2009-10-16 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Now that Mayor Mike Bloomberg has retained control of the school system and can take that control blissfully into his third term, all is nirvana.

Or, that's what the Department of Education would like everybody to believe.

As a great lyricist once wrote, "It Ain't Necessarily So."

Teachers all over the city are reporting pressure from administrators to change grades or to give "extra credit" to failing students to insure that they don't fail.

One Queens teacher was told that it didn't mater whether a kid had failed all of the tests, was absent or late 40 times or missed every homework assignment during the school year. That teacher was told by the assistant principal to find a way to pass all of his students because, "nobody's going to be left back this year because we can't afford to pay for summer school for anybody."

The teacher was ordered to give his class a special credit "Final Project," to determine whether or not the failing students would be moved ahead. He told the assistant principal that he did not feel right passing students who did no work all year and who did not pass a single test.

He was again ordered to give the project and scheduled it with the class. On the day of the project, he was pulled from his class and told to cover another grade.

When the teacher handed in his grades he failed several kids who deserved to fail. When he saw the ATS grade lists, however, all of those grades were changed to passing.

He resigned.

"I was told to lie and cheat, and wouldn't do it," he said.

Other teachers, including a number in Rockaway, tell me similar stories, although they are not willing to go public with charges that administrators will do anything to look good in the eyes of the DOE.

"It's not worth my job," one Far Rockaway middle school teacher told me last week. "Wait two years until I retire, and then I'll be in to see you."

The teacher who resigned taught in PS 147 in Cambria Heights. The school and its administration is under investigation for doctoring failing grades into passing grades.

The only one who failed at that school was the teacher who blew the whistle. He was given a U rating.

Welcome to Mr. Bloomberg's educational nirvana.

Bloomberg's rival in the November 3 election, William Thompson, chimed in, and we can't discount his comments just because it's election season.

"Under the management of Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg, the Department of Education has created an environment that encourages grade tampering and social promotion. When a school's rating and funding are solely contingent upon short-term, bottom line results, it makes sense that principals and teachers would feel pressure to inappropriately advance students," Thompson said. "Furthermore, given the fact that the Department's budget has increased so dramatically in the recent past, it is unconscionable that some schools do not have the means to fund summer school. It is vital that we afford students every opportunity to succeed, and summer school provides a second chance for many city students to master skills and knowledge needed to advance to the next level of learning."

Take a close look at Beach Channel High School. It is one of the ten mostcrowded high schools in New York City. A full 95 classes in that building are overcrowded.

BCHS is not alone, however. There are by actual count 6,749 overcrowded classrooms in this city at a time that Bloomberg crows that he has made thousands of new seats.

Where are those seats.

In the new, smaller schools that he made out of the old, failing, larger schools.

That's Bloomberg math.

Take one large school of 1,000 kids with one principal and three assistant principals.

Close it down'

You now have 1,000 seats.

Reopen it as three schools with three principals and six assistant principals.

You now have created 1,000 "new seats" for the school system.

Smoke and mirrors.

Bloomberg says that he has done three wonderful things. He has closed a failing school. He has put more money into the system by hiring more administrators and he has created new seats.

Isn't he wonderful? Doesn't he deserve to be reelected? That is what happens when you extol "the business model" and try to run schools like businesses.

We know what the business model did to the world in the past year. That is what it is doing to our schools systems and it starts at the top, not only with Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, but with Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, who ran the Chicago schools under the business model before moving up under President Obama. Recently, there have been a spate of murders in and around high schools in the Chicago area.

Those in the know say many of the shootings are gang-related, a consequence of closing a large number of high schools and moving their students to high schools located in other Chicago neighborhoods.

The people on the ground say that by moving the kids from one neighborhood to another, Duncan forced them into enemy territory - a place where rival gangs existed, where the students were not safe.

Duncan blew off that explanation this week, calling it "ridiculous."

It is not ridiculous. We had a similar situation in Rockaway two years ago, when the DOE began to close down Far Rockaway High School to accommodate three "small" schools and many of its students were transferred at the beginning of the year to Beach Channel High School. It got so bad that cops were spending more time at Beach Channel than most of its students, as one-time enemies from various public housing projects renewed contact close up.Everybody in both schools knew that would happen. The cops knew it would happen. Only the DOE and its business-oriented "experts" has no clue that you can't mix kids from the various housing complexes throughout the peninsula and expect peace.

Have we reached educational nirvana, with 96 percent of the schools in the city getting either A or B on their report cards. You tell me.

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