2006-09-01 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But (School Edition)
By Howard Schwach


Nobody asked me, but ...

... The school opening this year is going to be different from those that came in the past because there are a number of new schools and new programs at old schools beginning their runs in September. Foremost among the new schools is the Scholar's Academy that now has the entire building that was once JHS 180 to itself. Once called, "The School of Champions," the school fell on hard times when west end parents decided that it was dangerous and began to send their children elsewhere for middle school. The Scholar's Academy program, a gifted and talented program for the entire district, is an attempt to keep those kids in Rockaway. I have to say that I am glad to see those kids staying on the peninsula, but I have a philosophical problem with gifted schools because the program takes the brightest 20 kids from each of the other grade 5-8 schools away from their neighborhood schools, denuding those schools of their newspaper editors, their valedictorians, their class presidents and other assorted school leaders. Good for the gifted school, good for the parents and kids (I guess) but bad for every other program in the district. The problem seems to be that parents of bright kids do not want those kids in school with anybody with a lower intellectual ability. Other changes include the new Goldie Maple Academy where JHS 198 once stood. That school will begin with pre-K to grade three this year and then will eventually become a K-8 choice school for Rockaway. That leaves MS 53 as the only middle school in Rockaway and its future is also in doubt as Malcolm Smith's Peninsula Preparatory Academy, a charter school, continues to grow within the same building. There will reportedly be a new Knowledge Is Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA VI) at Far Rockaway High School, but DOE officials are keeping a low profile when asked for information about the school.

... The number of "Persistently violent schools" has grown over the past year according to state data. The City's Department of Education (DOE), however, continues to say that the state is wrong, that city schools are much less violent than before the mayor took over the school system. What did you expect? What does the UFT say? In a published statement, the teacher's union says that the state is wrong, but that it is wrong because its list is too short, that there are more persistently violent schools in the city than even the state lists as such. Prior to this year, the state counted only those reports made by the Department of Education. This year, the state education department began to utilize incident reports from teachers, administrators and the NYPD as well. The city doesn't think those reports should be counted. "It's sort of disingenuous to say these are persistently violent schools," a DOE spokesperson said. "The list doesn't necessarily accurately describe our schools." What is disingenuous is the DOE's position that everything is honky-dory in the schools, that they have become much better both educationally and in terms of discipline since Bloomberg and Klein took over. In reality, neither of those things is true. By the way, there are no Rockaway schools on the new list. Any principal reporting too many incidents in Region Five schools would find himself or herself becoming an ex-principal very quickly. That is nothing new. It all began when Matt Bromme was the superintendent of School District 27 and the rule was "cover it up."

... Speaking of disingenuous, School Chancellor Joel Klein recently wrote a letter to the New York Times complaining about a column in the paper that was entitled "It Takes More Than Schools To Close Achievement Gap." In his letter, Klein wrote, "At many public schools, more than half of our disadvantaged students drop out before they reach the 12th grade, but at New York's new small schools, serving the same population, graduation rates are projected to be 73 percent." There are a number of things wrong with that statement, however. First of all, you can project anything you want. It will take a couple of years to compare the small school graduation rate with the mainstream rate. Second of all, the small schools hardly serve the same population as the mainstream schools. There are no special ed students in the small schools - none are allowed for the first two years. The students in small schools are selected after their parents apply - something that denotes an interest in education. Many parents of students in mainstream schools do not have a concomitant interest in education and therein lays the problem. Third of all, the mayor and school chancellor have bet their reputations on the small schools and are pouring in resources that are not available to other schools.

... By the way, that New York Times column (On Education (8/9/06), stated the obvious. "The question [of whether the disconnect in education and the minority community is do deep that no particular school plan or curriculum can remediate it] has come up before," Diana Jean Schemo wrote. "In 1966, Professor James S. Coleman published a congressionally mandated study on why school children in minority neighborhoods performed at far lower levels than children in white areas. To the surprise of many, his landmark study, [published as the "Coleman Report"] concluded that although the quality of schools in minority areas mattered, the main cause of the achievement gap was in the backgrounds and resources of families." A number of recent reports tend to show that nothing has changed. "The growing body of evidence tends to show that while schools can make a difference for individual students, the fabric of children's lives outside of school can either nurture or choke what progress poor children in poverty do make academically," one of those reports said. After 33 years in the school system, I heartedly agree that the students in any give school control the destiny of that school, not the administrators or the teachers. Test that out by placing all of the administration and teaching staff of a Stuyvesant at Beach Channel and see if it makes a difference. It will not. The mantra of many minority teens that if a student wants an education he or she is "acting white" and the Gangsta' Rap music that they listen to incessantly have a devastating impact on whatever the schools try and do to educate those students.

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