Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seung Sings

As we reported, DOE PR chief David Cantor's accusing the people wanting to celebrate the expiration of mayoral control of "tribalism" led to many comments, including calls for his resignation on the NYC Ed listserve. Below, GEM's Seung Ok answers a critic of the critics with this marvelous response. (By the way, I didn't find Cantor's comment as offensive as some did and encourage him to comment more often as it gives us so much material.)

I would disagree with you first on your evaluation that schools were failing before the the conception of mayoral control. As you say, we need to look at the facts. It was a mere 50 years ago, that we had essentially apartheid in this country. Even with the ruling of Brown vs BOE, can we with a straight face state that school funding has ever been equal between suburban white areas and the inner city schools? Right now, as I'm writing this, each student on the island gets 1000 dollars more funding than NYC students. And the ridiculous claim by Kline that the teacher to student ratio is 1 to 16, is at best data manipulation and at worse a fraud. I have been teaching 12 years, and I have yet to see that ratio (34 is currently what I see at my school).

The only good thing that charter schools like Harlem success has shown, is that if you throw money at the problem, it does narrow the achievement gap as was noted in the NY Times recently. However, it's sad that equality has now come to mean "lottery" and that we as a society can not pledge to make that type of funding a reality to all public schools, not just charters begging for private funding.

So, here is the crux of it. Because Bloomberg and society doesn't have the political courage, monetary self sacrifice, and sincerity to fully fund public schools - we do the next best thing - play the blame game and dumb down the tests to pretend the achievement gap is closing. I teach in east new york, and let me tell you about the massive educational fraud happening under Bloomberg.

Lets talk about common sense, shall we. Remember when you were in school, if someone failed a class, what do they do? They attend summer school, and get that 1 credit. Well now, it's not a mere 1 credit you receive, it's 4, 5 , up to 16 credits. And often times there is no standard. The worse case of this in my school were holiday credits, where students came in and did 4 mornings of busy work handout sheets that were never graded, nor went over by a licensed teacher. And they got their credits. Isn't this just social promotion to the nth degree?

More common sense. The current raw score on the Algebra regents is 30 questions right out of 87. The current raw score on the Living Environment regents (an extremely watered down curriculum than the old biology course) is 39 correct out of 85 questions. This is an example of negligent fraud mayor Bloomberg has brought upon education. I know as adults we may disagree on many things, but can't we at least agree that 33% and 46% of knowledge acquisition equalling a "proficient" 65 is utterly negligent on our part.

The truth is, these practices negatively impact generations of black and brown students a lot more than white students. When we lower the minimum standards so much, and on top of that threaten teachers and schools for closure based upon these high stakes testing, in essence we are stifling the standards of education for a whole generation of minority students. This is certainly a race to the bottom.

Here's is a further statistic for you - from the US Census. In 1960 the average number of African Americans (aged 25 and over) completing 4 years in high school was 22 percent. In 2000 (before the mayor took over) African Americans average 79% compared to all races 84 %. So in spite of the years of underfunding, overcrowded classrooms, disparity of health care, and income, the gap has been narrowing. Unfortunately all of these real modest gains are now being undermined by the watering down of education that is the legacy of mayoral control.

What I would ask of you, is to think about the core issues at stake here and not to trivialize the extent to which race does come into play. This issue is not about political correctness, it goes at the heart of the injustice that is occurring now. When community members and parents see what is going on in their schools - and the lack of voice that exists, to hear that word "tribal" used in what supposed to be a sincere debate, is tinged with the history and current practice of inequality happening now.

Seung Ok

More from Seung:

There is a Seung saga based on his calling Randi out at the DA during her farewell address that is still being played out and we will be publishing a follow up soon.

Read the background:

UFT Delegate Assembly, Democracy NOT

Unity Hack Attack Part 2

Seung-Yong Ok of GEM spoke on Bernard Gassaway's CUNY Talk Show WHCR (90.3 FM for Bronx or Manhattan or on Friday, June 12 at 6:30PM to 7:15PM.

Topic: Mayoral Control and Ramifications.


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