It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shame of the City IV: in a small school: longer classes, core topics push aside variety of curriculum

Peer into a traditional large New York City school that has been broken up into four or so small learning communities or small schools.
You will see students with programs that concentrate only on core subjects, what we could call EMSiS: English/Math/Science/Social studies. A reform in the design of United States high schools in the first third of the twentieth century was that public education no longer was narrowly about reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic. It developed into a sort of junior university, with those four core subjects, and also topics that enrich the muse and work the body. Namely, arts, music and physical education were offered. Foreign language classes gave students and understanding of essential parts of cultures beyond America. Many people look back at subjects that touched them and kept them interested in returning to school each day. The EMSiS core didn't do it for all students. For many, art, music or shop classes gave them one subject that they enjoyed and thrived in. This variety, shall we say, "diversity," of subjects was in working class urban schools, and as well as in wealthier suburbs.
Joel Klein's "reform" of the city's large comprehensive schools has deprived students of the traditional varied menu of courses. A look at a student's schedule shows what is happening and gives a hint at why the "marginal," non-EMSiS fields are areas in which teachers are finding shortages of open positions. Typically in "failing" --read, lower income and minority-- schools or districts, students are being given long periods, called block scheduling, of 90 minutes. But these classes are in the EMSis core. This core pushes aside the traditional non-EMSiS classes: art, music, foreign language and physical education.
This core emphasis provides administrators with a cover: the students' school days are full; yet this allows the administrators to skip funding teachers in non-EMSiS subjects. Non-EMSiS subjects may be offered; but these are offered in a kind of random fashion: there are tokens: maybe a Spanish class here or an art class there. Students are placed in these classes, they do not choose them. The EMSiS model is given an exception two or maybe five times a week, but only with one class per student. Students do not have three non-EMSiS classes beyond their core classes; they have only one. Thus, the scheduling of one non-EMSiS exception per student is an empty gesture on the Department of Education's part. Again, herein lies the secret to the mystery of the vanishing of art, music, foreign language jobs in the system.

Robert Jackson and his Campaign for Fiscal Equity in the 1990s waged a noble effort to bring New York City schools funding up to par with suburban schools funding. He and other advocates of equity or civil rights for education should fight for parity with suburbs in terms of opportunities to take the muse-enriching and body-exercising exceptions to the EMSiS core. Let's be honest: the non-EMSiS subjects haven't vanished from the better-off suburbs. In many school systems, enrollment in foreign language classes is not a mere option or a right. It is often a mandate required for graduation. Yet, many New York City schools skimp on the availability of foreign language classes.
This denial of educational service is something that is hitting minority neighborhoods worst. Indeed, go into a public library and take a look at the public high school directory. You will see --unless Klein's new DoE has scrubbed this information in the latest editions-- the survival of much of the non-EMSiS educational menu in the schools in the "better neighborhoods," schools such as Midwood, Bayside or Cardozo, schools in this city. French is still offered; advanced placement ("AP") classes are still offered. Thus, students are better prepared to compete with non-city students for places in the more prestigious private universities. The trend of reducing non-EMSiS electives (in the wake of breaking large schools into small schools) is a trend of low income, particularly minority neighborhoods, not white neighborhoods. This detail sometimes makes its way into the larger media: Reporting on a parents' meeting on the closure of Canarsie High School, the New York Times quoted a parent: “You are not closing the white schools.”

There are rumors that William Thompson should not highlight the patterns of schools from his day. On the contrary, we should bring back many core features of schools from his days as president of the Board of Education.
We should:
*bring back the developmental lesson
*bring back diversity in topics: art, music, photography, dance, physical education, language options beyond Spanish
*bring back career-relevant vocational education topics: shop, culinary classes, accounting, up-to-date computer classes
*bring back such diversity in low income / minority neighborhoods
*bring back the neighborhood school / stop putting young children through the competition scramble that middle class suburban kids will only begin to worry about in preparation for college
*restore, not deny: English Language Learner (English as a Second Language) classes, special education classes
*roll back the for-profit charter schools that belie a class and ability preference (prejudice, dare we say) by keeping out "difficult" students, special education students or English Language Learners, that have deprived proximate schools or resources and have exacerbated the class overcrowding crisis

This is an issue of civil rights. Teachers should not only agitate on issues such as the UFT factions, ATR crisis, tenure or the rubber rooms. Teachers should reach out to parents, students and sympathetic voters in the general public. This is a two-tier system, plain and simple. With its block scheduling and its shunting aside varied electives, it is exercising a soft bigotry of lower expectations. We should recognize class and race bias when we see this. Bloomberg has suckered voters and whole community organizations with his pitch of his educational reforms as a civil rights issue, as an accomplishment. What a fraud! On the contrary, the new curricular patterns are a racial affront to black and Latino families.


  1. Yes, this is a civil rights issue: separate and disparate schools.

    Regarding the mandates that you mention. NYS does mandate graduation requirements, and it is the BloomKlein chancellorship that has chosen to treat some of the ones for middle school as "recommendations," not mandates.
    (State requirements for HS grad'n here:, posted on as well, albeit with a strange footnote on the arts. Middle school requirements here: )

    Are these being followed? I know some schools don't have music teachers and kids aren't getting gym every term.

    Klein & Co. act outside the law, they do not take advice from people who know something about educating children, and they hire lawyers to institutionalize what they want and PR people to sell it to the public (through a compliant press).

    The BloomKlein chancellorship is a fraud through and through.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more. Thank you for posting on my blog. I am going to add you to the blogroll and point peopel in your direction in a special post.

  3. Thank you for your comments, everyone. I benefited from the sort of school akin to the type in Shame of the City V. And it really hurts me to see the second-rate standard being delivered to the African-American and Latino children in our city, with our tax dollars -"NOT IN OUR NAME." Is this what the litigants of Brown vs. Board of Education wanted to see for their grandchildren or great-granchildren in the 2000s?