2005-01-14 / Columnists

School Scope

Age Discrimination at the DOE?
By Norman Scott


Ever since the Bloomberg coup d’etat captured the NYC schools, anecdotal reports of age discrimination have been surfacing. Some feel there is a purely economic purpose — getting the higher pensioned Tier 1 people to retire or putting enough pressure to force them to leave allows the DOE to hire two $40,000 a year teachers for the cost of one $80,000 teacher. In the corporate model that the BloomKlein administration follows, this makes complete sense. But if you believe experience counts then this plan begins to break down.

The irony is that one of the basic tenets in BloomKlein’s attack on the UFT contract is that seniority work rules prevent them from having the freedom to move senior teachers to struggling schools. They claim schools in poor neighborhoods are having difficulty because they are saddled with inexperienced teaching staffs. So much for the two for one strategy. Heralding the benefits of experience when it suits their purpose, while simultaneously deriding experienced teachers is true to form in BloomKlein land.

But age discrimination at the DOE, where you can see young whiz kids whizzing all around the place, it is not all about money. The feeling pervades that the old culture of the school system has to be broken and getting rid of the older teachers is the major way to do it.

Another tenet of the BloomKlein attack on the UFT contract has been that licensed math teachers, a shortage area, should be paid more money to attract them to teaching in NYC. I’ve often asked proponents of this scheme exactly how much money would it take to get a math person to leave their job and teach in NYC schools. Any guesses out there?

I have been assisting a math teacher at John Adams high school who I suspect might fall into the category of age discrimination. I did some investigating and found that before the massive changes instituted by BloomKlein – one of the cores of which is the “workshop” model, where teachers spend only a short time teaching the entire class and then divide them into small groups – the teacher had been running a program where he taught students who are far behind in math using a systematic method to try to close the math gap. Another math teacher at the school told me the teacher had been fairly successful. But this success was hinged in part on teacher-directed lessons aimed at the entire class – in other words, no grouping. This style of teaching is taboo in the new order.

(At this point let me go to a quick digression. Theoretically, I am not a fan of teacher-dominated lessons to an entire class, having been bored out of my mind so often as a student.  But, basically, I taught that way because managing a whole class in the group model, especially one with lots of children with learning difficulties, was daunting. Without smaller classes the “workshop” model often breaks down.)

Should an experienced teacher be expected to undergo such a drastic change in teaching style? “Yes,” says the DOE and the supervisors at John Adams. After all, they gave the teacher a few weeks of professional development and “voila” the workshop model should be mastered. It wasn’t so easy for our teacher. The grouping of the students led to discipline problems he wasn’t having before. Was there any hint of understanding on the part of the Adams administrators? Did they model a demonstration lesson (Ho, Ho, Ho, I know all you teachers are thinking)? Instead, almost from the moment the new changes were instituted, he was targeted for an “unsatisfactory” rating with observations at the times of the day where he was most likely to have difficulty. Supervisors seemed to like the end of the day, which at John Adams is at 4 p.m. and the teacher had a double period.

The teacher admits he has had problems, but says they are putting him in a system that stresses his weaknesses as a teacher and not his strengths. With all the crying about a shortage of licensed math teachers, one would think the DOE would bend over backwards to assist these teachers.

To label teachers who had some success in the older model as failures because they do not adapt quickly enough to the “workshop” model -– especially people at the end of their careers – is age discrimination.

Message from a teacher at PS 43

I loved seeing the paragraph about principal John Quattrocchi (who told teachers at a meeting “...Every day when I drive home I curse each and every one of you out...”) in your column. P.S. 43Q is abuzz. The conversations started off at 8 AM with “Did you see The Wave ?” The staff agreed that he deserved every word. And if he tries to retaliate, more unflattering words will appear. Many of the teachers feel that their dignity has been somewhat restored, now that our principal has been shown to be so out of line.

And MS 198 too…  

Reports have started floating in about harassment of teachers at MS 198 in Rockaway. Apparently many supervisors in Region 5 are following their own “Workshop” model – degrade, demean, disregard and deny when caught.

1066, a very big year

Quick. What happened in 1066? 1664? 1520? How about 1492?

When I was in the 6th grade at PS 190 in East New York, remembering dates was a very big thing and we used to be tested regularly. We even had historical “date bees” that were run like spelling bees. The teacher gave us four tests based on memorizing historical dates and the two highest scores represented the class in the “date bee.” I was pretty good at this history business in the 6th grade, which surprised a lot of people because I was not much good at most anything else.

I got the highest score.

My moment of glory on the stage ended after 3 rounds when I missed the answer to some date in the 1600’s and I sunk back into obscurity.

In today’s education system, memorizing dates is looked down upon as being rote learning and uncreative. But I have found that the drilling I received in grades 4-6 gave me a sense of chronology that has never deserted me. I can at least come close to the right century when answering the “answer” on Jeopardy .

Though I seemed to be pretty good at this stuff, I didn’t think much about it until my junior year in college when it became clear that despising chemistry was not going to help with a medical career. Casting about for a major, history came to the front and center and I spent most of the last two years and a follow-up year in grad school immersed in the subject.

Did the drill and kill of my early years kill my interest? Obviously not. But being good at memorizing the dates didn’t hurt. I guess some of my compadres suffered severe affliction of anti-dateitis and wouldn’t know the chronology between Columbus sailing the ocean blue and not firing until you see the whites of their eyes. A story coming out of England indicates that a new effort is being made to get teenagers to develop a sense of chronology.

England’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) urges the use of chronology in history to build up “the big picture”. QCA chief executive, Ken Boston said, “The dates of key events in history are an important part of learning.” He added, “Children need to know when things happened but also why they matter to the lives they lead today and the events that helped to shape our world…. there is not enough of a sense of a timeline in history, so that pupils have too much detailed study of particular eras and not enough of a sense of context for what happened. Pupils cannot be expected to understand the concepts of causation, or change and continuity, unless they can put events in the correct chronological order.”

The guidelines stress the use of chronology in history to build up “the big picture” by encouraging learning about change and continuity - identifying themes such as how events affected people’s working lives. So, maybe the worm turns. Will we soon be seeing classes competing in historical “date bees?” Don’t bet on it, at least in New York City under the Department of Education, where anything smacking of the old – whether teachers or curriculum – are cast away.

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