It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shame of the city V: overcrowding the result of unresponsive Tweed; seeing how the other half studies

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg likes to tout his educational performance, and he likes to contrast it with the William Thompson era at the Board of Education.
We are seeing the results of an autocratic mayor, with an autocratic policy, a man that acts alone, through his puppet schools chancellor Joel Klein (head of the NYC Department of Education, at the old Tweed Courthouse).
There are no authentic sessions of parental or parent advocate expression at public meetings of school policy panels. Instead, we have a rubber stamp, mayorally-selected board of yes-men and women that OK everything that King Michael has decreed.

(I was about to cite a Daily News article. Though it has a date of a year ago [October 2, 2008], the analysis remains the same. It is shameful that the city has not addressed the issue. It is shameful that the media, from the liberal "American Prospect" to the "New York Times" has uncritically frothed on about "the work that Joel Klein is doing" and that they have ignored this persistent, and now worsening crisis.) Meredith Kolodner reported community activists making an argument as to the cause of the problem: central or district office decisions that do not consider a common sense solution: build neighborhood schools.
In response to the crisis, a coalition of parents, elected officials and the teachers union will launch a campaign Friday called A Better Capital Plan.

Hey, it's been a year. What ever happened to this campaign? What ever happened to media coverage about parent outrage? Why aren't parents coalescing and challenging the leadership that has worsened this crisis? Why did the city council not challenge Bloomberg's education policy? Why did it roll over and play dead with every demand of King Michael? Hopefully, the changes in the city council and the new public advocate and comptroller will pay attention to the misguided funding policies.

The groups will rally before a City Council hearing to urge leaders to build schools based on neighborhood need instead of the current district-wide evaluation.
They say keeping up with demand is as important in troubled economic times as it is when the city is prospering.
"We don't want to make the same mistake we made in the 1970s, when we stopped investing in the city's infrastructure," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "You do not want to lose the tax base because of a lack of school construction."

* * *
Again, the arts suffer: read this reader response to the article:
A recent survey of NYC principals revealed that 25% reported losing art, music, dance or drama spaces to general education classrooms. Extrapolated to the whole system, that’s close to 400 schools that have lost their art room! In New York, the cultural capital of the world – renowned for its Broadway theaters and world class museums -- public schools are failing to provide the infrastructure, and even instructional time, to provide students with a world class education in and through the arts.

Read more:

Note the class disparity in policy. Neighborhood schools are forced to close or break up in minority neighborhoods. Parents get upset. The city ignores them. Yet, in middle class neighborhoods, the city modifies its activities (to break up or not to break up) with a mind to not upsetting local sentiments. Again, it bears repeating, note how high schools in the middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods of eastern Queens have been spared the break-up mania, no doubt so as not to disturb the parents that don't want to disturb Johnny's chances to take AP classes and French and get accepted into Columbia or Cornell.
Contrast the diversity of offering at schools such as Fresh Meadows' (Queens) Frances Lewis High School with the patterns discussed in this morning's earlier post (Shame of the Cities IV) about block scheduling in small schools in poor neighborhoods.
Note the following from Jennifer Medina, "The New York Times," September 28, 2009:
Not far from Francis Lewis, two schools with lesser reputations, Jamaica and John Bowne High Schools, are below capacity. But education officials, wary of alienating middle-class parents, have been reluctant to shift students to even out the load.

And Frances Lewis High School is big; and somehow there is no rage to shut it down and replace it with limited course offering "academies."
“We’re big because we’re good and people want to send their kids here,” said Francis Lewis’s principal, Musa Ali Shama. “But how much longer can we keep getting bigger and stay great? There comes a point where too much is too much.”
This year, as it has for much of the past decade, enrollment grew by 200 students, to roughly 4,600, expanding the school day to 14 periods, more than any other school in the city. The school has successfully kept most classes below 34 students, which is better than many schools in the city.

Note: the large size of the schools offers diversity of course offerings, something not found in the small schools peppering the poorer districts of the city. The students Medina quoted enjoy the range of courses:
Jasmine and her friends extol the benefits of Lewis, as students call the school — their electives have included forensics, psychology, bioethics and aerobics. The school’s graduation rate, 81 percent, far exceeds the citywide rate of 56 percent.

Affluent neighborhood: neighborhood school; poor neighborhood: restricted choices
Note the contrast: Students have to apply to high schools. For many students in poor neighborhoods (particularly in much of the Bronx and Brooklyn) they do not have the chance to go to their neighborhood schools. As I've noted elsewhere, this is forcing students to become commuters on the subway, certainly not a green policy, as heavy transit usage requires greater use of natural fossil fuels.
Yet, in affluent eastern Queens and (affluent parts of) southeastern Brooklyn, generally, if you are in the geographic zone, you get to go to your zone school. This is generally implicit in the following:
Unlike high schools in Manhattan,
[comment: somehow, the Times writers are unaware of the convolutions in school access many Brooklyn and Queens students endure.]
which are open to anyone in the city, Francis Lewis and other high schools in Queens have geographic enrollment zones.

This interactive website on New York City public school overcrowding has been up since 2008. Where has been the public outrage that forced a reversal of the mayor's preference for charter schools that run rough-shod over neighborhood schools?
Click here, to

Children need neighborhood schools. They do not need siphoning of resources over to charter schools that will then produce skewed results and that the mimicking media (the Daily News excepted) will tout as miraculous. Enough with making new sports stadia, steer public policy over development and construction of neighborhood schools. Stop forcing tweens and teens into becoming commuters.


  1. Francis Lewis High School is not necessarily located in an "affluent" neighborhood, just a stable, middle/working class neighborhood. The teachers are great there, in spite of the horrendous overcrowding.

  2. Them boys in Bayside are the most dangerous and backwards of all. The city should toughen inspections for medical, psychiatric and vehicle reasons to cut down the number of congestion. This way, we will also get the voters against congestion pricing, who live in Bayside and Staten Island, to move away. Free health care means psychiatric care for all those angry talk radio white males! They are all overweight from driving around too much, burdening the city health system!