2005-05-13 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

I have been saying for a long time now that the public school system is far worse under the mayor than it ever was under the disgraced school board system.

One daily paper recently spoke of “the dark days of the discredited school boards.”

I have news for that writer. It’s much worse today than it ever was. I know, because I was there, covering Community School Board 27 and working in the system at the same time.

In fact, when the Gill Commission on School Corruption put District 27 in the spotlight that led to the entire board being suspended and two members being indicted in federal court, I was sitting in the room. I worked with the Gill Commission investigators. My stories in The Wave gave them lots of ammunition and leads to follow up.

That was then and this is now, and you’re going to have to take my word for it. Today is worse than it ever was in “the dark days of the discredited schools boards.”

There is more cronyism today than there was then, and it’s hard for me to fathom how that is possible. There is less parental input today than there was in 1968, when school decentralization and community control came into vogue.

There is more crime in the schools today. There is more violence. There is more secrecy. The DOE attempts at every turn to hide the crime and violence, to control the media.

Teachers and administrators who have been in the system for decades are given their marching orders by region supervisors and Local Instructional superintendents who have less time on the job and far less expertise than they do.

More time is spent in the classroom teaching to the standardized tests and preparing for the tests than there is really educating kids. In the rush to raise test standardized test scores, the DOE has effectively done away with science and social studies education on the elementary level and cut it so much in the middle schools that the kids are becoming virtually illiterate in those areas. While the state mandate for those subjects has always been one unit (at least four times a week), our schools have cut those subjects down to once or twice a week to allow for “literacy blocks,” extra math instruction and instruction on test-taking skills. It no longer matters whether kids learn. All that matters is that they get a level 2 or 3 on the standardized tests.

Can they read better because of the increased instruction? Probably. Do they know that there are such things as cells that make up living things? Probably not. Do they know that our government is made up of three equal branches? No way. What kind of voters will they make when they reach 18-years-of-age and don’t know anything of government or history? I shudder at the thought.

Teachers with a dozen years of professional training are made to teach lock-step lessons that make little sense. Staff Development sessions become torturous because little is provided that teachers do not already know, or teachers are provided with information that they know to be wrong. Those who constantly break school rules are allowed to remain in their schools. Criminals are returned to their buildings after serving their sentences. Alternative programs for recalcitrant students are non-existent.

The system, particularly in this region, it seems, is unraveling.

Take, for example, Middle School 198, a school with a principal about whom we have written in this space a number of times previously.

The only person who seems to think that Angela Logan should remain as principal of the school is Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin. Unfortunately, she is the only one who counts. There is no longer an elected school board with the power to oversee Cashin’s decisions.

On April 19, a teacher who tried to break up a fight in the school was stabbed in the hand with a pencil. The wound was so deep, she had to go to the hospital and missed three days of work. The student was never suspended.

On April 19, another teacher discovered four male students trashing a second floor room. She told them to stop and leave the room. Later in the day, the same students chased the teacher down a stairwell. One of them threw a ball at the back of her head, striking her and she fell down the stairs. Two of the boys are still in the school. The others were suspended for a few days and returned.

On April 20, a student asked a to hold a valuable object for her while she went to gym. The teacher took the item and then returned it, saying that she did not want to be responsible for the item. The transaction was caught on a security camera and the teacher was brought into the office and frisked.

The DOE has mandated that private schools that run the Early Intervention Program for infants through 3 years of age can no longer advertise itself by providing its phone number. All ads have to ask those who are interested to call 311 instead of the school. This effectively cuts down on parental input and parental choice in deciding on a school for a young child who needs special help at an early age.

At PS 183, a parent whose son is having problems with bullies in the school decides to home-school him for the remainder of the year since he has already been accepted into the Scholar’s Academy at MS 180 for next year.

When she went to the school to get a set of his schoolbooks, she was given a science book that her son had never seen. When her son told her that, the school administrator admits that the fourth grade never gets science because he has extra literacy periods and test prep.

Remember, there are a finite number of periods in the school week – 45 periods to be exact. Five of them are lunch periods, leaving 40 for subjects. Every period a school adds for test prep or literacy blocks takes one away from either a major or minor subject. When students keep subjects such as gym (mandated by the state), art, music, foreign language and the rest, majors such as science and social studies suffer.

Just this week, the State Department of Education announced that a staggering 81 percent of the city’s eighth graders flunked the state’s basic social studies exam. Is it no wonder that they failed when they got only two periods of American History each week (90 minutes) rather than the four mandated periods in the seventh grade.

Eva Moskowitz, the chair of the City Council’s Education Committee called the results a crisis, but she is one of those responsible for the results, allowing Bloomberg and his know-nothings to program kids only to pass the reading and math tests, not to actually learn anything about America and how democracy works.

Even the DOE’s own social studies pawn knows the deal.

She told reporters that too much time was being spent on teaching students how to read and to do math out of a fear that they would be labeled a failing school under the federal No Child Left Behind Law if they did not get test scores up in any way possible, including ignoring all of the other subjects.

A few weeks ago, an assistant principal in a Queens Village school made some minority students eat while sitting on the floor and told them that they were “animals” because they had a fight and they were to use their hands to eat.

That the AP will be fired is a given. She should be. The question in my mind, is how did she get the job in the first place. I suspect that she was a teacher with about two years of experience in the system who was a friend of a friend of the superintendent and therefore became an AP. In this region, we are getting principals with no experience as AP’s and AP’s with as little as two or three years experience as a teacher. That should not be allowed. At one time, there were difficult tests for teachers and administrators. Now, there is only the “mirror test.”

For those who do not know what the mirror test is, put a mirror up to your mouth and nose. If it fogs, you are breathing and you can become a teacher, an AP or even a principal.

The Daily News ran a series of editorials this week blaming the entire school mess on the teachers union.

Don’t believe it. Blame it on Bloomberg and minions. The old business school mantra that a pure manager can manage even a business he or she knows nothing about has never been true.

As the Music Man said, “You’ve got to know the territory.” This is the worst it has ever been and there is no promise of it getting better quickly.

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