Tuesday, June 25, 2019

School Scope: Queens DA, School Discipline Needs Class Size Reduction

Submitted for June 28, 2019 publication in The WAVE.


School Scope:  Queens DA, School Discipline Needs Class Size Reduction
By Norm Scott

You may have been reading about changes to the NYC school discipline and integration policies spearheaded by Chancellor Carranza and the Mayor and tabloid press has been going wild by emphasizing the excess in these policies. The use of restorative justice (RJ) has many supporters but also many detractors in schools where the administration has allowed discipline to get out of control and is not capable of creating an adequate RJ environment. Often these admins absolve themselves of responsibility and play the “blame the teacher game.” These schools often have very high turnovers of staff. If you want to see a key to admin incompetence check the turnover rates. In the Bloomberg days, principals who had high turnover were praised as bringing in new blood while dumping senior teachers (and their salaries).

The most controversial have been attempts to revise the conditions for entry to the big 3 specialty schools: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, the only schools based on one test, the SSHAT. Traditionalists are going wild. As is the Asian community, which dominates all three schools. What is sort of funny is that the equally great school, Townshend Harris in Queens, does not rely on the test but on an amalgam of grades. I don’t believe in the one test policy but am also always suspicious of the De Blasio administration of the schools. I also believe all students benefit from a diversity of schoolmates. That Brooklyn Tech at one time had a high proportion of black students and now has barely none means something. The number of white kids at these schools has also declined but they are viewed as having other options.

Teachers are very familiar with the constant refrain to “differentiate instruction” which means reaching every child at his/her own level, even if class sizes are in the thirties. I’ve been sitting in on a 3020a hearing where they are trying to fire a 17-year tenured teacher on what seems a very flimsy case. A key argument is that she has not differentiated instruction effectively enough – in middle school math classes of 30 students (LOL). And then there are her ratings on Danielson rubrics, which calls for a double LOL. As someone who spent 20 years teaching 4-6 grades, I had to stifle an instinct to LOL at what has been done to the ability to teach.

Restorative justice and differentiation of instruction are ideals I agree with but without addressing a serious reduction in class size, chances for success are minimal. It is expensive to reduce class size, but it is time to bite the bullet and begin the process, at the very least in the earliest grades k-4.

The DA race has national implications
·       Race For Queens DA Tightens As Lancman Quits, Backing Katz
·       Cuomo: AOC-backed candidate could win in Queens if voters don’t show up
·       A looming district attorney election may not bode well for New York City’s second-largest borough.

Just a few headlines about what would usually be an obscure election.  I’m about to head out to vote for Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA because I believe in reforming the criminal justice system. Melinda Katz has also promised reforms but I’m concerned about the sources of the money she raises. Rory Lancman dropped out at the last moment (rumors are he is being offered a chance to take Katz’ place as Queens borough president), Katz should win. But the numbers will tell an interesting tale of the power of the Queens Democratic machine and its allies vs. the newly activated people by the Democratic Socialists (DSA).

NY Times headline: A Race for Queens D.A., but Ocasio-Cortez, Warren and Sanders Loom
A few excerpts: “The Democratic primary may show whether a progressive vision for criminal justice resonates in a borough with a law-and-order past. One persistent, if timeworn, image of Queens, popularized in television shows like “All in the Family” and “King of Queens,” centers on white working-class families in New York City’s second most populous borough. “Another is that of an ethnically diverse and gentrified place, a force that helped propel Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a shocking primary victory last year over a powerful Democratic congressman, Joseph Crowley. The upcoming six-way Democratic primary for Queens district attorney may go a long way in determining which portrait is more accurate. It is a local race that is unexpectedly drawing national attention, with presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren weighing in. In cities like Boston and Philadelphia, progressive candidates have captured district attorney seats by promising criminal justice reforms in the hopes of ending an era of mass incarceration brought on by policies enacted during the 1990s, when crime was at record highs.”

The WAVE didn’t make an endorsement  but the editorial made it clear that Tiffany was taboo.

Norm blogs at ednotesonline.com and wishes all school workers a happy end of school year.

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