The Civic Scene: Tests and charter schools do little to help needy students

The Civic Scene: Tests and charter schools do little to help needy students
By Bob Harris

The state Regents has agreed to grant a waiver so a woman with no education experience, ties to any public school system or advanced academic degrees can become city schools chancellor.

Many people believe the mayor’s and the current chancellor’s methods have improved our schools. For half a dozen years, teachers taught students the material needed to take tests to the exclusion of other subjects. Test scores went up. Until last year, the rising test scores looked good, but then the state said the tests had become too easy, so grades were downgraded about 20 percent. This means there was not really any increased learning but easier tests, which now are going to be made harder.

Another statistic which was supposed to mean there was progress was that more high school students were graduating. Passing tests permits students to graduate, but if the tests given were too easy, then the 15 percent increase in graduation rates meant that those simpler tests made it easier to graduate. Easier, lower-grade tests result in high school students getting into college who do not know how to study, read, spell, write, do math and learn academic subjects, so they cannot do college-level work.

We all realize that our society must have literate workers and highly trained, academically proficient high school graduates or our industries will not have the workers and creators needed to compete in the world marketplace. This push for reform is needed because we are slipping down the scale of advanced nations.

The teachers may have taught 15 or 20 years. The salaries and seniority are too high so principals do not want them because they have to pay for the extra money out of their school budget. The new schools opened up in the old buildings may not take all neighborhood students, so they have to go to a school further away. The new schools do not want special-needs students.

These new little schools have discouraged the enrollment of special-needs students. If a new school has a lottery, it lets it be known that it is so small it will not have special facilities for children who need them. Thus parents do not apply there for their children.

Francis Lewis High School just slipped a fraction of a point to a C category. The problem was that this school did not advance its special-needs students enough. The problem is that many special education students have learning problems and cannot advance very much.

There are constantly articles about a model school which has high test scores. If one looks carefully, one can see there are no or few special-needs students and a total size of, say, 250 students with about 15 or 20 adults in these schools. Big business and hedge funds have discovered that there is a lot of money spent on education, so they get into the game.

Jamaica HS had a new principal for about one year when the city Department of Education started talking about how bad the school was and how it was going to be closed, but when it decided to keep it open, it did not send letters to all those who had originally applied to say the school was going to stay open. Parents then declined to send their children to the school and now enrollment is down.

A small school opened on the top floor of Jamaica HS was given all kinds of electronic equipment and when it had problems with a couple of students, it sent them down to Jamaica HS. The fantastic Gateway to Learning Program in the school was closed by the DOE, which is further hurting the school.

There has been much publicity about the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is taking a whole 97-block area and immersing it with money that comes from philanthropic groups and the federal government. These are full-day schools with health and dental care available for all. They are attacking childhood asthma. While they talk about sending 600 students to college from their after-school advice office, the high schools the city wants to close have sent that many or more to college.

A society cannot help children achieve and pass tests and be ready for college unless it solves the baggage the children carry, which consists of poverty, dysfunctional families, illnesses, addiction to drugs, homelessness, filthy or decaying apartments, no food in the house, gangs, pimps, rape or not having a way to keep clean.

More from Around New York