2006-06-02 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But (School Edition)...

Nobody asked me, but ...

... The controversy over a "racist" question on a recent Global History Regents proves once again that some people have nothing better to do with their lives than create problems where none exist. The question provided for students to read an historical paragraph relating to colonialism in Africa and British Imperialism written during the period and then for those students to detail how Africans benefited from that colonialism.

A number of black students and educators blasted the question as "racist." Two state Regents entered the fray with comments that are fairly ludicrous and reflect the general demeanor of the political hacks that are appointed to the Regents by other political hacks (no disrespect, Geraldine). The passages in question were entirely appropriate, designed to test a student's ability to read and comprehend historical writing.

The fact that the writing was about a topic that some consider taboo does not take away from the importance of the skill or the way it was tested. They were being asked to detail how a person who lived during that time perceived the topic, not how people today perceive it. One wag said that the question was like asking Jewish children "how the holocaust helped Jews." That too is disingenuous.

There would be nothing wrong, for example, in having the students read decrees that made Jews second-class citizens and then asking students how those decrees impacted Jews and led to the "final solution." No topic should be off limits in the study of history. It is, as one person said, what it is.

... I continue to receive horror stories about the "rubber room" at the Regional Operations Center (ROC) in Long Island City. One recent story that caught my eye appeared in the UFT newspaper. It was about a male teacher who was falsely accused of public lewdness by two students at Cardozo High School in Queens.

His stay was relatively short in relation to some who get reassigned to the ROC - only half a school year. "I had a horrible experience in the rubber room," he said. "I felt totally useless, doing crosswords and watching television." Frank Davis, a local lawyer as well as a teacher at Beach Channel High School, has been in the rubber room for nearly three years. What did he do? Nobody seems to know, but he remains there nevertheless. If he is like others who spent the waning years of their career at the rubber room, there is not enough to charge him and the bullheaded "experts" at DOE do not want to reinstate him, so there he sits, with others who have somehow angered their supervisors, have told dirty jokes in the teacher cafeteria and have been falsely accused by students who want to rid themselves of tough teachers.

... A new report shows that more than half of the principals in the New York City public school system have left their jobs over the past five years. The New York Times thinks that is great, that the outflux of experienced people "opens the way for a remarkable influx of often younger newcomers, some in their 20's and 30's, with impressive credentials but little teaching experience." I have to wonder if Elissa Gootman, who wrote the story, would be as excited if she was given a new managing editor who had never been a reporter or editor before, never worked in journalism. She would probably wonder how such a person could do the job. I have to wonder why it should be any different in the schools.

When I asked to do a story on the new charter school coming to Far Rockaway High School next September, I was told in gushing terms how the new principal of the school had been a military helicopter pilot for all of his working life. I was not excited. After 33 years in the system, working with more than a dozen principals of varying ability, I have to tell you what the Music Man told his traveling companions: "You have to know the territory." A few months at Joel Klein's "Principal's Academy" at Tweed Courthouse will just not cut the mustard. Klein said that the system is just catching up to the private sector, making room for new, young talent. That is disingenuous. I am not worried about the age. I am worried about the experience. A person with no experience as a teacher or assistant principal cannot do the job. Period. End of sentence. And, it is foolish to think that it is a positive move that our system seeks to put completely inexperienced people in difficult positions of power.

... The Nebraska legislature has passed a bill that was quickly signed into law by the state's governor that would divide the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts - one largely black, one white and one largely Hispanic. The bill was sponsored by the state's only black legislator, often called the "angriest black man in Nebraska" by local papers. Talk about retrograde. Ernie Chambers, the black man who sponsored the bill, says that integration has failed. He wants blacks to at least control their own schools, and this segregation bill would have that effect. Civil Rights scholars are calling the move the "most blatant recent effort in the nation to create segregated school districts. They say the move is not constitutionally permissible.

... An Associated Press computer analysis recently found that states are helping public schools escape penalties under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) by failing to count the test scores of nearly two million students when they report progress by racial groups. "Minorities, who have traditionally not fared as well as whites in testing, make up the vast majority of students whose scores are excluded," the AP report said. I have been arguing for years that the DOE has been hiding scores from bilingual and special education students, the two groups that do the worst on the tests in this city. The increased test scores that are ballyhooed by the mayor and the chancellor are really a function of more test prep (at the expense of social studies and science) and excluding scores of low-scoring students. Can't prove it, however, because the DOE bureaucracy is a star at covering things up.

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