By Bob Harris
As Michael Bloomberg reaches his 10th year as mayor, he continues in his well-meaning but flawed policy of closing most of our high schools. It seems he wants to close most of the high schools in Queens in spite of their traditions and histories.
There is more that a high school can provide than just having students pass tests, but how would the people in the city Department of Education know or understand this, since none of them were teachers or supervisors in schools but business people?
Queens high schools are the linchpin of neighborhoods. My wife attended Jamaica High School, as did my two daughters. I was active in the PTA and eventually was PTA president of the school. The city is closing the school and replacing it with four smaller schools.
Ironically, one of the small schools is the Gateway HS, which was patterned after the successful program in Jamaica HS. My wife Edna cannot forgive the mayor for closing her alma mater instead of providing the resources which could have corrected many problems.
In the past, this column has explained why many children with special needs cannot succeed in our schools. Some schools have 30 percent to 40 percent of such children, while some have 75 percent children with problems or who come from neighborhoods where it is hard for children to learn. The DOE made life even harder for such children last fall when it fired about 800 aides, paraprofessionals and parent coordinators who worked with these children. This is Bloomberg’s legacy.
The business community has discovered how much money we spend on education and is now striving to obtain a slice of the pie. People of all stripes — retired or current politicians, educators and speculators — open charter schools, which provide them with government education dollars and huge salaries or profits.
Charter schools make sure to reduce the number of needy children in them by not offering the expensive, special help these children need so parents do not apply to these schools. Without the special needs and foreign-born, non-English speaking students, charter schools are able to score higher on high-stakes tests.
But the problems many students face are so great and some of the people operating them are so inexperienced that even charter schools are closing.
The mayor’s puppet Panel for Educational Policy just voted to close more schools because of their low graduation rates, test scores and failing leadership. Nine of the high schools being proposed for closing were opened by the present regime.
Doesn’t that tell us something? It is desirable to have high test scores, but due to the problems facing many students, they cannot do well in an academic program. They just do not understand that all students cannot learn in lock step and that an academic diploma is not suitable for all students.
In our schools, most of the special education children cannot do high-level academic work and cannot pass tests. They now want to mainstream more special-needs children, but their parents let them be evaluated and certified as needing special help because they had learning problems.
I hear and read about supervisors pressuring special education teachers to make children score higher on standard tests. I do not think the leaders of our school system realize it just cannot be done with the average special education student.
The rules for grading schools and teachers are changed almost every year. First there were city and state standard tests, but now only state tests will be used to rate students and teachers. The state tests were made harder because they were too easy, but many high school graduates cannot do college work.
The formula for rating teachers is so complicated that even if students do well on tests they can be rated poor. The recent ratings of teachers are so confusing that teachers who were on leave are rated and teachers are listed as having taught the wrong subjects.
When different articles state how teachers are rated, it makes one wonder what the DOE is doing. School after school claims it is making progress, but the DOE wants to close them. The complete legacy of the mayor.