2004-01-16 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk

From the Editor's Desk

A little more than a year ago, on January 25, 2003, I wrote an editorial for The Wave that was entitled, "New School Plan Worth A Try."

In that editorial, I wrote, "We will not miss, however, the bloated bureaucracies of the district offices, whose minions often micromanaged the schools to death, killing off any hope of innovation and change."

How little I knew!

In reality, the coming of the region office and supervisors such as Kathleen Cashin and Joan Gordon (the Local Instructional Supervisor, or LIS for many Rockaway schools), had led to an increase in the micromanagement of the system that often borders on the Kafkaesque.

Some examples from the latest education annals:

At a local elementary school, the LIS ripped down a number of bulletin boards that were comprised of student work because they did not meet her standards. When I say they were ripped down, I mean that they reportedly were destroyed during school time with some of the kids looking on.

A teacher at a local middle school was given a disciplinary letter for her file because her bulletin board had 11 examples of student work rather than the mandated 15.

A teacher at another middle school was told by the LIS that she cannot use red pen to mark student work, because red is a "hostile color," and that the student's self-esteem might be impacted by the use of the hostile colored ink.

Teachers at all of the schools are told that they must use "accountable talk" with their students. Students cannot be praised in general terms, but must be told specifically why they are being praised. Teachers who have not followed this decree have received letters in their file. For example, a teacher cannot say, "That was a really good job," and leave it at that.

The CSA newsletter reported that an LIS in Brooklyn demanded that a principal redecorate the bathroom in her private office because the LIS said that the private bathroom was not up to standard.

An eighth grade Language Arts teacher was told by the school's LIS that she could no longer give multiple choice tests even though the standardized English Language Arts (ELA) high stakes test is largely a multiple choice test and teachers are told to teach test-taking skills.

A teacher in a Far Rockaway school was told that the writing on students' desks (done by the student's themselves) lowered the self-esteem of those who sit at the desks and the LIS demanded that the teacher buy comet cleanser and sponges and to keep the desks clean herself or face an unsatisfactory rating.

A chapter chairperson at a local school tells the story of a teacher who got a letter in his file from Cashin's deputy for not turning on his computers. "When we entered your room, we noticed that your computers were not turned on and that the students were not using them," the letter reportedly said. "Have them removed if you do not plan on using them."

According to the chapter chair, however, there was one problem with the letter. The teacher does not have computers in his classroom.

Considering all the problems with violence and student unrest at Beach Channel High School, the major focus of the school's LIS was bulletin boards.

LIS Joan Gordon told the BCHS staff that they would be judged on the appearance of their bulletin boards.

"Positive feedback should be provided when displays and bulletin boards have met or exceeded standards," she wrote in a memo. "Appropriate action must be taken when bulletin boards and displays do not meet the standards."

Gordon reportedly described the bulletin board policy as the "most important item" in "raising the quality of instruction within the school."

The "most important item!" Not student safety, not assaults, not weapons, not curriculum issues, not terror in the halls. Bulletin Boards!

That is what Region Five under Kathleen Cashin and her local instructional supervisors has come to.

I have heard Cashin say at more meetings than I care to count that the discipline problems and the violence in the schools can be taken care of by better teaching and a curriculum that addresses student's needs.

The Daily News seems to agree with Cashin. The Daily News editorial board seems to think that the teachers and administrators are destroying young children who all want to learn.

"The vast majority of 5- and 6-year olds arrive as school with the God-given capacity to learn to read and do numbers," a recent News editorial says. "Yet, in a few short years, about one of every five fall so far behind that their educations, and perhaps their lives, have been irrevocably stunted."

What world do these guys live in?

In fact, the majority of students who come to the New York City school system come from homes where there are no books or newspapers present, where there is no educational ethic, where parents are often illiterate and unable to inspire their kids.

Many others come to the system from other nations where there is no educational system at all. The majority of those students who come from other nations, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, are not only illiterate in English, they are illiterate in their home language as well.

These students are often placed in bilingual programs where all of the instruction is in the home language. They never learn adequate English.

Others are put into age-appropriate grades even though they cannot read or write. They are then passed along by a social promotion system that is more politically-correct than educationally-sound.

A succession of chancellors have announced with great fanfare that they were doing away with social promotion. Then they invented such things as portfolios and other devices that make no educational sense in order to pass those kids along.

Now, we have a new initiative to end social promotion in the third grade. That is good, but only if it really happens.

I can't wait to see what happens when 15,000 third graders are eligible for summer school and there is no money to fund the schools.

And, the third grade only program begs the question of what will happen to all of the students who cannot read or write who are in the fourth grade and above. Will they continue to be passed on? It sure looks that way.

Chancellor Joel Klein said last Monday that mistakes will happen as he and the mayor reform the school system. Both of them have already made more than their share.

Some day, both the mayor and the chancellor will have to address the real problem with education in New York City. Kids who don't want to learn and parents who don't care.

Let's hear more talk about that from the Daily News and the other papers, and less about how teachers and administrators take great kids and turn them into dross.

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