2011-01-07 / Columnists

School Scope

Black & Bloom Era Begins
Commentary By Norman Scott

Well, Uncle Joel is gone and we are entering the age of Black & Bloom. An article I wrote in addition to my column in last week’s Wave had a summary of the strong arguments against granting Cathie Black a waiver but the judge seemed willing to let all the arguments fall by the wayside, giving way too much credence to Black’s socalled experience as a manager in the publishing world.

In a piece at Politics Daily titled “Why Cathleen Black Was the Wrong Choice to Head New York City’s Schools,” Adam Hanft took her managerial skills apart. “The biggest shortcoming of Cathie Black’s tenure was her failure to recognize and stay ahead of the tectonic shifts that the Internet has brought to the traditional publishing model ... under Mrs. Black’s leadership, Hearst was abysmal when it came to recognizing its internal limitations and, in turn, using its massive bank account to make smart strategic acquisitions ... Her newspaper experience is no better, perhaps worse ... the newspaper industry was shockingly negligent in planning for its own future. Even with the standards of social promotion, you’d have to give Mrs. Black an ‘F’ for that tenure ... Mayor Bloomberg defended his secretive selection of Mrs. Black by describing her as an ‘expert manager.’ But even that is a whopping overstatement ... It’s wildly misleading for Mayor Bloomberg to elevate Mrs. Black to the level of a real world-class manager ... But even if she was an expert manager, the New York City school system, with its massive bureaucracy and entitled constituencies, requires far more.”

At his last Panel for Educational Policy meeting in December, Klein stopped by to chat. “Norm, you don’t have to praise me tonight,” he said. “I insist,” I said. He told me that he appreciated my blog post about how we were separated at birth, which led to our hug at the November meeting. Less than two years apart in age (I am the elder – ugh!) our backgrounds were similar, growing up in working class homes and entering teaching as a deferment from the Vietnam War. I remained in teaching for 35 years. He left and ended up becoming the chief representative and implementer of the ed deformers’ attack on teachers. “Where did you go wrong?“ I asked.

The Real Reason Behind Push for Standardized Tests: It’s All About the Adults – and Profits

Klein made his bones pushing standardized testing as a way to put a grade on schools and individual teachers.

How often did he and all the ed deformers use the mantra that they are about children first and unions are about adults? So, here is a must read article about the standardized testing industry. Written by an insider who has worked as a test scorer, the article outlines a multinational industry based on an army of temporary workers paid by the piece at $0.30 to $0.70 per test, translated in the need to grade 40 tests per hour to make a $12 salary. The article goes on to show how the companies gauge the grading “results” based on the need to ensure new contracts to continue profiting off of our youth. The original article is from Monthly Review.

Disagreeing with Schwach

While I often find myself and Wave Editor Howie Schwach in agreement on most issues related to education, I was not in accord with his comments in last week’s “The Rockaway Beat” when he wrote, “It is an immutable fact of life that most children can learn something, but that many children do not want to learn no matter what methods you use or what incentives you promise.“ Phew! Those are heavy and dismal words. He goes on to say that not all children can learn or “have the skills to learn in the usuallyaccepted meaning of the word.” Hell, a snail can learn. Whether it wants to or not I cannot say.

“That is our reality, and nobody seems to be addressing that reality,” Schwach concludes, exercising a form of fatalism about the prospects for so many children. Now I think I understand what he means. Sure we have dim hopes for the future after the education deformer assault on public schools and the teachers as the cause of the problem. Joel Klein’s tenure and the Black appointment are evidence of the virus we are battling. But when it comes down to individual children, I never for one moment believed any of them were incapable of learning. Possibly I was not capable of teaching (or reaching) some of them under the circumstances of high class sizes and limited resources. I believe that is what Howie meant, but leaving out the context makes his words look like a judgment of condemnation to too many children. What teacher doesn’t think that he/she could have success by sitting down with just about any student one on one for extended periods of time? I still hold that firm belief – and that is a major reason class size reduction, one of the only factors that research has shown to have a measurable impact on students, is so important.

But Howie is right to have a dismal outlook as the ed deformers attack class size constantly, along with their attacks on teachers as the problem.

Margaret Downing asks in the Houston Press, “How did class size limits become the symbol of an unnecessary luxury in our schools?” She quotes former Texas governor Mark White: “If class size in public schools isn’t important, then why does every private school in America brag on ‘we have a small class size?’ ’’

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