2007-09-07 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach

A new school year began on Tuesday with lots of new games and lots of old problems. Have a problem? Where do you go?

As they once said in the Navy, see the chaplain and get a tough s Chit.

There are no more regions. We are back to districts. It seems to me I heard this song before!

Who is going to monitor your children's schools?

Who is going to supervise your school's principal?

That depends.

If your principal has opted to become an "Empowerment School," your principal has become the emperor of all he surveys.

The only supervision will come from a network of principals who have likewise chosen to become empowerment principals.

That would be a good idea if the majority of principals had the slightest idea of what they are doing, but, sadly, most do not.

spending 33 years in the system, I have to continue to ask how a person with no school experience and only a few months at the "Principals Academy" at Tweed Courthouse can possibly step in and understand what needs to be done.

The Department of Education doesn't keep this kind of statistic, but I would be willing to bet that the great majority of those principals who chose the empowerment route have three years or less to serve until their retirement.

That is because an empowerment principal can be fired if his or her school does not make the grade, but they have three years to improve.

Therefore, there is no downside for a principal with less than three years to go to choose becoming an empowerment school. Don't make the grade in those three years? Goodbye and amen, here's hoping we meet now and then.

The great majority of principals whimped out and chose to work with a former regional superintendent, now without a job, in one of what I call the "theme park districts." Use all the buzzwords: Balanced Literacy; Core Design Curriculum; on and on.

Most of the local schools went with Kathy Cashin, who was once the chief honcho of Region Five (what a quaint idea - regions). Now she runs the Core Learning club. Most of the principals in what was and is once again District 27.

Nothing like keeping that comfort zone, but I don't blame the principals. They were cut adrift with only a month to decide which way to go, a decision that could easily have meant their career.

A very small group of principals decided to go with a CBO - a community based organization or foundation that has smelled the money in the water. Once again, it's the money, honey, as community groups and companies that provide help to educators start to count the piles of money they are making without really knowing very much about what it's all about.

We also have the consultants, a group greatly favored by the mayor and the chancellor. You remember what happened to the busing program at the beginning of last school year. Thank a consultant. Especially one without credentials but lots of connections who gets a no-bid contract for millions of your education dollars while kids sit in overcrowded classrooms.

That's the way a businessman does business - maximize profits and feed them to your friends in the form of nobid contracts. That's the way to be successful in the widget business, but what it has to do with education, I couldn't guess.

There are two things for the chancellor and the mayor to remember and they are critical.

First, it's the money, honey, and we've already discussed that. Everybody is getting their pound of educational flesh from the mayor and the chancellor except for the parents and the kids. To paraphrase the good, ole song, "The DOE gets the goldmine, the kids get the shaft."

Secondly, they have to remember the old saying (I think that I first coined it, but I could be wrong) "It's the students, stupid."

Washington Post reporter Alec Klein spent one year writing about his high school alma mater, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He wrote a book in which he tried to show why the school was one of the best in the nation.

He says that the teachers are the best and that the administration fosters a cohesive community of learners in which the tests are only one component of the curriculum.

Sure, what a waste of a year. Stuyvesant High School is one of the best schools in the nation because all of the kids entering the school are among the best and the brightest. They have already aced the tests, so the teachers don't have to spend time on teaching how to read or how to add and divide. They don't have to use valuable classroom time on test-taking skills.

The proof could be in the pudding. Take the principal, assistant principals and teachers from Stuyvesant High School and put them in Far Rockaway High School.

Would the kids in Far Rockaway then become scholars because of the successful principal and staff? Of course not.

In fact, they would be lost in Far Rockaway High School (or Beach Channel for that matter) and they would run from the building screaming that they wanted to retire immediately.

It's the students, stupid.

Does that mean we should give up and forget about teaching all but the best and the brightest? Not at all.

We should give up the fiction, however, that all children can learn or its corollary - all students want to learn.

Every teacher knows that neither of those statements is true. They are platitudes from the minds of the politically correct.

In my travels and travails over 33 years in the system, working at all levels from elementary school to adult education, I have found that there are three groups of students.

Slightly less than half of the students perform well because they want an education and their parents value that education. They do well in the system.

Another 20 percent of the students are not motivated, but can be moved by intrinsic rewards (not bribes) to move into the first group. They are the ones that teachers must work hardest with.

The third group encompasses those kids who won't work under any condition, whose parents are missing or do not value education. They are the ones who have never seen a book until they enter school, who are told that education is bologna, that the streets are the game. Nothing will work with that group, not motivation, not bribes. Forget them and move on. Give them some job training and let them get on with their lives.

Hire me as a consultant, and I'll show you how to do it.

After all, it's the money, honey and it's the students, stupid!

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