2007-09-07 / Columnists

School Scope

Welcome Baaaack!
By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Even though I wrote a column for The Wave's special back-to-school edition two weeks ago, this feels like the first column of the new school year - the year of Power to the Principal - with the BloomKlein theme of "If it goes wrong, we know who to blame." One would think education issues would be dormant with schools closed. Not so. With an endless summer of retirement, I was still very busy writing for the Education Notes Online blog that I run. I need a vacation.

Well, here are some of the things I covered in the past week or so. You can read more at http://ed notesonline.com/

What's the Real Difference, Marcia Lyles?

Marcia Lyles, Joel Klein's Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, following on the heels of Diana Lam, Carmen Farina (Lyles took over for Farina when she left Region 8) and Andres Alonso (now chief of the Baltimore school system), gave a revealing interview to Jennifer Medina in the New York Times.

One of the four superintendents chosen in the latest reorganization, about 12% of the schools signed up with Lyles before her promotion. How do you think they feel now that she's gone? Quick, maybe Kathy Cashin can grab them for her Knowledge Network (described by one blogger on the first day this way: "We stuck with Cashin and everything is "Core Knowledge this, Core Knowledge that, best thing since sliced bread, yada, yada, yada.")

Lyles' story is that she spent her entire career as a teacher and supervisor in the NYC schools. Long-time observers of the ed/political scene see her (and her predecessors) as figureheads for the MBA types looking for bottom-line, narrow test results, who are really driving teaching and learning. Lyles almost admits as much when she says:

"When the music changes, so does the dance."

"I learned all the new steps," she said. "I just moved with the changes, that's what you have to do."

Medina writes:

"While some teachers and principals say the Klein administration desperately needs an educator's voice in a headquarters packed with lawyers and consultants who have little patience for the city's education establishment, they question whether Ms. Lyles is aggressive enough to be heard."

But the most revealing part of the interview was Lyles' own childhood experiences. As a high school student at the dreadful Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, she cut school regularly - until an aunt found out. Medina writes:

"Convinced that the school was too easy, her aunt, who was raising her, forced her to transfer from Benjamin Franklin High School to Jamaica High School, making an hour long trip to and from Queens near the end of her sophomore year. There, Ms. Lyles was shocked to learn that after being in the top of her class at Franklin, which was largely black and Hispanic, and finding school so easy that she could skip out, she was struggling to keep up at what was then a largely white Jamaica High.

"It was her first lesson in the problem that still preoccupies the nation's largest school system - the racial achievement gap."

Joel Klein (and Bloomberg) have seized on this issue, trying to play the race card by turning it into a civil rights struggle and calling the inability to close this gap "the shame of this nation." Bunk. Want to know about shame? Try their refusal to do the things that might work - like lower class size or give schools resources they need, instead of throwing so much money away on useless staff development and high-priced reorganization schemes.

Ironically, Jamaica High School was recently placed in the list of most dangerous schools and will probably suffer the same fate Benjamin Franklin did.

What has changed at Jamaica from Lyles' student days?

Analyzing how that school is turning into what Benjamin Franklin was, would provide some interesting data for the MBAs at Tweed to crunch.

Lyles said, "I just thought, wow, what's the difference?" she recalled of Jamaica High. "What's going on, now I have to play catch up? That's when I saw about inequity, that's when I saw about low expectations."

There it is. She was just a victim of the low expectations by the teachers at Franklin while she somehow escaped the low expectations of teachers at Jamaica. In other words, racism.

Next, she'll parrot the Klein line by telling us that if the teachers at Benjamin Franklin had gotten merit pay, things would have been different. Or maybe they should have paid the kids to study, like Bloomberg wants to do. Life is so simple when you know all the answers.

What was the impact of the role Lyles' aunt played? The chorus of teacher-blamers seems to ignore the little bitty factor of family support.

Did the fact that Lyles was now in a better learning environment, without being surrounded by other students who were struggling, make a bit of a difference?

Did the fact that the students at Benjamin Franklin clearly needed so many more resources than the white students at Jamaica - more guidance counselors, lower class sizes, etc. to make up the gap-mean anything at all?

If Lyles publicly recognized these issues, that would be an admission that no matter how many times BloomKlein reorganize, or manipulate test scores, things will not change until there is a willingness to spend the money needed to make a real difference, rather than rely on gimmicks. The refusal of BloomKlein to take any of these factors into account; just closing down schools while blaming the teachers; is the true shame of the nation - and their administration.

Marcia Lyles won't go there. She has learned to dance to whatever tune is playing. How Weingarten Helped Undermine Almontaser

"I agree wholeheartedly with your editorial," - Randi Weingarten in a letter to the New York Post

"...The campaign against Almontaser was a "high-tech lynching." - Rabbi Michael Paley, scholar in-residence at United Jewish Appeal- Federation of New York.

"If it was a lynching, my union did not string up the rope, but it was the UFT that kicked away the stool." - Steve Quester, UFT chapter leader

The Indypendent (weekly newspaper) has printed an updated version "Teachers' Union Undermines Arab School" of Steve Quester's piece published on my blog. Steve, a UFT chapter leader in Brooklyn, goes into more detail on the role Randi Weingarten played.

I received lots of response on this issue, with people arguing back and forth as to whether a school such as the Khalil Gibran school should even exist, from rational points of view like those of Diane Ravitch (it is a huge mistake- contrary to the philosophy of American public education- to establish schools that have an ethnic or religious focus.

The purpose of public education is to prepare young people to participate fully in American society), to the right wing calling the school a training ground for Bin Laden and a madrassa. The usual suspects showed up on the blog - anonymous personal attacks on Quester.

People have assumed that because I published Quester's piece, I support the concept of the school. But I have mixed feelings. At this point, my interest lies in the way Bloomberg and Klein and Weingarten, the holy trio, known on my blog as BloomWeinKlein, functioned in this situation. While all three express support for the school, the results of their actions have undermined the school - sort of like the "wide stance" argument made by that Republican Senator from Idaho.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that whatever Tweed touches turns to doo-doo. And so it has. And by the reaction of a vocal minority of teachers, many of them Jewish, Weingarten has the same magic touch. New York Times does another puff piece on Klein

Joel Klein has been doing a media blitz, even saying he wants to remain beyond Bloomberg's term in office, to finish the job of driving the entire NYC school system into oblivion, so it could be "rescued" by privateers. (Thousands of teachers had to be talked down from their roofs upon hearing this news.) The make-nice-to-BloomKlein, New York Times did its usual thing, prompting this response on my blog piece from Vera Pavone, a former NYC teacher and school secretary:

"My blood started to boil when I read the article, especially because it shows the Times and their lackey reporters continuing to give credibility to the big lies:

"He [Klein] has sought to break what he regarded as a vise grip by the teachers' union on work rules";

"Can't experienced reporters Herszenhorn and Medina find anyone (union leaders, teachers, other people in the educational community) who can explain how work rules actually benefit students and the educational environment?

"To divide large failing schools into small schools" and "to put traditional public schools into competition with charter schools"

"Couldn't H & M read their own publication to find out all the questions that have been raised about small schools and charter schools actually being more successful: getting a higher achieving pool of students and eliminating students with special needs; getting a disproportionate share of resources; forcing the larger, traditional schools to be even more overcrowded and receiving those students who have the least chance of succeeding.

3. "To end what he viewed as a monopoly by the mostly white, middle and upper middle class on good public education services"

"Do H & M really believe that Klein and Bloomberg are the champions of the non-white, non-middle class children, just as the Bush administration and NCLB really want to equalize educational opportunity nationwide? Has their investigative reporting shown that quality educational services exist only in white, middle and upper middle class public schools?

Do they believe that test scores tell the whole story?

Even if it's true that, on average, teachers in higher achieving schools have more "credentials", this doesn't explain why so many highly skilled, educated, talented, and hardworking teachers don't produce higher test scores in failing schools.

Both H & M have been writing about education for some time now and should be able to recognize that "good public education services" have to be suited to the needs of the students, something that is very rare now for any of our students, rich or poor, white or non-white.

"And did I miss it, or did they forget to mention class size?"

Norm's e-mail: normsco@gmail.com Blog: ed notesonline.com

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