2012-05-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Don’t Give Me Your ‘Truth,’ Just Give Me The Facts
Commentary By Howard Schwach

A month or so ago, Geoffrey Canada and Ed Koch wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Daily News.

Canada, the principal of a “successful” charter school in Harlem and Koch, once the most liberal mayor of New York and now a staunch conservative pundit, had recently joined with several hedge fund managers, corporation CEOs and high-profile education reformers to form a group dedicated to taking over the public schools for the business interests they represent.

After all, where the big money was once in providing suspect mortgages and then betting they would fail, the big money today is in the education business.

All you have to do to understand the massive amounts of money available to a creative education reformer is to look at Eva Moskowitz, who was once the lowly chair of the City Council Education Committee without knowing anything about education and is now a millionaire education star, dragging in money hand over fist by overseeing a series of charter schools provided to her by her buddy, Mike Bloomberg, who moved aside public schools to give her free space to earn her millions.

In their op-ed page article, Canada and Koch point proudly to the fact that, under Bloomberg and his busi-ness bent, the graduation rate has climbed from just under 50 percent to more than 60 percent.

That is their “truth.”

What they don’t dwell on is the fact that only 20 percent of those who graduate are ready for either higher education or the world of work because their academic scores are so low they need remediation.

“We should glow with pride over the huge increase in CUNY admissions from our public schools,” the op-ed crows in another “truth.”

The fact is, however, a growing number of those graduates, nearly 65 percent, cannot take college-level courses and need remediation help before they are able to take those basic classes.

Koch and Canada (sounds like a vaudeville team, but they are no jokesters – they have billions of dollars of Bloomberg and hedge fund money backing their play) say that those who oppose them “want to go back to the bad old days.”

Were those old days so bad, however?

Did you go to a New York City public school, and, if so, did you get an education?

I know that I did. I started PS 106 in Edgemere in 1943 and then went on to Far Rockaway High School.

Both of my parents graduated from Far Rockaway High School. So did my son, a retired New York City police lieutenant. My daughter, now the executive director of a synagogue in Syosset, Long Island, graduated from Townsend Harris High School. Both my son and my daughter attended IS 53 in Far Rockaway at a time that it was considered “the worst school in District 27.”

They all got a good education because they had experienced, competent teachers and they wanted to learn.

Those experienced, competent teachers still exist today, even though they are demonized by Bloomberg and the education reformers like Koch and Canada.

Their “truth” is that the teachers and their union don’t care for teachers and only want to earn a higher salary for less work.

The fact is that teachers work far harder today than they did when I retired in 2001, not to educate kids, but to satisfy the draconian mandates of a management system gone wild at the same time they are being called charlatans by those for whom they work.

The fact is that teachers no longer hang around to become experienced, disheartened by rules they know make no sense, by a culture of testing first rather than education and by supervisors who have never been in the classroom and care more for numbers than for children.

The facts show that 38.9 percent of the teachers who were hired in 2006 and 2007 were voluntarily gone from the system by 2011. That itself is an indictment of what Bloomberg and his business friends have brought to our city.

Nearly 10 percent of those teachers hired in 2010, 290 teachers out of 3,198, left after the first year of teaching.

They left, they say, because the profession, at least in New York City, was not the caring, compassionate, helping profession they believed it to be and had trained for. Instead, it was a winnertake all testing environment where most of the time was spent not educating students, but teaching them how to take tests and then taking practice tests before the actual tests were given.

It was a system where kids were told that the important thing was not learning content area skills, but in doing well on the two tests. They were taught that when the tests were over in May, so was the school year.

The tests are all that is important, they are told in a thousand little ways, some subtle, some not.

I can understand why the tests are so important both to teachers and students.

Students can be held back based on what happens during those testing days, less than a week out of 180 days. Teachers can be fired, schools can be closed based on those tests scores.

If only the tests were reliable, we might begin to understand why they are used for such global outcomes.

They, however, are not. In 2011, the state began an investigation of Pearson Education, the company that makes up the tests and its foundation. Seems that there was some hanky-panky going on with state officials taking free trips and gifts from the corporation before giving it the state contract to make up the tests. We all know now about the Pineapple and the Hare and other massive mistakes made by Pearson, and yet the city continues to use the flawed tests to fire teachers and close schools. All in the name of Koch and Canada and their millionaire friends and their march towards taking over the city’s schools for their business interests.

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