2010-06-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

With The School Year Coming to a Close, Some Things To Ponder
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Now that the school year is winding down and the summer vacation looms, there are a number of recent events and decisions that need to be discussed and pondered before September once again rolls around. Firing Teachers While Adding Bureaucrats.

Business people love managers and hate workers. That is an immutable fact of life in the business world where those who make the decisions are considered to be very important while those who carry out those decisions are considered expendable and interchangeable.

In that framework, it makes sense to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, neither of whom are educators and both of whom are business people, to hire and promote managers at the same time they are laying off teachers.

Of course, it makes no sense to anybody else, but Bloomberg and Klein are the only two who matter when it comes to education in New York City thanks to our incompetent and largely corrupt state legislature.

The DOE gave the raises to 45 bureaucrats, administrators and other non-school staff.

The $340,000 in pay hikes went into effect just weeks before the mayor eliminated the promised across-theboard raises for teachers.

The new raises come on top of $500,000 in pay raises doled out during the department’s reshuffling in April that upped the number of deputy chancellors to eight from three. Five more deputy chancellors, 4,400 fewer school staff. Sounds about right to Bloomberg and Klein.

The city argues that the pay raises were necessary because those who got them do very important jobs and might look elsewhere if they are not compensated in relation to their responsibilities. That is business-speak for the belief that managers are more important than workers. Budget Cuts Should Come From Vendor and Consultant Contracts Only

If the city really wants to cut the education nut all it has to do is stop giving away public money to vendors and consultants. Let city workers do the jobs now done by those consultants. They surely can do it better and cheaper.

In fact, records show that the city is spending tens of millions of dollars each year on no-bid contracts to do things that could easily be done by city workers.

One major example is a teacher trainer contract that was voted on at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting two weeks ago. Understand that the mayor controls both the panel and the chancellor, so what he says, goes.

The panel voted to approve a $25 million contract for the New Teacher Project, which recruits and trains new teachers.

Now, I ask you, why do we need to recruit new teachers when there is a hiring freeze and more than 4,000 teachers could be laid off this September under the mayor’s plan.

Why can’t teachers be trained by their supervisors, as was the case in the past? Why can’t retired supervisors be hired to do the job much more cheaply? There are no rational answers to those questions, except that many new supervisors who come from the Tweed Academy can’t train their staff because they have no idea what teachers actually do.

There are hundreds of no-bid consultant contracts just like that one and each one diminishes classroom services. The choice is easy. Don’t spend the money on consultants. How Do You Pass A State Test? Make A Guess, Any Guess

One of my pet peeves back in the late 1990’s, when I was still teaching in District 27, was over the PAM Mathematics test. I often riled in my School Scope column (that was before I became editor and passed it on to Norm Scott) that kids who got the correct answer, but showed no work got 2 points out of 4, while a students who got the answer wrong, but showed his or her work got 3 points out of 4. I asked mathematics experts why that was so and who else in the world would ever reward a person for getting the wrong answer.

I could just see a boss telling his accountant, “I know you screwed up our books, but I’m going to give you a raise because I can see where you went wrong.”

Now, others are coming around to my way of thinking.

The Daily News did a full-page story about the state’s math test on June 6.

The story says that despite promises that the tests, which decide whether or not a student moves to the next grade, would not be dumbed down this year, students once again got credit for wrong answers. Some even got credit for no answer at all, the News charges.

For example, a kid who answers that a two-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half-credit for adding 24 and 24 rather than the correct 12 and 12.

Similarly, a miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is partially correct if the students uses the right method to get the wrong answer and shows his or her work.

The answers are graded not on absolutes of right and wrong, but on “holistic rubrics,” which require that a student get points if his or her attempt at getting the right answer reflects “a partial understanding” of the math concept or “addresses some element of the task correctly.”

It’s a wonder than anybody fails. Now you know why math scores are going up and the number of students being held back is going down.

It has nothing to do with education. It’s all in the testing numbers.

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