2011-05-13 / Columnists

School Scope

Commentary By Norman Scott

I remember Joel Klein’s first words in his attack on seniority: the schools in the poorest neighborhoods can’t attract the same level of experienced teachers that schools in wealthier neighborhoods do. As a matter of fact that was a standard of the Ed deform early attacks on teacher seniority rules. Now, of course, this line has ceased and been replaced by “we need the young blood in the poorest schools.”

Before I go on, I must remind you of something Leonie Haimson and Julie Cavanagh say at every presentation: teacher experience and class size are the only two in class factors that have been proven by research to impact on students in a positive way.

There was another article in the NY Times the other day about how some schools will lose piles of newer teachers who will be replaced by senior teachers forced to transfer to fill their vacant positions if LIFO rules are followed. We can expect these articles daily with sad interviews about how much these teachers love teaching and their kids. Expect the NY Post to devote entire editions to these stories.

So let’s do some math on the pro LIFO vs. the whiny “we need to keep excellent teachers” argument. I’m going to use the 5-year benchmark based on the idea that 50% of all teachers leave after 5 years. I picked the 5-year number because the layoffs will probably not go that deep and pretty much anyone in this category will have a job (other than license areas like art and music that can be chopped completely).

So assume Bloomberg’s extortion attempt works and there is no LIFO and they go after ATRs, the higher salaried, the U-rated and people who wear spotted ties. All the Teach for America people stay because they are, well, TFAs. Now we know that the attrition rates of TFAs are even higher than the normal rate of 50 percent over 5 years. Much higher. So even if these “excellent teachers” stay while 25-year horrible and ugly teachers go, the reality is that more than half won’t stay past three years and over 5 years the number will be more like 70-80 percent who leave. No one seems to be crying over losing these “superb” teachers whether there are or are not layoffs.

So if we end LIFO we will still lose half of all the teachers spared in Wal- Bloom fantasyland anyway. And many more who stay may well gravitate out of the classroom anyway. What kind of investment even in a business sense it that?

But if we still have LIFO and the layoffs (meaning Bloomberg’s game of chicken didn’t work) let’s look at those over 5 year slugs that are ruining the lives of children and munching at the public teat. They are the 50 percent who did not leave after 5 years. And they are not among the people who were denied tenure (an increasing number over the last few years). So this group has undergone a double weeding out process. In the worst case scenario, many may have to move to schools where newer teachers were laid off (to be recalled under LIFO in an orderly fashion – and as we know with 1500- 2000 teachers leaving every year through retirement or that 50 percent who leave anyway they are pretty much guaranteed to be recalled at worst within a year or two, negating the argument that they are lost to the system.)

So what’s so bad about replacing a 3 year or under – even if a good teacher – witha5yearoroverteacher?Insome cases there might be a loss in talent but if we just take the experience factor into account over the long run doing layoffs under LIFO is a win for the schools that lost people. The replacement group will not leave in anywhere the same numbers as the people they replaced. And they bring vastly more experience to the table than the people who were laid off. Plus, by staying, they have already proven they are more likely to be career teachers.

Taken as a whole, which group should we invest in when considering building an effective and consistent, well-trained teaching force? We know WalBloom’s answer. But why expect rationality from that source? Lucky for us they are not using their concept to staff nuclear reactors. Are Rockaway People Crazy?

Yes, I’m talking to you – if you haven’t gotten your ass down to the Rockaway Theatre Company to see “Lend Me a Tenor.” I couldn’t believe it. Last Saturday’s show was not overflowing with crowds clambering to get into a show that could easily play on Broadway. I guess you all would rather pay over a hundred bucks a ticket and $40 for parking instead of $15 ($! 2 for seniors) and free parking. Here is a show that will have you roaring with laughter on a set superbly designed by Tony Homsey where you can see doors opening and closing in perfect synchronicity as the wild, perfectly choreographed slapstick takes place with controlled mayhem as directed by Peggy Page. Peggy, who directed the first version of the show in 2002, has even topped herself. I should know.

Peggy helped guide me through my acting debut in last December’s production of “The Odd Couple.” How nice to see so many participants from that show taking part in this production. The great comic actor David Risley (who played Felix) takes his acting to a new level as Max. David loves to carry the load in a play and he has a major load in this play which he carries off to perfection.

The Pigeon sisters, Kim Simek and Susan Corning, return as Maggie and Julia, two sexy women of different generations chasing after a famous opera singer but not always getting the right man. I’ve seen Susan in every single show she’s been in and every time I see her I want to ask for her autograph. Kim, a middle school science teacher (who spent hours backstage at our show marking papers) is a rising young star at RTC.

Jodee Timpone, who, as Assistant Stage Manager, helped keep me upright when I was backstage, is up front and center as Diana in one of the sexiest performances you will ever see (excuse me for a minute while I take a cold shower). I’ve never seen Cliff Hesse fail to deliver a top-notch performance and here he hits the nail on the head again as Saunders the impresario who takes watching the bottom-line to extremes. I’ve seen Barbara Kelly’s wonderful dancing in so many shows but never saw her act before, and as Maria she can inspire fear as she dominates the stage whenever she is on. Baltsar Beckeld plays her husband Tito, the famous Italian opera singer, even though in real life he is Swedish. Both of them are reprising the roles they created in the 2002 production. Baltsar can really sing opera and I hope to see more of him on the RTC stage in the future.

The always great Frank Caiati, who taught me everything I ever knew about acting, is the hilarious bellhop, doing the kind of contortions that requires a full-time chiropractor to be on call. (As one of my friends who showed up said, “He’s your TEACHER? He’s 24 years old.) The only complaint I have about Frank is that I don’t get to see him act enough. But he also likes to direct as he will be doing along with Susan Corning in the upcoming (October) RTC production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

We almost didn’t make the show as we had a surprise call from cousins whose flight to South Africa was cancelled earlier in the day and they were stranded at a hotel at Kennedy. We rescued them and took them to the show. A young couple, they had never seen a community theater show before and were very suitably impressed. Believe me, they are the last people who I would have thought would enjoy the show. The unique way they close the show is worth the price of admission by itself.

So, you Rockaway Crazies. This weekend is your last chance to see “Lend Me a Tenor,” Friday and Saturday nights and the Sunday matinee. I’ll be there taking attendance.

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