2008-02-29 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

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

Nobody asked me, but … you've all seen the controversial public school report cards. Each year, the English Language Arts and Mathematics scores on those two highstakes standardized tests are publicized in all the papers, including The Wave. When, however, was the last time you saw the standardized test scores achieved by the parochial schools in the papers? Never, that's when. Students in parochial schools, whatever the religion or denomination, must take the tests, just like public school students. The scores, however, are largely hidden away. When I called the New York State Education Department to get the scores, I was told to file a request under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). I did so, and received a letter stating that my request was "under review." That was months ago, and I haven't heard a word since. Seems as if those schools don't want the public to know how they stack up against public schools in the same area. Wonder why?

… As another indication that the Department of Education is ignoring education in its rush to up standardized test scores, a UFT vice president testified this week that, despite a national epidemic of childhood obesity, the city's schools are routinely neglecting physical education classes in favor of time for test prep. While the New York State mandate is three periods a week in middle school and high school, many of those schools provide only one period of physical education a week, and often the VP says, that one period is used for evaluation rather than instruction or a physical workout. "The DOE has mandated more excessive testing be done," the VP said. "Intent on collecting tons of data, the DOE has mandated a project which requires days of testing simply for the purpose of recording and reporting fitness data - all in place of actual physical education." And, they call this education.

… One of the several new schools that will be coming in September to the Far Rockaway Educational Campus will be called the "School for Information, Research and Technology." See that, I thought that the aim of education was always involved with information and research, which today means lots of technology. No word yet on what the other four schools will be called, so we'll be waiting with bated breath. By the way, since the new "smaller" schools will not have to serve either special Ed or ELL students for four years, we guess those mostly at-risk students will wind up in Beach Channel High School. Want to bet whether or not Beach Channel is closed next year to make way for

five new schools?

… When the "Lead Teacher" program first started everybody hailed it, from the union to supervisors to parents. The program, which pairs veteran and novice teachers in the classroom, was clearly a success. Now, under the Bloomberg budget cuts mandated suddenly last month, the program will have to be funded by individual schools or cut completely. I guess the program was a victim of the need to pour more money into high-paid consultants, collecting statistics and telling the world how great you are doing. And, they call this education.

… As an example of the above, the DOE has tripled its costs for grading mandatory student exams - spending $32 million this year as opposed to $9 million last year for that task. The city complains that the mandate that certified teachers must grade each test has kicked up the costs, but the fact is, there is a lot more information collection going on now that the city has paid millions for a new system to collect and analyze student information. For example, the DOE recently signed a $160 million no-bid contract with McGraw- Hill and IBM to analyze tests results and to provide practice tests for the larger standardized tests. Does it seem to you that testing has become the be-all and endall of the DOE's existence, and that education no longer matters while measuring it does? It's no wonder Bloomberg had to cut schoolbased budgets. He has to pay for all that testing and data collection. And, they call that education.

… What did Bloomberg say after cutting individual school budgets at the same time that billions are going out to consultants and those with no-bid contracts? "It's healthy to go and say, let's cut a little bit and force the principals and the teachers and the administrators to say, 'Is this program worth it?" He might ask himself the same question before he signs any more consultant contracts for information gathering services.

… Talking about testing, another stupidity from the DOE. Beginning in September, teachers in elementary school will have to administer 10 annual non-sequential math and English assessment tests. That means kids in first, second and third grade will get 10 extra tests a year, and you can bet they'll also get practice tests and pre-tests and classes on test-taking skills.

Does that leave any time for other subjects like social studies, art, music and computer? Of course not, but you know what's important. It's the testing, stupid, and the collection of the results of those tests. And, they call that education.

… Ok, let me get this straight. Students can't have cell phones in school, which is fine with me, by the way. They are a major distraction in the classroom and they are often used to cheat on tests. Fine, so far. Then Bloomberg says that he wants to reward middle and high school students for doing good work. What will be their reward? Cell phones, of course. Makes perfect sense in the world that the mayor and the DOE inhabit, even though it might seem strange to the rest of us.

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