By Bob Harris
With the arrival of 2014, a new city administration will take over our city. One of the issues it will face is the revitalizing of the city school system. For the past 12 years, there have been changes in our schools that have left the staff stressed out and dispirited. Morale is low.
Rules and regulations have changed almost yearly for the past 12 years. In fact, differing rules between the state and city have made staff members confused and frustrated with test after test given by everyone. I think the final straw was the testing of the new, more rigorous Common Core standards before teachers could get curriculum guides and training with the desire to base teacher’s evaluations on how well students did on the exams.
The result was a drop of about 30 percent to 40 percent in scores, but I noticed that the same middle-class districts which always scored high under the old tests scored highest again. This desire to evaluate teachers based on the scores their students received based on skills and basic material tested in April or May is faulty. Some of the material tested is based on skills students learned the previous year and the year prior to that one. Who should be held accountable?
A problem in using tests to evaluate how good teachers are is that how do you test pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students; gym, music and art teachers; and deans and programming teachers and guidance counselors? The city Department of Education pulled back from a plan to test kindergarten students. Do you know some kindergarten students do not know how to hold a pencil, are not even toilet trained or have an attention span of less than 10 minutes?
The DOE has been changing the way schools are rated, as well as the teachers, from year to year for the past decade. It wants to fire the “bad” teachers based on these changes. The DOE wanted to close schools and fire all the teachers. The United Federation of Teachers fought this plan but let the system let half the teachers go from a school being closed. I have seen frustration, fatigue and unhappiness in the faces of teachers who are let go from a school to wander the system.
Parents know these teachers and know how well they have worked with their children, even though the school was rated low and then closed.
The way schools are rated is so bad that I know of a school that scored C in the four categories it was rated on, which was an improvement from the previous year, but received a D for an overall rating. Then there was the principal who received a bonus because the test scores were high but parents were so unhappy with things this principal did that they held a press conference and soon the principal left the school.
Changes in the system must take into account the charter schools farce. Children with emotional problems, special needs or the inability to speak English are kept out of these charter schools, which naturally score higher on tests. An Oct. 27 daily newspaper article listed 16 owners of charter school groups who were earning more than the $212,614 the city schools chancellor earns. The top charter school big shot earned $499,146.
Then there are networks that are organizations created to provide service and help to public schools for a fee. Is this cheaper than the old district office staff which would help principals? Where did these network people come from?
Those changes to special education are hurting students and should be revised. While some bussing is necessary, much of it should be curtailed and neighborhood schools enhanced.
All of these changes and plans have been going on for a dozen years. Yes, more students are graduating from high school, but how many are ready for college or the workforce? They have to be careful about any new changes because the system is demoralized enough already.