2008-08-22 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

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

Nobody asked me, but … The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is proud that it could get a couple of hundred kids out to protest the fact that there are too many cops inside the schools. If they knew anything about kids, they would know that you could always get kids to protest about anything, especially when it comes to school. The NYCLU is pushing for a bill that would require the DOE to provide the City Council with quarterly reports on school safety issues, including incidents involving arrests, expulsion or suspension of students and a breakdown of the information by race, sex and disability status. The group does not like the idea that more than 5,000 school safety agents and 200 "armed police officers" are assigned to the schools. In fact, in my opinionthe NYCLU would rather that there be no supervision in the schools, allowing the students to do whatever they like, perhaps to rob and rape and burn down the buildings. What a world we live in.

… Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein have gleefully announced new and improved graduation rates. They see it as progress, but most high school teachers know what it really is. First, the state lowered the Regents pass rate to 50 percent. Then, it dumbed down the tests to the point where students needed only 40 out of 100 right answers to pass. That obviously pushed up the percentage of students passing the tests. You could actually get to 100 percent passing grades if you just allowed students to pass by putting their name on the paper. The U.S. History Regents provides a perfect example. A student who gets 36 points out of 65 on the multiple choice portions of the test (questions and document-based fill-ins) can still pass the test if he or she gets five of the ten essay points. A student who gets 50 points on the first two parts (out of 75 questions) doesn't even have to take the essay test to pass. The bottom line is that this is all a numbers game that has nothing to do with education.

… Something may actually be done to relieve the rubber room problem. There are presently about 700 teachers in various rubber rooms around the city, some of who have been there for years. To the best of my knowledge, about half do not belong there in the first place, but that's another story for another time. The DOE and the union have come up with a deal that would create more positions for arbitrators to move the process along, and would allow those in the room to do some useful work and to be treated like adults rather than like criminals. In addition, principals who send teachers to the rubber room because they do not like them or because of whistle blowing activities will be sanctioned. There is one other agreement. Those who are reassigned to the rubber rooms must be told why they were reassigned. Believe it or not, that has not been the case all these years.

… A Brooklyn high school teacher has come up with a novel way of addressing student behavior in her classroom. She has filed a federal discrimination suit against the DOE. She says that she is tired of vile classroom taunts from her students and inaction from DOE officials.

Aren't we all?

She says that school officials continually ignored her reports about students who tormented her with crude racist and sexist remarks. "I think, deep down, that they really don't care what's going on in the school," the teacher said in her suit. "They don't even want to know." Want to bet that the teacher is sent to the rubber room for improper behavior with her students?

… Legislation to end bullying in the schools has quietly been introduced in the State Senate. The Senate might just as well have passed a bill to outlaw birds from flying and fish from swimming. The bill protects transgender students and teachers and is an attempt by the Republican majority, some say, to curry favor with gay and lesbian groups in advance of the coming state elections, as well as the presidential election. The bill was put in the hopper so quietly, that there is not even a sponsor attached to the bill, a rarity in the legislature, where everybody tries to take credit for new laws. It seems that no Republican wants to take the credit for this one. If anybody up there in Albany thinks that bullying will end should the state pass a law against it, I have a bridge across troubled waters that a person might like to

buy.

… The schools have a real budget problem, so deep that money for Teacher's Choice supplies had to be cut. That does not keep officials from spending money on themselves, however. Taxpayers shelled out $87,000 last year to send administrators to spas, hotels and conference centers, without any official explanation of why they went and what went on, a new audit has found. In one spending spree, Comptroller William Thompson said, the DOE spent $33,000 for an unexplained stay at the LaGuardia Airport Marriott.

… The Democrats in the State Senate are holding hearings on the critical reauthorization of the bill that gives the mayor control of the city schools. Senator Shirley Huntley, who represents Broad Channel, sits on the panel. The Senators say that they are concerned about the lack of parent participation in the present system. "We are approaching these hearings with an open mind, without prejudging the present system," one senator said. "However, we are concerned that parents of school-children and the public have no meaningful way to influence the process."

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