2010-02-26 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Some Short Takes On Important Issues
Commentary By Howard Schwach
When a newspaper editor tells a reporter to give him a “short take” on a story, it means a story no longer than one page in length. There are always some stories that need to be told but are not worth a long-form piece or lots of digging. Some papers run them as “briefs.” The Daily News runs them under the rubric of “NYMinute.” Herewith, some of the short takes that are kicking around my in-basket this week.

When you put somebody’s job survival on the line by playing the numbers game, you are going to get some fudging of the numbers. Years ago, here in Rockaway, some school administrators, who were told that their tenure on the job was based on reading scores alone, were caught changing the answers on those tests to get their numbers up. That still goes on, except that it has been institutionalized by the Bloomberg administration so that all the high-stake standardized test scores are cooked to make him and his administration look like education heroes. That’s not just true in New York, by the way. Officials in Georgia have ordered an investigation at 191 schools in that state where they had found evidence of tampering on answer sheets for the state’s standardized achievement test. A computer program had come up with more than the normal amount of erasures on the tests in those schools. In fact, that’s how the administrators at the Rockaway school got caught during the 1990s. This city reportedly no longer runs that program to catch cheaters. It came as no surprise, therefore, that some precinct commanders were cooking the books on “index Crimes,” the crimes used to rate them in the critical “Compstat” meetings. It is human nature to cook the books to keep your job. The question is, in any public agency, be it the DOE, the NYPD, the FDNY or any other, should the numbers game be played. There are, after all, so many important factors in what makes a good boss. Tying a job strictly to numbers produces a boss who either cooks the books or does his or her job with trepidation.

I believe that there is something inherently wrong in steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money to two ex-druggie brothers who now run a non-profit anti-drug program. Thanks to Congressman Greg Meeks and State Senator Malcolm Smith, we all now know that non-profit means big bucks for those who run the programs – money in salaries, money in grants to other nonprofits run by relatives and cronies and money to favored politicians. Meeks recently steered nearly $300,000 to the Furtado brothers for their King of Kings Foundation. The brothers say the money will be used for 150 45-minute antidrug talks at local libraries and community centers. That’s about $2,000 for each 45-minute talk. Pretty good work for some ex-druggies. In addition, Smith sponsored a $25,000 public grant to the brothers that is still pending. Smith and Meeks both appear on a trailer for an anti-drug DVD that the brothers are marketing as well.

News stories coming from Dubai point to the mystery of who killed the senior Hamas officials responsible for many acts of terrorism in Israel and in European nations. Officials in the Emirates have called for a world-wide manhunt for the 11 professional assassins who did the job. All of the killers had British and Irish passports, but those countries say that the passports were either stolen or faked. Surprise, surprise! Anybody who read books such as “Striking Back,” which tells of the Israeli hit teams that were formed after the Black September organization slaughtered Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich, Germany in 1972, should have a pretty good idea at who did the deed. And, why not? Should Arab terrorists be allowed to kill Jews and others with impunity? Or, should a nation have the right to defend its citizens in any way necessary? I would argue that the moral imperative says that a nation must defend its citizens, whether that means taking out a terrorist leader living in a luxury hotel or taking out a nuclear reactor that threatens its existence.

The problem with the Department of Education’s “rubber rooms” that have existed for more than a decade but are now gaining media attention is that most of the teachers assigned to those “reassignment centers” are guilty of nothing more than somehow annoying their supervisors. The DOE can’t get rid of them because they can’t prove they did anything wrong and they don’t want to put them back into their school and anger the principal, so they just let them languish there, hoping they will retire or quit. If the DOE has any proof at all of wrongdoing, the teachers involved are terminated quickly. The DOE has made its own bed by accepting lies and half-truths from principals and students with an agenda. Lacking any proof of wrongdoing, they must now lie in that bed and accept that the great majority of teachers in the rubber rooms cannot reasonably be terminated because they have done nothing that merits their termination.

I would be remiss not to reprint a letter to the New York Times from Gary Anderson, a professor at NYU’s education school. Anderson writes: “[Your editorial] misses the point that the No Child Left Behind law is founded on faulty assumptions of topdown mandates, zero tolerance, narrow forms of assessment and privatization. These are all popular nowadays, but they have shown to be ineffective in other sectors (health, corrections, welfare and so on) and have a dismal track record so far in education. Tightening up the law will only prolong the agony. President Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as education secretary instead of education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond has set authentic reform in education back by at least a decade. Educators are not the villains; we might actually know something about education and how to reform it. Consult us.”

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