2010-09-10 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Public Schools Are In The News, And Most Of The News Is Negative
Commentary By Howard Schwach

New York public schools started earlier this week, at least for one day before the Jewish Holidays intervened.

This year, thanks to the controversy over plummeting standardized test scores and charter schools, the educational community is much in the news this month.

It is clear that schools have changed since I retired from the system in June of 2001, after 30 years as a teacher, staff developer, curriculum editor, school programmer and middle school facilitator.

When I walked out of the Junior High School 202 (my last District 27 assignment) for the last time, there were 17 schools in Rockaway all told.

If you looked at the school directory in last week’s Wave, you could have counted 27 Rockaway schools, including five at the Far Rockaway Educational Campus – what was once the proud and competent Far Rockaway High School.

Listen to the names of the four new schools inside FRHS: The Frederick Douglass Academy VI; the Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA) VI; The Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology; and the Academy of Medical Technology.

There is something similar happening to the other Rockaway high school as well. While the court stopped Bloomberg and Klein from closing BCHS, an agreement with the UFT allows for another school to share the building. That makes three – BCHS; the Channel View School For Research and the new Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability.

There are now three schools at PS 225 in Rockaway Park – PS 225; The Waterside Children’s Studio School; and The Waterside School for Leadership.

You get the picture. Where once there were three schools, with three principals and six assistant principals, there are now 10 schools, with ten principals and 25 assistant principals.

All to teach the same kids.

Or, at least the same kids who are making the grade. Where did those students who were not making the grade wind up – the special ed students and the English Language Learners – nobody seems to know and nobody at the DOE seems to care.

Where does the money to pay all those new administrators come from? From the school budget. From your pocket. From lines that were once dedicated to teachers and others who actually worked with students.

When Klein says that a greater percentage of the money is going to the schools, he is talking about administration money, not classroom money.

And, on top of the additional spending, the students in the new schools are doing no better than the students in the schools they replaced. The latest New York State test numbers show that fact without a doubt. The state has been cooking the numbers for the past several years in order to make the mayor look good and to allow the state to get Obama’s bribe money. It was a scam as deft as that of Bernie Madoff, who actually graduated from FRHS when it was a great place to learn.

Today, the kids in the mayor’s smaller schools are actually learning less than they did 10 years ago, and they don’t even have the greatly increased reading and math test scores that the mayor promised when he stopped the DOE from teaching anything but reading, math and how to take a test.

Think about it for a minute. With 35 periods a week for instruction, 25 are used for those three “subjects.” The remaining 10 are used for social studies, science, technology, art, music, foreign language and physical education. Seven important subjects crammed into ten periods in the name of rapidly increasing standardized test scores and they had to cook the numbers to get the increased scores.

Now, everybody knows that it was entirely a lie by the state DOE, the mayor and the chancellor, but Klein keeps popping up, saying that all is fine, that he and the mayor have done a wonderful job and that the lower scores are all a misunderstanding.

The only ones who seem to believe him are the editorial boards of the daily papers, who were bought and paid for by the mayor during the term limits battle, which they helped him win.

The mayor is using the same big lie on the schools as the one he used on the Ground Zero Mosque controversy.

If you are against the mosque, you are a bigot.

If you are against his school plan, you are a teacher unionist and against children.

Test prep, however, is not education and kids must learn subjects such as social studies and science if they are to become productive adults in our democracy.

Mayor Bloomberg once famously said, “In God we trust, everybody else, bring the data.” Well, the data released last month shows that the mayor is a total failure in his stewardship of the school system.

He traded education for higher test scores and then could not achieve the higher scores without dumbing down the tests.

By any account, that makes for one of the largest failures in New York City mayoral history, right up there with Mayor John Lindsay’s failure to clean the streets in Queens after a major snowstorm in the early 1970s.

The state legislature will soon take a look at what really happened in the case of the disappearing scores.

Don’t hold your breath if you think they might implicate Bloomberg, however. He has too much power and his pockets are way too deep for that. Instead, they will probably blame teachers, an easy target, but a group that long warned that the mayor’s system was not working and the scores were inflated.

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