2007-04-06 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But…(School Edition)

Nobody asked me, but...Everything old is new again. Chancellor Joel Klein has a great new innovation. He's going to tell principals in advance when one of the school's teachers is coming up for tenure, providing a procedure for the principal to rate the teacher prior to the tenure decision. Great idea, except that a system for doing just that existed more than a dozen years ago. The district office, which kept track of such things, notified both the school board, which actually voted on tenure for each teacher in the district, and the school's principal. The system worked well except for the times that the school board decided for political reasons rather than educational reasons that a teacher should not get tenure. Then, it was done by telephone. Now, a computer does it, but that is the only difference between what was done in the past and Klein's "new innovation."

... The recent incident where a school janitor suspended from his job and arrested when a young girl made a sexual accusation against him should stand as a cautionary tale for those who demand an adult be vilified and punished prior to an investigation whenever a child or teen makes an allegation. In this case, it quickly became clear that the young girl was lying and the janitor was reinstated and the charges dropped. When I was at IS 53, there was a gym teacher who attracted the ire of a teenage girl who accused him of "touching her butt" in the hallway one day. He was suspended and sent to the early version of the rubber room, where he remained for nearly a year before the girl bragged to another student in class one day that she had "gotten him" for failing her and calling her mother. There are lots of teachers in the rubber room today under similar charges for similar reasons. The Legislature thought that it was doing the right thing by mandating that there be an instantaneous reporting of any such accusation without an investigation, but that is now proving to be wrong. There are just too many kids who know that they can destroy a teacher or other school worker with a simple word and they have the guts to do it and get away with it while the poor adult suffers while arguing his or her innocence while nobody is listening.

...Just as I predicted more than a year ago, scores on standardized Science tests have dropped precipitously because our elementary and middle schools were no longer teaching either Science or Social Studies. Rather, they were spending those periods on how to take a test in order to prop up the critical Reading and Mathematics scores. Now, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have taken notice and have decided to teach Science, or at least some more Science. Under the new plan, students in grades 3-5 would get Science instruction four periods a week. Students in middle school would get five periods a week of the subject. There is no mention of increasing Social Studies education because there is no real high-stakes standardized test in that subject. So what if the kids don't learn about their government or about the Constitution or anything like that. As long as they know how to take a test, who cares? By the way, five periods a week of Science should be the minimum, not the maximum mandated.

...Speaking of Bloomberg and Klein, they seem to be moving ahead with their major reorganization plan despite the complaints of both parents and pedagogic staff. Seems that only the daily papers' editorial boards like the plan and since they know nothing about the schools and how they should work, who cares about them? To me, the most interesting portion of the plan is the "European Model" of promotion to higher education. Under the new plan, every student would take a test in the tenth grade that would decide whether or not they would move on in an academic or a vocational track. Depending on their score, kids would be sent to two years at an academic program, two or three years at a vocational school or to a local junior community college. Talk about high-stakes testing. Sorry, kid, you scored low and now you can't go to college. Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the problem today is that the city did away with shop classes in middle school and then with vocational education at the high school level. I don't think that everybody needs to go to college, or is qualified to go to college and the fact is that some electricians earn more than college professors or high school teachers. Having said that, I don't think that politicians and others should be making that decision when a kid is fifteen years old. There are many kids who mature later than others and the new plan would set their future in stone about the same time they reach puberty. Not a good idea.

...The city is going to pay selected parents for doing the right thing for their school-aged children. That means parents who send their kids to school regularly will get a set amount of money per month and parents of those kids who improve their reading and Mathematics scores will get a monetary bonanza. A parent in the chosen group will get $25 for every two months that the student attends school regularly. Add $50 for a high school student who attends regularly. Add $300 for parents whose kids score well or at least improve their scores on the standardized test. The upper limit seems to be about $5,000 a year for parents whose kids do everything right. Personally, I don't like the idea very much. What is going to happen is that parents are going to demand to get paid for dressing their kids correctly in winter and for taking them to the doctor when they are sick. Where does it stop? Parents should do the right thing because it is the right thing. Pay them for sending their kids to school in the first grade, and you'll still be doing it in high school. That is no way to teach kids to do the right thing and it is no way to make parents understand that they have to take good care of their kids. And, why only low-income kids? How about the middle class kids who go to school every day, do well on standardized tests and go to the doctor regularly. Shouldn't their parents be rewarded as well? It is socialism run wild and even though the program is funded with private money, it sends a really bad message to kids and parents alike.

...Chancellor Klein is getting almost as good at "spin" as the Republican mayor who directs his every move. Klein was at a parent forum when he was asked about class size. "Class size is important," he said. "But good teachers are more important. Ask anybody whether they want their kids in a class of seventeen with a bad teacher or twenty-five with a good teacher and they would rather have a good teacher." How does that answer the question? How about a class of seventeen with a good teacher? Why does a class of twenty-five necessarily have to be taught by a bad teacher? That's a specious argument on any level, especially coming from the chancellor.

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