2009-07-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

10 Good Reasons Why This Mayor Should Not Govern Public Schools (Part I)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Now that the inept and possibly criminal State Senate is back in session and once again doing damage to the state's taxpayers, the agenda moves to school governance.

Everybody in the Senate seems to agree that Mayor Michael Bloomberg should retain governance of the public school system, disagreeing only in the extent to which he controls the schools.

If they could only learn the facts about what the mayor and his drive for numerical accountability has done to the system, they might change their minds. Politicians, however, do not want the facts; they only want their own particular "truth."

Here are 10 reasons why this mayor should not retain control over the schools. Test scores have become the be-all and end-all of education.

The mayor has staked his reputation on increased graduation rates and standardized test scores and he has delivered, but at the expense of any real education. Because the only tests that count in the mayor's universe are in English Language Arts and Mathematics, at least half the week is given to those two subjects and to learning test-taking skills. All other education - social studies, citizenship, science, art, music, technology, foreign language - has gone by the boards and become secondary. Reading scores rise, but kids no longer know that we live in a nation with three separate but equal branches of government, for example. Classroom spending has decreased while spending on monitoring and administration has spiraled upward.

Spending on schools has gone to $22 billion from $13 billion in the seven years that Bloomberg has run the schools. Still, there is massive overcrowding and hundreds of violations of the class size regulations negotiated between the schools and the UFT. The great majority of that money has gone to administration, largely because "failing" single schools have become failing multiple schools, each with its own principal and assistant principals. A New York Times evaluation recently showed that, despite falling enrollment, there are now 1,075 more administrators in the system. In addition, the entire infrastructure put into place to track the test findings and to administer the new division that is responsible for the tracking and administration, has added billions to the payroll. Even as the number of teachers fall, the number of DOE people earning more than $150,000 a year has grown to 250 from 175 and those earning more than $125 thousand a year has tripled in Bloomberg's seven years. Most of them are in central administration, testing and measurement.

Bloomberg's "Small School" movement has not proved successful.

So, we have all of these small schools that are supposed to change the way students learn and motivate them to change their ways and become somehow better and smarter. The mayor often trumpets the fact that graduation rates and test scores in his small schools are up substantially. He always somehow forgets to mention that those schools are exempt from taking either English Language Learners (ELL) or special education students for four years. Those are the groups that traditionally lower school scores and cause the most discipline problems. Not having special ed or ELL students changes the entire learning paradigm in a school. And, even with that boon, many of the small schools fall in the bottom ten percent of those flunking state tests. There is something going on in the mayor's schools, and it is often not education. Students are still sliding by even though "social promotion" is supposedly gone.

The State Education Department recently told the DOE that it was going to crack down on the practice of giving students credits towards promotion and graduation even if they continue to fail courses. Reports showed that city high schools were offering failing students a chance to pass by "completing worksheets, attending cram sessions and making up large volumes of missed work by completing a simple assignment." In one case, the state charges, students were given passing grades simply by clicking on answers on a multiple choice assignment, allowing the students five or six chances to get the right answer. In addition, the Regents tests have been dumbed down, experts say, and the passing score for some of the tests has gone from 65 to 50. Sure, the graduation rates are higher. If the mayor continues to allow everybody to pass even when they cannot pass by traditional means, the graduation rate will be 100 percent. But, is that education? Parents have literally no say in the education of their children.

OK, so many community school boards were corrupt. For many years, our District 27 school board filled that bill. It was exceptionally corrupt and inept, but that changed with the Gill Commission. The school board run by President Steve Greenberg was aboveboard and responsive to parents. Today, with rubber-stamp Community Education Councils, parents have little or no say unless the principal of their child's school actually has a School Leadership Team that includes a parent of two. Bloomberg likes it that way, because the UFT has abdicated its role to the mayor and the DOE makes up its own rules as it goes along.

Five more next week.

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