2005-05-20 / Columnists

School Scope

Run Kids Run, The Teacher Contract is Killing You
By Norman Scott

The New York Daily News has taken on the task of correcting the educational ills of New York City schools by using daily editorials to squarely place the blame for the problems in the schools on the teacher contract. Under the guise of protecting the children of this city from the excesses of the UFT contract, the editorialists at the News have swallowed the BloomKlein line hook, lie and sinker.

Now, anyone who has been working under this golden contract finds these harangues almost laughable, if only things weren’t so serious, as indicated in this recent email I received: “…after all the abuse that I’ve been through over my past 13 years or so of NYC teaching I’ve decided to resign. My husband makes a decent salary, (certainly not rich, but decent) and I will be starting a course for a new career. The working conditions in my school have become so deplorable, that I just can’t take it anymore.”

But the Daily News is telling us on a daily basis just how good the working conditions in the schools are for teachers, considering the wonderful contract. Yet, almost everyone I speak to complains about the working conditions.

At one school, the first year principal, a graduate of the Klein/Welch School of Ogreship, has so alienated the staff that many veteran teachers want to transfer. As they started to line up jobs at other schools they discovered that they are not so free to move. There is a limit on how many teachers may transfer from any one school (someone quoted a number of 5%) and all those teachers who had basically been thinking they were al-al-ready gone – to quote an Eagles song – are finding out the wonderful contract they have makes them indentured servants. They will have to wait some time before singing the Eagles anthem. I got an email from a teacher who received a disciplinary letter because he was absent for 11 days. The UFT contract allows 10 days and going one over triggers threatening letters. If the UFT contract said “3 days” they would get a letter for being absent a 4th day. (Hmmm. Maybe the News is right about a wonderful contract.) This is apparently due to pressure from the House of Tweed since it is occurring all over the city.

For people with children who get sick sometimes and need someone to be home with them and the illnesses one often gets in schools (especially new teachers who are most susceptible but after a few years of teaching become immune even to Ebola virus) it is possible that one could go over the limit without being a goldbrick. As with everything else, the DOE policy is a blanket one – teachers who are taking excessive days off should be spoken to. But when teachers who have cancer and need some extra days off are treated like criminals, there is something seriously wrong.

An AP on the other side of the coin: We’ve been profiling good administrators in the NYC school system as we run across them. Laurie Nearon is the Assistant Principal for Science at Aviation HS in Queens and has pushed the barriers of science education with her dedication and hard work. This year she got the school involved in the First Robotics Competition, where 50- 70 students built and programmed a robot, in addition to creating presentations, web sites, handling publicity, etc. This effort was an amazing collaboration between Laurie, students, and their teacher/advisors Samantha Gian and Michael Koumoullos.

Hanging out in Laurie’s office, where during the intense six-week period of robot building she could be found as late as 9 .pm., is always illuminating, as teachers, students and administrator mix so easily.

The kids involved in the robotics program have been absolutely wonderful. I spent some time with a bunch of student volunteers from Aviation at the FRC competition in NYC at Riverbank State Park a week after they competed in the Long Island tournament. We worked traffic control together and they totally took charge, leaving me little to do but watch in appreciation. Having worked mostly with elementary students, the experience made me consider doing some subbing in high schools. Wellllll, maybe I’ll think a little more about that idea. To celebrate the achievements of students in Region 4’s middle school robotics programs, a Robotics Pentathlon will be held at Aviation High School located at 45-30 36th Street and Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens on May 21st.

Stephen Shapinsky, Region 4’s robotics staff developer, wrote in a recent press release, “Region 4’s intermediate school students have designed, constructed, and programmed their own robots. Such an experience makes invaluable connections for students in the world of math, science, and engineering. It also enables them to develop and strengthen their problem solving abilities. In the hangar of Aviation High School, amidst airplanes and helicopters, these robots will compete in five events designed to showcase the skills and abilities our students have developed. The event will also be an opportunity for younger students and the community to see some of the great programs and facilities at Aviation High School, including their own award-winning robot, the Quantum Samurai, and the amazing team that built it.”

Stephen and I spent a day recently in the hanger building the courses for the Pentathlon amidst the vintage planes – truly a unique experience.

Make fear, not love: As the teachers were leaving a Rockaway school at the end of the day, the principal and Region 5 Superintendent Cashin were at the door. A number of teachers came up to the principal to say goodbye. The principal told Cashin, “ See, my teachers like me.” Cashin was heard to retort, “You are here to be feared by teachers, not to be liked.” The principal was out of there not long after and replaced by someone who is feared, hated and a total incompetent to boot. Nice work!

JFK high school Assistant Principal changes English Regent Test scores: English teachers at John F. Kennedy high school in the Bronx were outraged to learn that the Assistant Principal in charge of programming took it upon himself to change at least 15 failing scores of the English regents given last January to passing without notifying the teachers, many of whom had marked the exams originally. They found out when children they thought had failed informed the teachers they were passing. The fact that the AP is not even the English AP emphasized the fact that the decision to change the grades was all about making the passing and graduation rates at JFK look better than they were.

JFK is one of the largest high schools in the city and has been put through the squeezing-of-space-cataclysm-by-small-school-invasion, even losing their automotive vocational program despite a valiant fight.

Teacher wins 100-minute lottery: A teacher was called out of the much despised bi-weekly Monday extravaganza known as the 100-minute professional development – where teachers get to stay late to hear pearls of wisdom on how to improve their skills – to assist some visitors and was told he did not have to return. One would think he had won the lottery as he practically leaped for joy over his good fortune. He was last seen working happily with a group of students (taboo during the 100-minutes) who had stayed after school to prepare for a test.

I know we’re not in Kansas anymore: I’ve been reporting on the evolution/intelligent design controversy going in Pennsylvania and particularly, in Kansas. Now it is all creeping into NY. The pharyngula.org website reports: Assembly Bill 8036, introduced on May 3, 2005 and referred to the Committee on Education, would require that “all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution.” It also charges New York’s commissioner of education to assist in developing curricula and local boards of education to provide “appropriate training and curriculum materials ... to ensure that all aspects of the theories, along with any supportive data, are fully examined through such course of study.” A08036, if enacted, would take effect immediately. Richard Firenze, who teaches biology at Broome Community College, remarked, “This bill is completely absurd. Those of us in New York who are concerned about our children’s science education should sit up and take notice: it’s not just in places like Georgia and Kansas that creationists are trying to sabotage biology education.” The bill’s sole sponsor, Daniel L. Hooker (R), represents Assembly District 127, encompassing parts of Greene, Otsego, Delaware, Schoharie, Ulster, Columbia, and Chenango counties.

We close this week’s festivities with the words of Nineteenth-century English social scientist Herbert Spencer: “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution as not adequately supported by facts seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.”

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