators doing what the PTA used to do. Add all the other administrative and highly paid executive jobs handed out at the giant job fair conducted by the DOE. Put all these resources into reducing class size.

Let’s go even further. Everyone at the  DOE, regional and school level (including Principals) must do some teaching. And the $250,000 a year Deputy Chancellor for Instruction Diana Lam too. (Show us how it’s done kid!) This would be especially valuable for the know-it-alls who think they have all the answers. And Klein too... OOPS! He’s not qualified or certified to be left alone with a class of children. He got a waiver to be Chancellor. Let’s help him get his teaching credentials so he can get in on the act. Anyone want to tutor?

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