Sunday, December 10, 2006
"School Scope" column reprint from The Wave, Dec. 1. 2006 by Norman Scott
After years of being part of a tiny minority in sea of BloomKlein worshippers amongst the NYC and national press corps, it’s nice to see the worm finally beginning to turn.
In recent months, we have seen articles in the mainstream press exposing some major foibles of the BloomKlein hostile takeover of the NYC school system.
Years ago, in one of my usual fits of hyperbole, I that the school systems of Kabul and Baghdad would recover sooner than the NYC school system and that one day Joel Klein will be taken out of Tweed with his coat over his head.
A short list of crimes and misdemeanors
Inflated graduation rates.
Inflated test scores and cover-ups of massive cheating scandals in addition to scores being pumped up by constant test prep. “Test-mania fuels cheating at many schools, teachers say,” said just one headline that is just the tip of the iceberg. The overwhelming majority of school personnel will remain silent due to fear. (Maria Colon, the union rep at JFK HS in the Bronx, is being persecuted and may lose her job because she exposed her administration, which has gotten off Scot-free.)
Inflated boasts for the success of the small schools where there are no at-risk students for the first 2 years (and bet on discouragement of their enrollment forever) while destroying so many children’s lives and teacher careers in large comprehensive high school.
Inflated salaries at the revolving door at Tweed.
Inflated amounts given to consultants.
Inflated claims for the impact of the reorganization that has left so many crucial services in shambles.
Inflated claims that the money saved is going to classroom instruction rather than pet projects
Inflated (enormously) gifts to real estate developers to squeeze houses anywhere they want without making arrangement to provide for adequate schools.
Inflated claims of class size reduction while NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, if not the nation. (Any reference to how teachers and schools with large class sizes can be held accountable are treated as “ excuses.”)
Every teacher and administrator who spent significant time in classrooms knew without consulting any reports or studies that these claims were lies, maybe one for the major reasons for the attacks on so many experienced teachers and administrators.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters reports on her listserve that an independent analysis by “Policy Studies Associates” found fewer ELL students at the small schools and that students recruited for the small schools had better test scores, grades, and attendance on average than the those left behind at the low-performing high schools.
Haimson also pointed to a report by “NY Lawyers for the Public Interest” that showed how the small schools discriminate against special ed students, “yet the conclusions of report after report, study after study, are denied by the administration.”
A joint report by “The New York Immigration Coalition & Advocates for Children of New York” quoted a small schools administrator in the Bronx:
“We don’t have ELL students. They can apply, but we can't serve them. Eventually we will have services for them, but we just don’t have the people to do it right now. If the students are accepted, we end up transferring them. Now that we are in our third year, we have to accept [ELLs], but we are still trying to find a teacher for them.”
At a press conference, Joel Klein bragged about how the grad rates were even higher than first announced (57% vs 54%). The state claims the rate is 43%. Responding with hocus pocus figures he said something about trying to compare apples and oranges, one of his favorite expressions. He proudly pulled out charts comparing the even higher rates than the averages from the small schools that he had championed, comparing them to the dismal rates at the large comprehensive high schools.
Rather than try to fix the large schools deemed failing, they have been shut down in a painful spiral – squeezed by crowding small schools that are treated favorably into their buildings, forced to accept the most at risk kids, etc. For every kid helped by the small schools, who knows how many have suffered? When 4 schools replace 1 large one, there are reports that they are populated by totally different kids. Where did most of the kids from the large schools go?
When I raised questions that there were few or none of the kinds of high risk kids in the small schools that can drain the resources of even well-run schools, Klein claimed there was no difference and that they didn’t engage in “creaming” of the best students by the small schools, pointing to income and the number of level ones and twos. My instincts said there was something wrong. I know full well that even if you hold a lottery there is a significant advantage to recruiting kids whose parents are even aware of the lottery and get it together to apply. But not having proof other than my common sense based on experience with the realities, I could only hope that some day the real story would be exposed. Hopefully, the time has come.
The Greatest Contract Ever Sold
We went to see NY Times columnist Frank Rich and Columbia Provost Alan Brinkley (David Brinkley’s son) at CUNY recently. Rich’s book, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” about the unraveling of the Bush administration has opened up a window to the way the Iraq war was sold to the public and the shameful buying into it all by the press. We found eerie similarities to the way the Ed press in New York and nationally have bought into the BloomKlein story of reform in the NYC school system. As the Bush story has unraveled, the press has begun to try to wipe some of the egg off its face. As reported above, the BloomKlein fiction may be going through a similar unraveling.
Speaking of selling snake oil, a book should be written called “The Greatest Contract Ever Sold” about how the UFT leadership managed to sell the 2005 contract, the worst contract ever signed since it gave back so many of the gains over the last 40 years; a contract being compared unfavorably with the one the Indians signed with the Dutch — the UFT didn't even ask for the $24 in beads as a takeback.
Despite the sell job, 40% of the teachers voted NO. The new 2-year extension of the “GCES” current being voted on will not require as much effort, but the UFT leadership is not taking any chances and is sending “the suits” into the schools. These “suave” characters will actually end up getting some people to vote against the contract just based on their obnoxious attitude.
Remember the promises of a year ago? Coming soon – 55/25. The end to micromanagement? Teachers having the freedom to choose the schools they want to go to?
Ask the numerous teachers, many of them over 40, whose schools have been closed (which many of us suspect are often for bogus reasons designed to get rid of all the teachers, something the UFT has gone along with) and are now day-to-day subs. This can happen to any school that closes. Attacks on experienced teachers continue to go on as the DOE is trying to run a Peace Corps where it replaces and retrains teachers every few years. An article in “Fortune” talked about how Goldman Saks and JP Morgan are teaming up with Teach for America so that Ivy League grads can spend two years teaching and then go directly into high-paying jobs in finance.
Klein loves TFA because they provide a continual, expendable resource of cheap teachers. “Generally, the TFA teachers are much less excuse-bound and more entrepreneurial and creative," Klein said. Almost 8 percent of new teachers this year came from TFA.
TFA teachers who do stay will one day find themselves under the same attacks, as the DOE implements a corporate culture that drives people out as they age. The new 100G salary? Sounds great but what percentage of people who enter teaching will stay long enough to get it? As salaries climb, attempts to make people leave will rise with it.
The new contract offers a “voluntary” buyout to the people who cannot get jobs who have to work as day-to-day subs. They will probably put people in the DOE version of Abu Ghraib until they say “I give.” Or just maybe a simple transfer to somewhere as far away from their home as possible. Or make them take the “A” train. Look for the DOE to put out no-bid contracts for water-boarding equipment and electric shock therapy for each region.