2009-01-16 / School News

School Scope

Don't Close Schools, Fix Them
By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott "The union is useless" was a comment I heard while handing out the ICE leaflet at PS 225 on Beach 112 Street, a school slated to close. I was there as part of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) campaign to reach out to the teachers at the seven schools the DOE announced would be closed. We are trying to create pressure from below from teachers at these schools to force the union to use all tools at its disposable - political, educational, moral - to point out that blaming and removing teachers and administrators is a let's move deck chairs on the Titanic tactic doomed to fail. For PS 225 this is the second reorganization or reconstitution or regurgitation in the last four years. The UFT has been an unindicted co-conspirator in school closings, accepting the closings as a fait accompli.

Teachers held a demonstration at MS 399 in the Bronx with many union officials there.

UFT President Randi Weingarten, the enabler of closing schools, was there to cry crocodile tears and commiserate. UFT officials go into these schools to tell teachers their "rights" - their rights to join the growing pool of Absentee Teacher Reserves (ATR) from which they will have to race around the city applying for jobs with all the other ATRs and then be branded incompetent a year later if they are not hired. Then the UFT will assist them on how to make a settlement with the DOE to move them out of the system. And sadly, the teachers at these schools, grasping at straws, will have little choice.

ICE's Angel Gonzalez was at the MS399 demo to leaflet. He made a video (a link is on my blog).

One way to fight back would be to hold a protest on the same day at schools all over the city, followed by a rally in the afternoon at Tweed to bring attention to this failed policy. That will never happen with a UFT that plays the role of easing the closings for the DOE, not fighting them. The union is part of the DOE ATR creating machine.

Schools are facing the triple whammy: a distorted education system based almost entirely on high stakes testing which leads to closing schools which leads to the rolling pool of ATRs.

Teachers at PS 225 seem to be aware of the role the UFT has played. When I mentioned the union, some just laughed.

Are charters the answer?

We know that unless the population mix of students at schools deemed to be failing (and remember, this is often due to statistics) is changed, the results will remain the same. And that takes us to the DOE policy of setting up charter schools to siphon off the best kids in these closed schools. Thus, they create a dual school system, with the kids with the most parents most likely to seek out a better school ending up in the privatized schools. I don't blame them.

I received this comment on my blog:

Dear Ed Notes:

I thought you would like to know that a charter school is now up and running in the Arverne by the Sea houses. Check it out on Beach 67th street. It is not a school building but a series of trailers existing within the current construction sites in the area. I believe this school will recruit from the soon to be closed PS 225 in Rockaway. Do you think it possible that the DOE is trying to divide the peninsula along racial lines? How many white residents will choose to send their children to a Far Rockaway elementary school? PS 114 is already busting at the seams. The crowd will be forced to go to the charter school. Which group is in charge of this charter school? Check this out. - A Friend

The Wave has reported that this charter school is controlled by our new Majority Leader of the NY State Senate, Malcolm Smith. Wave editor Howie Schwach gave us Smith's resume in a recent edition. I broke into a sweat reading it. (And people complain about Caroline Kennedy's qualifications?) Both Democratic and Republican politicians have teamed up with the business community and with the UFT to create a privatized school system. I bet that somewhere there is money to be made.

Will a dual school system be set up right in PS 225 with a favored charter type school taking the kids who are expected to succeed? Check the results in about four years.

Now the same practices that led to the economic crisis are being implemented in our schools.

Don't miss Leonie Haimson's very important summary of two NY Times articles last Sunday on the financial mess and how the very same principals are being wrongly applied to the so-called "reform" movement in education. Posted at the NYC Public School Parent blog. (See my blog for link.)

Here's a condensed version of Leonie's points from the blog:

So what does this [economic crisis] have to do with the NYC public schools?

All these same elements are central to the policies being pursued by the DOE:

• A system of deregulation, with principals let loose (or as the DOE likes to put it, "empowered"), to spend money and run schools as they like, with very little supervision or support, as long as they achieve continual gains in test scores.

• A "wacky" incentive system that provides merit pay to principals, teachers and students, all based on oneyear gains in standardized test scores.

• An overly simplistic and inherently unreliable formula devised to give letter grades to schools — again, based predominantly on the one year's gains or losses in scores. DOE has vehemently refused to develop a more complex and accurate assessment that would be based on more than one year's data, and/or would include more measures of a quality education, like class size and/or the level of arts education being provided.

• Like the manipulation of VaR by investment bankers, more and more "gaming" of the system has occurred, as our public schools become increasingly focused on driving up test scores to the exclusion of all else - through an overwhelming amount of test prep, resorting to more cheating, and/or excluding or discharging low-achieving students - all of which practices have been ignored or denied by DOE.

• Just as the SEC mistakenly believed that its primary goal was to bolster stockholder confidence in the financial system by ignoring negative consequences of current practices, the DOE acts as though it is its mission to spin the data to make it appear that its own flawed policies and objectives have been uniformly successful.

Thus, Tweed educrats and their PR machine continually ignore, minimize, or misstate all evidence of the contrary - including flat NAEP scores, rising class sizes, worsening overcrowding in many schools, increasing discharge rates - and even violations of the law.

It is ironic that just as our society has lost confidence in the flawed ideology and practices that led to the current financial catastrophe, including the notion that deregulation and unleashed competition would lead to all boats rising, and that simplistic formulas could be devised that would minimize any risks to investors and the economy as a whole, the political establishment seems to be intent on implementing eerily similar policies in our schools.

As usual, Leonie nails it. And the DOE.

Norm Scott writes his blogs daily at http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/ Email him at normsco@gmail.com

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