2009-04-03 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Irish Mike: The King Of School Spin (Part I)

Shortly before the Rockaway St. Patrick's Day Parade began, the mayor's minions walked Rockaway Beach Boulevard with signs that urged everybody to vote for "Irish Mike" Bloomberg.

Lots of kids on the parade route held the signs tightly, pretending to know what they were all about, without really understanding that they were urging people to vote for the "King of Spin."

As with everything else, Bloomberg's gain as the "decider" for the public school system is illusorily.

Bloomberg's control over the school system ends on June 30. Eight years ago, he bet his legacy on improving the schools, and now that he wants four more years to destroy the middle class in New York City, it is particularly important to him that mayoral control be renewed by the state legislature. The only way he can do that, besides bribing individual legislators with their pet projects, as he did the city council in his fight for four more years, is to "prove" that he has greatly improved the city.

To do that, he has utilized his friends in the media, who constantly run stories that are contrary to the truth of what is going on in the system.

Oh, the facts that show improvement are true enough, but the spin behind the "facts" is never to be told, at least in the pages of the New York Times and the New York Post. Bloomberg recently was quoted in the Post as saying that his administration "has changed public education as we know it."

He is right, except that he gave the connotation that it has changed for the better, when, in fact, it has changed for the worse.

In fact, in my view as a retired teacher/ staff developer/curriculum writer/ school programmer/middle school facilitator/ textbook writer and chief cook and bottle-washer, education has gone the way of the buggy whip and Flit in an attempt to use the sham of "accountability and measurement" to severely reduce the amount of real education going on in the public schools.

Let's look at the record behind the spin.

Since everything prized by the mayor's minions concerns test scores, a number of other vital subjects, including social studies, science, foreign language, technology and physical education have been swept aside in the name of higher achievement on the highstakes English Language Arts and Mathematics tests.

Since education entails creating a well-rounded person who can research, use facts to make judgments and utilize information in creative ways, subjects such as social studies are vital to allowing a citizen to become a knowledgeable voter (spoken like a true social studies teacher).

Don't take my word for it, listen to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Interviewed for the New York Times Magazine, O'Connor decried the lack of citizenship education in our public schools.

"Only about one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government, much less say what they do," O'Connor said. Apparently, a great many people [do not know] that the framers of our Constitution went to such great effort to create an independent judicial branch that would not be subject to retaliation by either the executive branch or the legislative branch because of some judgment made by those judges."

Why don't young people know that there is something called "checks and balances" and that there are three coequal branches of government (the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches)?

They should, because the Constitution and our government is mandated by the state to be part of the eight grade curricula, taught at least five times a week. They do not because social studies is taught only two or three times a week, and there is little time for inculcating citizenship education. There is too little time to turn students into functional, voting citizens.

There are 40 schools periods each week (eight periods a day times five days). Five of those are lunch periods, leaving 35 for instruction.

Before the mayor took over, students would typically take 25 periods of the four major subject areas - mathematics, English, social studies and science. That left ten periods for other subjects such as foreign language, gym, technology, art and music.

Today, however, the typical middle school student takes 10 periods of language arts, ten periods of mathematics and five periods of test-taking skills. That leaves 10 periods for all of the "minor subjects above, but adds social studies and science to that ten-period mix.

That often means a student gets three periods of science and two periods of social studies each week, rather than the six or seven they got just eight years ago and far fewer than the five periods a week mandated by the state.

Education?

Who cares about education, as long as the scores on the math and ELA tests go up?

Certainly not the mayor or his chancellor, Joel Klein. To the two business people, the bottom line is scores, which have gone up, I believe, because of a combination of dumbing down the tests and lowering the passing score with more of an emphasis on test-taking skills than on genuine education.

A few weeks ago, the mayor crowed that fewer schools are on the state's list of schools under review.

Of course there are. That is because the mayor has closed many of the failing schools.

That takes them off the list. In their place, he starts two or three "new" schools. That gives those new schools three years of operation before the state takes a close look at them. By that time, the mayor will be in his last year or out of town.

See what I mean by spin? The list goes on and on.

More next week in this space.

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