2008-06-13 / Columnists

School Scope

Ethics (And The Lack Thereof)
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Defining ethics can be more elusive than holding on to a wet bar of soap, but one general view is that it has to do with right and wrong. Some say there is no such thing as ethics. That right and wrong are based on your point of view. Or the majority point of view. Would this mean that if the majority of people decide to kill off the minority, they were acting ethically? Most people (sadly, not all) think genocide is not ethical. It seems that some things are obvious right and wrong, but when it comes to the NYC Department of Education under Joel Klein and his boss Michael Bloomberg, all bets are off.

The BloomKlein "regressive education reform" has more to do with the ideology of a corporate/privatization agenda than with kids.

I received a report that at a recent Panel for Educational Policy meeting (the monthly show for the public) parents and teachers were protesting the constant shoving of semi-private charter schools into public school space, the greatest land grab since the Nebraska territory was opened.

Joel Klein responded that he was concerned with all the children in NYC. What exactly does that mean? Screwing Peter to pay Paul? Causing more overcrowding in increasingly beleaguered public schools, while giving a charter in the same building frills and smaller class sizes? What he really means is he is concerned with his "let's steal the public school system and put it in private hands" constituency.

A parent asked, somewhat naively, why charter schools were needed at all. Why couldn't Klein do the same thing in public schools? Not having a real answer, he again talked about his concern for all kids.

At this point, Manhattan borough PEP rep, Patrick Sullivan, said, "Isn't your support for charters an admission of failure since you have had control of the public schools for six years?" Duhh!! Somehow, this is a point the NY Times doesn't get. Or doesn't want to get. My correspondent said that Klein had as sick a look on his face as she'd seen. The walls are closing in. Once they are gone, oh, the stuff that will come out.

Five years ago, I spoke at one of the early contentious meetings Klein was holding and said that the school systems of Baghdad and Kabul would recover sooner than NYC public schools after the BloomKlein terror. Maybe we should add western China to the list. Klein wants to expand teacher bonus pay by 20 percent while school budgets are cut

Tweed wants to use $25 million of public funds to expand the program from 230 to 270 schools, which was privately funded. Bonuses are based on the same formula that led to the ridiculous school grading system, almost completely dependent on one year's gains or losses in scores. Since the program has not yet been evaluated, one would think you would wait to see the results. But when the agenda is ideological and self-serving, why wait for results? Ahhh, ethics. Speaking of which -

"Randi Weingarten said the bonus program was meant to encourage collaboration between teachers and administrators, not to improve teacher quality." - NY Sun. This one has to go on Letterman's Top Ten funniest list of Randiisms.

The Sun reported that Weingarten... was a partner to the city in conceiving the program last year. … she said that, given the proposed budget cuts, the bonus-pay program falls into the category of an extra that should not be expanded if it means less money will go to core services. "I like this program. I wanted it," Ms. Weingarten said. "But not at the expense of cutting schools."

Asking the ethical question - Well, Randi, if it is at the expense of the schools now, why wasn't it at the expense of the schools before? One of the thousands of DOE spokespersons said:

...The program was a clear example of one of the Contracts for Excellence categories: improving teacher performance.

The code words "improve teacher performance" really mean "raise test scores by hook or crook so we can claim we had a major impact on closing the achievement gap and we can use that to advance our political careers." The real "expense" to the schools, teachers, students and parents is the attempt to bribe teachers into putting their entire focus on high scores on one or two tests, to the detriment of the rest of the educational process.

Can't you see the thought flashing through teachers' minds: Gee! For the extra 3 grand, I'll REALLY teach. The entire process is an insult to teachers, but the UFT wore its (lack of) ethics on its sleeve in supporting the program.

The teachers at each school get to vote on the program and the UFT pushed hard to get them to say "Yes," though miraculously, over 30 schools said "No." Klein has urged school committees to give out bonuses according to the size of test-score gains made by each teacher's students, rather than equal distribution. Teach gym or library or computers or science? Sorry folks, out-a-luck. Until there's a test. How about a bonus to a gym teacher for every kid who can finish a race?

If you want to read more on how attaching high stakes to test scores make the results highly suspect - check this blog by Steve Koss (http:// nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/ 2007/12/campbells-law-no-its-notsoup. html) where he says, "the more you base decisions like promotions, firings, or bonuses on a particular number or set of numbers, the more likely it is people will either cheat or otherwise try to game the system."

What should Randi Weingarten's response have been?

Dear Joel,

Since you insist on playing games with the budget, we are joining ICE, TJC, Teachers Unite, Justice Not Just Tests, NYCORE, Time Out for Testing and other educational groups around the city in urging UFT members on the compensation committees in all 270 schools to reject the bonus pay plan in the future and use the money saved towards reducing the cuts you are imposing on the schools despite a large budget surplus. Your (ex) pal Randi Ahhh! Just a dream on a hot summer day! Los Angeles teachers march during first period; UFT Does a Survey

Ninety percent of the teachers in LA spent the first period on June 6 marching around 900 schools, while in New York the UFT called a secret meeting of chapter leaders on June 9 to hand out surveys for teachers to fill out rating Joel Klein's performance. I'm not opposed to doing this, since it will show Klein has basically zero support from the very people who are expected to implement his programs. But with BloomKlein being lame ducks, this is merely another public relations gimmick to make teachers and the public think the UFT is really doing something. It will have zero impact.

Does something strike you odd about the vast difference in union activism between the left and right coasts? Some think it's the teachers. I think it is the union leadership. Nominate Tweed's greatest foulups!

Famed educational historian Diane Ravitch has been a major voice in exposing the BloomKlein follies. She is holding court over at http://nycpublicschoolparents. blogspot.com where Diane says:

Six years into mayoral control, it is time for an accounting. For the sake of history and memory, can we begin to compile a Directory of Tweed's Greatest Foul-Ups? Parents and others; please contribute your nominees for this distinction by posting them on the comment section of this blog. The decision of the judge will be final.

So many from which to choose, so little time. Oodles of them are posted on my blog where I write this kind of crap every day.

Got some ed news? norsmco@ gmail.com

Blog: http://ednotesonline.blog spot.com

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