It's teacher hunting season!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

School incidents ... safer NYC schools ... don't believe the hype

Any teacher that has survived at least two years will tell you: If you want to keep your job, don't report incidents. Why? Because "it makes the school look bad." And the principal will get rid of you --QUICKLY.

What are the consequences of numerous violent incidents? Under No Child Left Behind, a letter must go out to parents, indicating the violence report, and offering students an opportunity transfer.
Read on, regarding the effect at Jamaica High School: a drop in enrollment. Read the second section in Arthur Goldstein's blog post at Gotham

Imagine there are two high schools in the same borough. One school can’t enroll enough kids to stay open, and the other is filled to 250% of capacity. What would you do? It might seem logical to even out the population of both schools, but that is not how New York City operates.

I’m in one of the most overcrowded schools in the city, Francis Lewis High School. Our building is designed for 1,800 kids, and last year we were up to 4,450. This year we hit 4,700, and the sky’s the limit. Where the extra kids will go I have no idea. I teach in a trailer out back, and you wouldn’t use it to house your dog if you had a choice.

In the trailers, you never can tell if there will be heat on cold days or AC on hot ones (and don’t buy a used car from anyone who tells you tin keeps you cool). The bathrooms are an abomination. Though school trailers are all the rage in New York City, you never see them on the news. If I didn’t visit one every working day of my life, I probably wouldn’t believe they existed.

On the other hand, James Eterno, chapter leader at Jamaica High School, has a completely different problem. Not enough kids are enrolling in his school. Could we help one another? That way, if, God forbid, there were ever a fire or something, perhaps more of us could make it out alive. How did things get to this point?

It’s complicated. Longtime teachers know that a lot of incidents routinely go unreported. The Bloomberg administration, early on, declared all incidents would be reported, and some administrators took those words to heart — as did those at Jamaica. The consequences are highly unlikely to encourage other administrators to do the same.

The city labeled Jamaica a “priority” school, and then an “impact” school. Ultimately, the state labeled the school “persistently dangerous.” Under NCLB, this triggered a letter home to all Jamaica parents, offering them an opportunity to transfer their kids to another school. Understandably, the school population dropped precipitously. Was Jamaica persistently dangerous, or was it just reporting more incidents than its neighbors?

Administration then began to move in the opposite direction. This resulted in the disastrous policy (by no means unique to Jamaica) of not allowing staff to call 911 without administrative approval. This was widely covered in the media, and likely resulted in even lower enrollment at Jamaica.

The DoE’s position was that Jamaica needed surveillance cameras, police, and metal detectors to improve. Eterno felt it would’ve benefited more from additional counselors, teachers, and social workers. But that was not to be the case. In fact, in 2008 Jamaica had over a dozen teachers, excessed due to declining enrollment, sitting in the school day after day, sometimes working as subs.

Why couldn’t these teachers have been used to decrease class sizes, and consequently give more attention to kids at Jamaica? The answer may be that the DoE had other plans for the space created by the exodus of local kids.

In 2008, Queens Collegiate, a school co-sponsored by the College Board, was placed in what used to be the social studies wing of Jamaica High. Jamaica’s social studies department was banished to an office in which they shared a single electrical outlet. Meanwhile, according to Eterno, Queens Collegiate rooms got paint, computers, smartboards, and everything else private-public ventures are entitled to in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York.

Additional schools create additional levels of administration and eat up classroom space, worsening overcrowding. Eterno asks, “Wouldn’t it be a better idea to fix a place like Jamaica?” At overcrowded Francis Lewis High School, I wonder the same thing. Why couldn’t the free space in Jamaica be used to help us, rather than a privately-sponsored school? Why doesn’t the city invest in technology, magnet programs, and better conditions to draw kids to Jamaica?

In fact, why don’t they offer prospective Jamaica students lower class sizes (which parents declared their number one priority on a DoE-sponsored survey)? Hasn’t Mayor Bloomberg accepted hundreds of millions of CFE lawsuit funds for that very purpose? Isn’t fixing schools for our kids, whether or not they win charter lotteries, whether or not they’re accepted into elite schools, worth a try?

Eterno says of the DoE, “If they perceive you as troubled, they don’t throw you a lifeline. They seem to say, ‘Good, you’re drowning. We hope you go under.’” But is that attitude unique to Jamaica? It doesn’t appear so. Our school is just a variation on a theme. They perceive us as successful, and seem to want to overcrowd us until we reach a breaking point — which is nothing short of inevitable.

It’s sort of a Catch 22 — struggle and you’re in danger of closing, but excel and you’re packed to the rafters and beyond. Why not give Lewis kids a real incentive to attend Jamaica, or any nearby school for that matter? Any time it felt like it, this administration could wake up and help me and James Eterno.

More importantly, it could help the thousands of kids we serve.

THE HYPE: "SCHOOL CRIME HAS REDUCED UNDER BLOOMBERG" -- More from the recent Bloomberg Watch blog-post
The Bloomberg administration claims that increased policing in schools is responsible for a significant decline in school crime. But the National Center for Schools and Communities at Fordham University shows that such claims are inflated: Although the DOE reports declines as large as 59 percent for major crime incidents and 33 percent for all crime at the Impact Schools, the numbers on which these percentages are based are so low that even very small numerical decreases create large percentage changes. For example, at Christopher Columbus High School behavior officially classed as violent crime decreased from 17 incidents during the 2004-2005 school year to 10 during the 2005-2006 school year, which represented a 41 percent decline on paper, but only a small decrease in actual incidents.

Brown University educational analyst Deinya Phenix (formerly of New York University) provides further support for the conclusion that the Bloomberg administration’s claims about decreases in school crime are misleading. Regression analysis reveals that the decline in crime figures at Impact Schools is not statistically significant compared to simultaneous declines at other high schools. Crime in schools had been declining for years before the Impact Schools program; proving, Phenix contends, that “the most important factor in the decrease in school crime is the passage of time.”
{{An interjection: see this Drum Major Institute report, "A Look at the Impact Schools".}}
Despite the Bloomberg administration’s willingness to exaggerate small drops in school crime statistics, city officials routinely downplay statistics that show a rise in school crime. Data recently released by the Mayor’s Office show that major crime in city schools increased by 21 percent from July through October of 2006 compared with the same period in 2005.57 Although city officials virtually ignored the data, a close examination of the numbers is worthwhile. The rise in major crime incidents was driven by an increase in grand larceny, typically theft, without threat or force, of items worth more than $ 1,000, such as laptops or credit cards. The 197 incidents of grand larceny which occurred from July through October 2006 — and which caused the rise in major crimes— could not have been prevented or deterred by policing practices that rely on metal detectors.

Three years ago the New York Times ran thought-provoking article with a thought-provoking headline. Winnie Hu's October 8, 2006 story reported on how a school in Rome --in upstate New York-- joined a list of the state's most violent schools, "A Very Violent School, or Just Very Honest?"
It noted that even public overseers questioned whether under-reporting was occurring:
an audit by the New York State comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, in May found that high schools were significantly underreporting school violence.

James Garbarino, a psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago, is one of many school violence experts skeptical about watch lists that are based on self-reporting, which essentially amounts to an honor system.

“Lots of schools don’t want to report because it brings unwanted negative attention,” Mr. Garbarino said. “It affects the careers of school administrators and school boards, and it can even affect real estate values. So there’s a lot more at work here than just acts of violence.”

In Rome, the state watch list made front-page headlines in the local newspaper and brought sharp disavowals from school officials, who have invited parents and members of civic groups to visit Rome Free Academy to see for themselves.
. . . .
Complaints about inconsistent reporting have increasingly drawn the attention of state officials. Mr. Hevesi’s audit criticized the State Education Department’s handling of school violence reporting, finding that 10 of 17 high schools — Rome was not in the sample — failed to report at least one-third of their violent and disruptive events.

For example, the audit cited 780 unreported cases at Albany High School, including 106 assaults that resulted in physical injury. The school, which is not on the state’s watch list, tightened security last week after a student was stabbed. School officials, however, dispute the assertion they have failed to report violent cases.

School officials across the state say the reporting process is overly subjective and confusing. First, they must decide whether a confrontation is serious enough to report, and then they must choose among vaguely defined categories. For instance, if a student is scratched in a fight, should that be reported as an “assault with physical injury” or as a “minor altercation”? Or should it be reported at all?

A few things need to be done:
1) No Child Left Behind must eliminate the automatic letter trigger that results from reports of school violence.
2) The greater context of disincentives for principals to under-report or totally suppress reports of violence must end. Teachers must be able to anonymously report incidents of violence, free of administration intimidation.
Children's safety is at stake; school tone is at stake.

1 comment:

  1. Saturday's Times ahd responses to the overcrowding issue. Two of the commenters were from people MIA for over 20 years. There are comments from a current teacher and a student who graduated 3 years ago that are relevant.