2007-02-02 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor's Desk

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

Nobody Asked Me, But…When Chancellor Joel Klein was a guest at a recent Community Education Council meeting, he admitted that the system has been giving short shrift to both Social Studies and Science in the manic drive to raise test scores in Reading and Mathematics. He said that he would try and find a way to insure that students get more lessons in Social Studies and Science, but he did so almost as an afterthought that probably was not going to get done. I have heard from many teachers that students in Region Five schools did not get ANY content area lessons for the month prior to the recent high-stakes ELA Test. None, nada, zilch. They did, however, spend lots of time on how to take a multiple-choice test. One teacher, speaking to a reporter for the New York Post, said, "The kids can't tell you who the president was during the Civil War, but they can tell you how to eliminate questions on a multiple choice test. All anyone cares about now are the test scores, and that's not education," the teacher said. She is right. Test-prep, particularly the millions spent on the Kaplan material, has become the name of the game. The New York State mandate is for students on all grade levels to get one unit of each major content area subject. That means at least four periods a week (and that is low). In many of our schools, students get two or three periods of those subjects each week during the school year, along with 20 periods of reading, literacy and math and at least five periods of the Kaplan material. That is not education, that is lunacy unless you believe that the test scores are the be-all and end-all of education.

...The Mayor pushes his "small schools" concept as if it were the savior of the schools. It is not. Those schools succeed largely because the program insures that no at-risk kids can get into those schools for at least two year - and often, much longer. There are no special ed students allowed, no bilingual students allowed - the two groups that traditionally lower school's scores and put it on the "You're Gone List." In addition, the schools are run by principals with no experience and staffed with brand new teachers. Would you send your child to a school where all but one of the teachers is brand new and the principal spent his career as a helicopter pilot? That is precisely what you get in the Knowledge As Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA VI), a small middle school housed as part of Far Rockaway High School. There are about 75 kids and five teachers. Four of them have never taught and the principal has not been in a school since he was a student. He is qualified, the city says, because he attended the Principal's Academy at Tweed Courthouse. That might be Bloomberg's model, by my experience tells me that school is doomed to failure in terms of educating kids.

...Every year or so the Mayor shakes up the system and pushes it to the brink of chaos. I guess he thinks that's healthy and it certainly shows little regard for the people who work for the schools. First, he did away with the districts and created ten regions, with all the infrastructure that comes with that kind of organization. Now, those regions are going and we are going back to districts. What does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine. The word is that Region Five Superintendent will be getting the Manhattan Super-region. Who will be getting Queens? Nobody will say. What does that mean to special programs funded by the region? Maybe gone, maybe okay. Who knows? I'm sure this will all get sorted out by next November or December. That's one of the problems of making massive changes without planning for them in advance or bringing the stakeholders into the decision-making process.

...Under the mayor's new plan, principals get three choices: They can opt for "Empowerment" status, which means that they can run their schools with little interference or oversight from the bureaucracy; they can opt to join with an outside governance company who will assist them in running their schools, or they can continue to get help from the DOE and the super-regions. I have always said that principals who know what they are doing should be left alone to do their jobs, but the operative words there are "who know what they are doing." So many don't. For example one of the empowerment schools in Rockaway is run by Claude Monereau. You might remember that Monereau was an assistant principal at Beach Channel High School who demanded that he be made principal. He even came to The Wave with another assistant principal Regine LeFranc (who is now an assistant principal as his school), demanding that I write an editorial support his candidacy. It took me about five minutes of talking to him to form the opinion that he is an educational charlatan. When he didn't get the job, he got the NAACP to picket outside the school. Kids set fire to bulletin boards in the school and walked out at the urging of the protestors. He continued to undermine the authority of the person who was appointed principal. It got so bad, they had to take him out of the school. They sent him to MS 53 in Far Rockaway, to "help out the outgoing principal." The next think I knew, the man I consider to be a racial arsonist was the principal there and then, against all good judgment, he was made principal and then given an empowerment school. If that is the way it works, I don't want any part of it.

... Another vignette from our kinder, gentler school system. A parent who lives on Beach 121 Street, the break point between PS 225 and PS 114, had been sending her child to parochial school, but due to a financial setback, she could not continue to do so. She started her son in PS 225, her zoned school and he was so badly beaten up his first day in school, that she kept him home until the district gave her a safety variance to PS 47 in Broad Channel. Her son was taking the bus with others going to the school until this week, when the bus schedules changed. She was told that she would have to supply transportation on her own. This woman is on disability and has no transportation. She was told that her eight-year-old could get a MetroCard, but how can you let an child that young travel on the subway or bus alone? On Monday, she had no money for transportation to go get her kid after school, she said, adding that the principal said that the child would be held at the school until 5 p.m. and then would be turned over to the police and that child services would be told that she is neglecting her child. What a world!

... You want to know why tenure for teachers is a primary concern? I'll give you an example. When I was teaching and writing for The Wave, I did a series of articles about the school board and how they were using the schools as a private fiefdom as well as how they were taking money from the schools by funding no-show jobs for cronies and campaign officials. Even though I was telling the truth, something that was borne out later by the Gill Commission and the suspension of that school board, I was threatened with my job. Had I not had tenure, I probably would have been fired or transferred for telling a truth that the school board members did not want told. At the same time, anybody who wanted to become an administrator had to kick in for $100-a-plate dinners and had to campaign for specific board members. If there were not tenure, I am sure that those teachers who refused to carry petitions and get-out-the-vote literature would have been fired. We need to keep tenure and the mayor should understand that the school system is not Bloomberg Radio.

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