Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Welcome to the hut, Steven!

"People generally believe that education is what you make of it … Well, I don't know about you but if I were to ask you to cook your Thanksgiving dinner and all I gave you to make your feast was $5, a kitchen-less hut, and a granola bar you'd be pretty screwed. That's the same situation society puts me in."

A new beginning for public education?
By: Steven Lee
NYC Teaching Fellow
Posted: 9/3/08

New York City teachers reported to their schools this week to start professional development in preparation for the upcoming school year. Our school was hit hard by recent city-wide budget cuts and our principal, who is a very resourceful and competent leader, revealed some bureaucratic "baggage" that can only be attributed to the failed policies of the current Bush administration and their optimistic No Child Left Behind legislation.

Our principal educated us on the statistics of our small school in the past year. Our graduation rate was approximately 74 percent, but the Department of Education calculated our statistics at an abysmal 38 percent. Where's this discrepancy coming from you might ask?

Well, upon further investigation, we found that the source of these additional students came from sudden transfers from a district 79, from a non-existent school numbered 510. When I say non-existent, I mean the building itself doesn't exist and that there's no teachers and the students most likely don't even know they're attending that institution. To look up a school by the number 510 in a district 79 would be impossible on the Web site.

These students have supposedly "transferred" have been circulating the computer systems of the Department of Education, and in the attempt to cover-up the outstanding failures or omissions on the register, they've transferred these names onto the rosters of unsuspecting schools that actually perform their duties. So our report card grade suffers because children are in fact being left behind in schools that don't exist.

This is the illusion that I call urban education. Society believes that it's a null issue or that there's nothing really wrong with education since test scores keep rising, right? Data doesn't lie, right? Well to let you guys know, test scores are scaled to boost student averages. The passing score on the standardized science exam is a 39, which is scaled to a 65.

In all my discussions with fellow pedagogues and administrators, there seems to be a sort of settled attitude about these things. We know that there's really nothing that we can do to change these things. What bother me are the stories I hear of incompetent administrators and principals where teachers wonder how they even became administrators. There's a serious lack of competent leadership in education. I couldn't imagine how long I would be teaching at my school if my principal was as incompetent as some of the others that I have heard about.

This coming election is America's chance to turn the tide on the failed legacy of foreign policy and to kick start America's economy by starting an educational revolution. The lack of in depth educational policy between the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns is pretty terrifying to me. They seem content on either somehow modifying or tweaking No Child Left Behind and aren't really too keen on listening to the suggestion of those who work on the front lines. But then again, I recall through the stories of bad principals how sometimes you don't have to be the most competent to earn the title of decision-maker …

Summer vacation has been a time of reflection for me. Finishing my first-year teaching high school science in the South Bronx has opened my eyes to a new level of social neglect that I didn't think existed. Many people ask if this is what I really want in life or if this is something I want to do for a long period of time, but I usually tell them that I couldn't imagine another place where I'm so desperately needed.

I have literally killed myself this past year taking graduate school classes, lesson planning, sleeping less than four hours every night, neglecting friends and family, and paying upwards of $1,000 out of my own pocket on class materials for a generation of students who are not only looked down upon, but are neglected or ignored by those who are in a position of power and privilege. Politicians don't send their sons and daughters to urban public schools. I wonder why? The educators seem pretty dedicated, right?

People generally believe that education is what you make of it … Well, I don't know about you but if I were to ask you to cook your Thanksgiving dinner and all I gave you to make your feast was $5, a kitchen-less hut, and a granola bar you'd be pretty screwed. That's the same situation society puts me in. And all I can do is write angry blog entries or letters to the Targum.

Steven Lee is a Rutgers College Class of 2007 alumnus. He is currently working as a teaching fellow in New York City.

Posted at The Daily Targum, "serving the Rutgers Community since 1869"

Welcome to the hut, Steven!

School report cards and grades are part of the distraction to undercut such a movement by making natural allies fight and compete with each other - you know, each school is an island and we have to beat the other guys.

Of course, you will be accused by the "ed reformers" of making excuses. Yes, do the best you can. But it doesn't stop at writing letters. True ed reform will require teachers to go beyond the classroom into political action to create a movement for change that will shift money from bailouts and corporate welfare so we can tear down that hut and build an education system that will serve children, parents and teachers instead of politicians and Walmart, Gates, Broad and the other privatizers.

I suggest you begin with a movement to reform the UFT, a union that all too often lines up with the phony reformers while going along with the corporate agenda. Without a strong, progressive union willing to fight back on all levels instead of undercutting and coopting progressives, there is little chance that the hut will go away soon.

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