By Bob Harris
Since the quality of the local schools is one of the cornerstones of any community, I guess I should weigh in again on the seemingly annual debate about the central Board of Education and the local school boards. While most of the previous mayors constantly spoke negatively about the Board of Education, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using softer tones.
The mayor has talked about more parental participation, preventing crime, cleaning up facilities, building more schools, giving teachers more training, providing higher salaries and improving education. I have heard all of this before, but I believe we have reached the highest level of learning we are going to reach with the current funding and education philosophies available.
I did like the comment of a UFT official who said that some of these changes proposed by the mayor might just work if only because the level of hostility has been reduced by Bloomberg. I also liked the fact that the mayor had involved the UFT in his transition team and was in Lower Manhattan praising the UFT when it took title to an office building there.
Let’s again list the problems faced by the schools, but first I want to say that the schools do accomplish many good things and most of our children do achieve and learn. Just read the many stories about our children and teachers written in and spoken on the media. Just read the Times/Ledger.
First we have to understand about the new breed of substance- abuse afflicted children who are in our schools. Their fetal exposure to alcohol, barbiturates, coke, heroin and who knows what else has fried their brains. They are very hard to teach, let alone control. Yes, if the right dosage of medicine is given to the student, then he or she can sit still, calm down and be reached by a teacher who may also have two or three similar children. I know of an elementary teacher who had to go back and forth between the parent and doctor until the right dosage was reached so the child was not too restless or too lethargic.
I know of another teacher who had a compulsive student who could not take notes because what he wrote was not perfect. He had been messed up by fetal drugs and foster care. She went through all the effort to get the school to provide a laptop computer so the child could take clear notes and not disrupt the class. Then there are the children who use alcohol or drugs themselves and do not come to class or do homework or pass tests. This is why there is a SPARK program to help students in every high school plus other services. All this costs money but is absolutely necessary to help the students. Or should the classroom teacher do it all?
There are too many parents who should not be parents. Some are part of dysfunctional families, some use drugs or alcohol themselves, some don’t care. If the family does not encourage the child to come to class and listen and take notes and do homework, then there is only so much a teacher can do. As early as kindergarten the parents fail come in for Open School Day. Who will come in high school?
Even with all the talk of needing the community school boards as a place where parents, especially immigrant and minority parents who have no other forum can go, how many turn up to learn about the schools and be heard? It is interesting that the PTAs or PAs are in every school yet the parents don’t attend or get involved. Why is it that often only 3 percent or 4 percent of the parents vote in a school or school board election? How can a teacher change those statistics? How can the control of mayor over the central school board change parental interest or involvement?
Why are there so many uncertified teachers in our schools? Is it the work load, the frustration, the lack of help, the lack of supplies, the disruptive children, the fact that many teachers are middle class facing under-class problems? Why should an educated person teach when he or she can work in an office or industry for a higher salary and even have a lunchroom which has not been turned into a classroom? Some do like the vacations. I believe that New York state will require all teachers to be certified in a year or two plus and students to all pass the Regents tests. I will believe it when I see it … unless they reduce the standards about 35 percent, but then that will defeat the reasons for standards.
There is still a shortage of classrooms in Queens but no one is talking about the flood of people who sometimes illegally come into our city. Many are invisible to the Census, so we don't get federal aid for the children, but they do use our schools and other facilities.
We can never have enough classrooms until we control our borders. I know we were all immigrants at one time, but how much can we do unless there is a plan to educate the children and send them back to their home countries to help these countries develop economically?
I again want to remind you that there are many positive accomplishments by our students in our schools.