By Bob Harris
As a new school year starts in New York City, the city Department of Education has several problems, some of which are endemic, but one should not dwell on negative things when we have so many positive things going on in our schools. But the media loves negative things so that is what we see.
Low reading and math scores are problems which are hard to solve with the limited number of staff in the schools provided to help students. It is the school aides and paraprofessionals who can help teachers reach children individually, but they are the first to be eliminated by the DOE when it wants to save money.
The new Common Core is a way to increase the quality of learning, but it requires analysis and evaluation of information. The new Common Core vocabulary is more difficult than previous vocabulary, and students have not been trained to analyze and evaluate. It takes years to learn these skills and yet critics want the children to know them “right now” and want to rate teachers on tests being taken “now.”
How does one expect students to learn to evaluate and analyze when some have to dodge bullets in their neighborhoods; live in homeless shelters with no place to study; fight off roaches, bed bugs or rats; deal with drug pushers or gang members who want them to join them or pay them protection money; have parents or family and friends who may abuse them; family members who are addicts or alcoholics and use their money for these purposes; students who disrupt classes and are not stopped or cannot be stopped due to DOE policies, see pimps, prostitutes and drug sellers; see demoralized and frustrated teachers who cannot teach due to disturbed students; and frustrated principals who cannot control students the DOE sends them from correctional institutions?
The teacher’s union is blamed because it tries to protect the 1,000-plus teachers who are longterm substitutes. They are from schools closed by the DOE because the previous mayor decided that closing schools and throwing out teachers was the way to fix the system.
He certainly fixed the system by creating a climate of fear and frustration with teachers leaving in droves. Perhaps this is what he wanted to do so new, cheaper teachers could be hired. Many of these long-term substitutes are not permanently hired because they have been teaching many years, have advanced degrees and have to be paid a higher salary. The fairly new policy of having principals decide the budget for their school makes them cut costs with lower-paid teachers.
Another problem is the creation of charter schools, which take space and money away from regular schools. Hedge funds and speculators have discovered that a lot of money is spent by schools, and they are now going after this money. Originally it was thought that charter schools could provide new ideas which public schools could adopt, but opportunists have discovered that there is a lot of money to be made by operating a charter school and providing services to it.
If one keeps out special needs, English as a Second Language and disruptive children, then often students who are left can do well on uniform tests. It is now six or seven years since some schools started, and the results are starting to come in. A recent daily newspaper column told that Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 1 graduated 32 students, but in 2006 there were 73 students enrolled in the class and only 32 graduated. Why?
So fewer than 50 percent of the original students graduated from this highly touted charter school and no students were accepted into specialized high schools.