By Bob Friedrich
A new school year will begin this week. This should mean that our public school classrooms are prepared to optimize student learning. Unfortunately, the city’s education and political establishment continues to introduce policies that erode school “disciplinary codes” and “social promotion” protocols that undermine teachers’ efforts in the classroom and students’ ability to learn.
The deleterious policy of “social promotion” guaranteeing children will be pushed into the next grade even when not achieving at grade level had fortunately been abandoned during the Bloomberg administration. Moving a child into a grade for which he is unprepared does a great disservice to both the child and the classroom. City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said social promotion will be reinstated in kindergarten through second grade. And contrary to claims made by some officials in the Department of Education social promotion now appears to be on the rise once again in the upper grades. A report by the student advocacy group StudentsFirst NY revealed that at 200 New York City schools, where fewer than 10 percent of students passed their state exams in math or English, 90 percent still received passing grades and moved up to the next grade.
Adding insult to injury in the classroom experience is the de Blasio administration’s policy on student suspensions. The administration views the suspension numbers as being “discriminatory” and “racially imbalanced.” This has led to the administration’s mandate calling for a reduced number of suspensions, regardless of student behavior. By tinkering with the Discipline Code in early 2015, it has made it virtually impossible for teachers and principals to suspend students for behavior that in the past would have led to a suspension.
By making it harder to suspend, the convoluted logic means fewer students are suspended, allowing the DOE to tout its “success” at lowering suspension rates and making schools less disruptive. Since most suspensions are minority students, the lower suspension rates fit neatly into an administration narrative fixated on racially driven data. The administration now claims “success” by showing suspensions were down 31.7 percent in 2015 as compared with 2014.
After creating an illusion of “improved suspension numbers,” as proof of improving school conditions, the mayor recently announced the complete elimination of all suspensions for schoolchildren in lower grades. The mayor’s suspension policies have even drawn the ire of UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who rarely finds fault with anything this administration does on education policy.
The mayor’s new policy directives require principals to receive approval from DOE bureaucrats in order to implement a suspension for “classroom insubordination” which historically has been the primary violation leading to a suspension. Virtually any behavior short of physical confrontation no longer constitutes grounds for suspension. Instead, principals are asked to utilize a new approach which comes with a new buzzword: “Restorative Justice.” This means asking students to “think really hard about what they have done,” or to write a note of apology or an essay explaining why their behavior was wrong. These feel-good measures that coddle disruptive students will do little to correct chronic bad behavior and will certainly exacerbate insubordination, and create more obstacles for teachers and students concerned about creating an environment conducive to learning.
This administration has long been muddled by an agenda that focuses on false issues instead of objective reality. Since de Blasio promised a turnaround in our city classrooms, results have not been encouraging and marginal at best. While New York City public school expenditures amount to a staggering $21,000 per pupil annually, we taxpayers have very little to show for it.
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village, a civic leader and former candidate for the City Council.