Friday, February 9, 2007

Deconstructing the System, School by School

by Norman Scott

(Modified from The School Scope Column in The Wave, February 9, 2007.)

A couple of years ago I spoke at one of Joel Klein’s public meetings and said the school systems of Baghdad and Kabul would recover sooner than the NYC schools from the cataclysm Klein and his hench boss Mayor Bloomberg, have wrought. Nothing has happened in the intervening years to change my mind. In fact, I believe this more firmly than ever.

The forced closing of large high schools, along with the policy of shoving competing schools into the same space, is insane. One of my contacts at Walton HS in the Bronx works at one of the five small schools competing with the remnant of what was the old Walton in its dying days. He reports that all the schools are fighting with each other over space, which kids in the neighborhood will go to each school, and just about every other thing one can think of to fight about. Think about it: six principals and staffs. Also, think: what does it all cost?

Each small school starts off with a 9th grade and grows by a grade each year. Imagine the scene year after year. A teacher from John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx recently said that not only do all six schools in her school hate each other but the kids from the small schools look down at the kids from the big school, as do the staffs of the small schools, leading to battles between kids and staffs at all levels.

The new small schools are often accused of cherry-picking the most proficient kids, trying to get as many of the higher performing Level Threes and Fours into their schools and avoiding the lower performing Level Ones. In actuality, many schools do take Level Ones and Twos but use a more subtle form of creaming. Students must sign up for these schools at recruiting fairs and parents who are aware of these events, no matter what the level of their students, will also be more supportive.

In addition, new small schools are exempt for two years from taking in special needs and language deficient kids, often immigrants who speak little or no English (see commnet from Luis Reyes below). These are the most difficult to teach and the large schools still standing that have an overwhelming number of them have their resources so overtaxed that they become known as failing schools and become targets for closure.

Now follow the bouncing ball on how Tweedles operate. You secretly — no consultation with parents, teachers, school administration, community and especially, local politicians – decide to close down a school a year or more before making a public announcement. You deliberately withhold resources form the school and steer kids to other schools in order to claim “no one wants to go to your school.”

At the same time, you overload the school with the very special needs and language deficient students who have been left homeless from the closing of other large schools. Then you claim this school is truly failing and it is an outrage to keep it open saying, “Look at all the small schools and their much higher graduation rates.” Oh, and make sure to emphasize the school’s failures by pointing to its low graduation rate (often in the mid-30% range compared to the rest of the city, which you claim is 58% (by including GED and excluding special ed) while state figures put it at 43%. Call it the flimflam of the century. So far. I’m confident BloomKlein are capable of coming up with better ones.

These factors came into play recently when the closing of three large south Brooklyn schools — Lafayette, Tilden and South Shore — was announced in December. The DOE has already decided to place two small schools into Tilden next year, while Tilden will no longer be accepting 9th graders. Where will those 9th graders go to school next year, especially with the neighboring South Shore also closing? Let me hazard a guess. The “better” students might get into one of the small schools or one of the higher ranked high schools like Midwood, Murrow, or Goldstein. The rest will end up at one of the nearest large neighborhood schools remaining in south Brooklyn – Canarsie and Sheepshead, the next targets on the DOE hit list. What about Midwood and Murrow and Madison? They are too “successful” to be closed. For now. But just let someone step on some political toes at the DOE and it will be very easy to use the flimflam trick to turn them into failing schools. That is why so many educators and politicians are held hostage by BloomKlein. Unfettered power in the hands of these two is a nightmare for all. Do you wonder why there is such fear and loathing of BloomKlein amongst just about everyone having anything to do with education?

Tilden has put up the biggest battle to stay open, forming an organization called “SOS Tilden.” I went to a remarkable meeting/rally at Tilden HS in East Flatbush this past Tuesday night that included all of the elements needed to put up a fight to stay open: parents, community, teachers, students, alumni, politicians and the UFT, led by Randi Weingarten, who put her full support behind the effort. As a frequent critic of Weingarten, I often say watch what she does, not what she says. But in this case, by all reports, she and the UFT are doing the right thing and she made an excellent presentation. A long line of speakers, especially the students and alumni, made a strong case for saving Tilden.

All these forces have united behind principal Diane Varano, one of the few Leadership Academy graduates who have received raves. She was sent into the school, ostensibly to turn it around. Just as the Tweedles pulled the rug out, reports surfaced that yet another high priced consulting firm (from Britain, no less) gave Tilden a good proficiency rating and noted specifically that Varano and the staff were beginning to show results. They had spent weeks in the school making their judgment, only to be ignored. Varano was herself flimflammed by Tweed, actually hearing about the closing from the UFT chapter leader. Her response: “No way!” It turns out that no one in Region 6 was consulted either. The fact that Varano was at this rally and not stepping all over “SOS Tilden,” which meets in the building every Saturday morning, is a tribute to her integrity and lack of fear of Tweedledom retaliation.

My ICE colleague John Lawhead, who went through a school closing at Bushwick HS (is the DOE “school closing unit” following him?), teaches ESL at Tilden and did an excellent presentation at the rally showing how Tilden falls in the mid-range on graduation rates (37%) out of a whole slew of large schools that remain open. While nothing to brag about, it is not far under the real 43% city grad rate. (See Jan. 12 School Scope column, “Tilden, Lafayette and South Shore: Don’t Close Schools, Fix Them” for more on the fabulous work John has done on this issue.)

The arrogance shown toward local politicians by BloomKlein, who stonewalled all requests for information, is one issue that may come back to bite them. City Councilman Lou Fidler, a Tilden grad who represents parts of the Tilden constituency along with that of South Shore, made a very strong statement and has come out of this experience with a clear eye on the BloomKlein agenda. State Senator Kevin Parker, who was not at this rally, has supposedly been so miffed by being ignored and margianalized, he is making it a priority to put serious crimps in the renewal of mayoral control when it comes up in 2009. This is the biggest threat of all to the BloomKlein plans to have their crumbling empire outlive them. And they are now responding by trying to massage the politicians. Sadly, this tactic often works.

In the works by “SOS Tilden” (http://www.allout4tilden.com/) is a plan for a big demonstration on the steps of Tweed. Every teacher, parent and student at any large high school left in the city should be there. As a matter of fact, everyone affected by BloomKlein policies should join them.Think of the joy of all the Tweedles looking out from their fancy offices at thousands of people calling for them to reverse the decision on Tilden and other schools. We know their arrogance won’t allow them to admit they are wrong (SEE: BUS FIASCO). But maybe they’ll be driven crazy by the noise of their buzzing Blackberries.

Did I say BUS FIASCO?

What else can I say? Finally, the mainstream press has said it all. Of course Klein defends the fiasco by saying the high priced consulting firm A&M (which we are proud to have written about in The Wave back in September) which came up with the plan to save a few million on the backs of 5 year-olds standing outside in freezing weather, has saved a total of $50 million by cutting custodial services and other goodies that just happen to make schools run. Klein claims this money – “FIVE O” he said as he held up his fingers “will be put into the classroom to reduce class size and purchase supplies.” HA! And he has a nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Show us the money, Joel. Exactly where is this $50 million? How fast can you say “more high priced consultants and corporate-level salaries for his staff?” And a few more Blackberries.

Bloomberg Builds Stadiums, not Classrooms

Check out my blog http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/ for some remarkable charts compiled by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters showing how the projective seats for stadiums in NYC is double that of classroom seats. Sometimes the flim even outdoes the flam.


Comment from Luis Reyes posted on a listserve.

This is dangerously loaded and misguided language. English language learners (ELLs) are not "language deficient"; they are limited in their English language proficiency (listening, speaking reading and writing skills). There is a world of difference between a lack of development in a second language and a language deficiency. The former is a matter of exposure to learning; the latter is a matter of physical or other underlying handicapping condition. Deficit-model theories regarding the language proficiency of ELLstudents have been debunked for years now.

Also, ELL students, whether immigrant or native-born, are not inherently nor practically "the most difficult to teach". In fact, according to NY SED and NYC DOE data reports, when provided quality bilingual and ESL programs, former ELL students outperform even non-ELL students on reading and math achievement tests and have higher graduation rates! The reasons are many. Suffice it to say, when the public school system provides the "instrumentalities of learning" (NY State Court of Appeals in CFE), ELL students can and do succeed in reaching proficiency on all the learning standards.

The concentration of ELLs in large high schools that are under-resourced, overcrowded and low-performing is a reality, created in part by the DOE. In closing down low-performing high schools and limiting ELLs' access to most new small high schools beyond the new International High Schools (which only take recently-arrived ELLs), the DOE has redirected ELLs to the remaining large high schools. Blame DOE bureaucrats for "overtaxing" the large high schools, not ELL students.

Language matters and how we talk about our diverse student population also matters!

Luis O. Reyes
Coordinator, CEEELL
Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners

I probably used the wrong term here but I am not sure exactly what term I should have used. Any suggestions appreciated. Direct comments to this piece on my blog:
http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2007/02/deconstructing-system-school-by-school.html

2 comments:

  1. Luis Reyes writes:

    Norm:

    Re the following quote from your blog:

    "In addition, new small schools are exempt for two years from taking in special needs and language deficient kids, often immigrants who speak little or no English. These are the most difficult to teach and the large schools still standing that have an overwhelming number of them have their resources so overtaxed that they become known as failing schools and become targets for closure."

    This is dangerously loaded and misguided language. English language learners (ELLs) are not "language deficient"; they are limited in their English language proficiency (listening, speaking reading and writing skills). There is a world of difference between a lack of development in a second language and a language deficiency. The former is a matter of exposure to learning; the latter is a matter of physical or other underlying handicapping condition. Deficit-model theories regarding the language proficiency of ELLstudents have been debunked for years now.

    Also, ELL students, whether immigrant or native-born, are not inherently nor practically "the most difficult to teach". In fact, according to NY SED and NYC DOE data reports, when provided quality bilingual and ESL programs, former ELL students outperform even non-ELL students on reading and math achievement tests and have higher graduation rates! The reasons are many. Suffice it to say, when the public school system provides the "instrumentalities of learning" (NY State Court of Appeals in CFE), ELL students can and do succeed in reaching proficiency on all the learning standards.

    The concentration of ELLs in large high schools that are under-resourced, overcrowded and low-performing is a reality, created in part by the DOE. In closing down low-performing high schools and limiting ELLs' access to most new small high schools beyond the new International High Schools (which only take recently-arrived ELLs), the DOE has redirected ELLs to the remaining large high schools. Blame DOE bureaucrats for "overtaxing" the large high schools, not ELL students.

    Language matters and how we talk about our diverse student population also matters!

    Luis O. Reyes
    Coordinator, CEEELL
    Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks again, Norm, for grasping out sentiments here at our High School. Ditto everything you said. Incidentally, we finally managed our first - and only fire drill in a long - when all six school principals agreed to hold one in late December. But first, the new schools conspired to do away with mandatory suspensions for knives and box cutters and got rid of our old detention rules for latecomers - causing a disastrous lateness problem that still plagues [our school]. Snooty students from the other schools arrogantly claim [our] faculty has no juristiction over them when they're stopped in our space or do wrong. Our students are made to understand they're not wanted in their space.
    [Our school] continues to lose space - and morale as we're packed into a smaller area. Some of the new schools have dropped the titles of Mr. and Miss from teacher names and students adress them by their first names. But I suppose this practice is the least of our gripes.

    It all inspired the attached poem.

    The Bloomberg – Klein School for Principals without Principles

    (Or, The Fire Next Time)

    By Anonymous


    “To be a general and lead and army
    First be a soldier and march through mud.”

    General Sherman

    “To be a principal and lead a school
    First be a teacher and march
    through chalk dust.”
    General Common Sense

    Many cooks in a kitchen spoil the broth.
    One says salt, the second a tomato,
    While another, pepper in a rich sauce.
    Yet a fourth says “I want a potato.”

    Too many captains on a ship steer wrong.
    “East!” “No west!” Still a third says, “Lets go north.”
    This discord at sea makes the voyage long
    As straight for the icebergs they all sail forth.

    So too many principals in a school.
    “Let’s please have detention to clear the halls.”
    “Our angels do no wrong - it’s just bull.”
    Who cares if poor Stevo takes all the falls?”

    “Call me Mr. or Mrs.” “I’ll be plain Jane.”
    “Suspensions please - for box cutters and knife.”
    “Freedom of expression in our domain!
    Safety rules, you say? Just a bunch of jive!”

    Pull down our bulletin boards, shove us out.
    Take our lounge, take our rooms, for we’ll not rage.
    We’ll pound the pavement for work but won’t pout,
    When you all usher in the golden age.

    Assault all our cops, fake all your numbers,
    But please give us old fashion fire drills.
    For spreading flames don’t respect school borders.
    And separate exits won’t provide for thrills.

    ReplyDelete

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