It's teacher hunting season!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coordinated media campaign against ATRs; separate, unequal schools in minority neighborhoods

Is anyone noticing that after a lock-step media campaign (particularly among the newspapers of New York City) on certain topics: about a year ago, against the Teacher Reassignment Centers / a.k.a. "Rubber Rooms" and their detainees, this summer, the imperative for renewing mayoral control for Michael Bloomberg, and most recently, the imperative for a) ending teacher tenure and b) eliminating the ATRs, the new cancer on New York City public education?

Additionally, where is the outcry among activists or the UFT over the DoE strategem that produced the ATR mess? Namely, I speak of the school decommissioning in minority neighborhoods, a school closure process that has eliminated access to a range of programs that continue to be available in schools in white and Asian middle class neighborhoods. From the break-up of established schools comes the creation of over 1,000 ATRs.

Generations ago, noble, principled activists put Plessy to challenge the segregation laws in transportation, backed legal challenges in Topeka, Kansas to end school segregation. Today, who is challenging New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein for his clear segregation of schools, most glaringly, the charter schools and the high schools? Worst served by these two systems are the special education students and the English Language Learners / a.k.a. English as a Special Language students. (I addressed this issue at greater length in an October posting.)

Policy-makers would be wary of constructing a school assignment pattern that explicitly excluded black students. But with the charter school system and the free-for-all competition pattern that the Department of Education has set forth in the 2000s in the Klein era, charter schools are starkly skewed in their demographics (more middle class families, exclusion of special education students and ELL (ESL) students by the exclusion of services for these students).

But here is where the paradox appears: the city has broken up schools, cast off teachers as ineffective, and has overwhelmingly transformed the curriculum of schools, all-the-while masking the failed curriculum with invalid increases in graduation. The flip-side of the tricky game of watered down Regents tests and increases in students' scores, as detailed by NYU education professor Diane Ravitch is a dirty secret of a failure to properly educate students.
Test results that are more properly fitting for contrast against test results in states beyond New York State, those from the NAEP, indicate flat performance rates in English and math.
(News late in the week just ended indicated that New York State students are performing worst in GED pass rates are the lowest in the nation.)
Throughout the curriculum there are profound flaws: in English the city pushes watered down standards of literature and student writing, teachers interested in teaching grammar are derided; in mathematics constructivist math is in vogue, whereby pre-adolescents are expected to create theories for math operations, teachers interested in emphasizing memorization of times tables are derided.
The result? High school graduates Johnny and Jane cannot perform at authentic eighth grade level standards. You want proof?: just see the reports on how the vast majority of New York City graduates in the CUNY colleges require remedial courses in English and math. (As WNYC's Beth Fertig reported last week, these courses actually deal with math at a level of the later years of middle school.)
In sum, the city breaks up schools and places blame on teachers; the city's curriculum fails the students, it gets away with blaming the teachers. The UFT and real education reform advocates (not the expensive consultants at Tweed) need to make the real case for education equity and they ought to oppose the castigation of experienced teachers for the hasty mistakes of the Department of Education. The media need to do a better job of speaking to people outside of the city administration and ill-informed think-tanks; they need to do a better job of connecting the dots to recognize the city's role in short-changing school-children's opportunity for a quality education (across the board, in Canarsie as well as in Bayside).

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