Friday, November 11, 2011


The current trend in education is not living up to its “hype”. The rhetoric is powerful, and it sounds good, especially in sound bytes, but like the phone commercial says on television, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.” Think about it. In New York City, the graduation rate is “higher than it’s ever been”, but the dropout rate for the first year in college at CUNY schools compared to the high school graduation rates are higher than they’ve ever been , too. Advocates for the reform of public education, specifically in New York City with people like Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott, owe their foundations for success to the very system they claim is irreparably broken. That’s funny because it worked pretty damned well for them WITH LIFO, with tenure, with seniority, with appreciation for what experience can add to the educational arena, with no charter schools or four to eight schools jammed into one building.
Look at the idea of charter schools. Ignore the fact that for one dollar they can “hijack” space in already space challenged venues, ignore the fact they can choose only the best and the brightest, ignore the fact that although they are public schools, they receive greater funding and have access to better resources than other schools. Look instead at the number of students they turn away. The purpose of public school is, after all, to include, not exclude, to provide access to education, not to limit that access. Here’s something else to think about. If, as the experts claim, charter schools have the “formula” for educational success, we would all best be served by those schools “saving” the students who are the most challenged educationally: the lowest third, the ELL students and the special needs students. Why are the charter schools accepting only those students who would probably be successful with mediocre teachers or no teachers at all?
Why are students chosen by lottery, where there are so very few winners and so many “losers”? Here’s another thing to consider. If, as the educational reformers claim, education is at a higher level today than it has ever been, why are AP classes, honors classes and challenging classes such as trigonometry, calculus, physics, (and in some cases, foreign languages) form this reform’s “educational plate”? When I attended a New York City high school in the 70’s, those classes existed, and in 2009, when the school I had worked at for 35 years was closed for being a “failing school” in its final year, (and had throughout the thirty five years), offered these types of classes. Let me get this right. My school was bad, so it was closed, but it had these classes. Newer, smaller schools are better, but they lack these courses. The rhetoric says closing bad/failing schools says money and suggests that simply by closing a failing school failure will disappear. Sounds good, but the fact is the only way to get rid of failure is to identify the cause of failure and come up with a plan to address it.
As a basketball coach, when I realized my team wasn’t going to score a lot of points, I taught my players to play tough defense which required their opponents to work harder and use more time on the clock. That plan, along with working hard to limit the number of rebounds of the opposing team, limited the number of times the opposing team touched the ball, which in turn, limited the number of points scored by the opposing team. I didn’t “close” my team or shut it down. I identified the problem, created a plan to address it and executed that plan. It is important to note here that while the plan was a good plan, in order for it to work, the players had to “buy into it.”
Closing schools isn’t a plan, getting rid of teachers with seniority or getting rid of tenure, is not a plan, creating a cookie cutter, one-size fits all system in which college is the only option, then not funding that system adequately, is not a plan. Plating with statistics you spout and using “rubrics” even mathematics cannot figure out in order to obfuscate examination and analysis, is not a plan. Treating the education of children as if they were nuts or blueberries on a conveyor belt is not a plan. Ignoring the knowledge, wisdom and success of proven educators and listening instead to business people, theorists and educrats, is not a plan. I have spent thirty-five years teaching English and I dare say, I have won more than I have lost. I wasn’t perfect, the system wasn’t perfect, but people graduated, people learned and people graduated. Students I taught became teachers, doctors, college admission officers, lawyers, Wall Street workers, professional athletes, assistant principals, consultants to the DOE, surgeons, West Point graduates, service men or women, civil servants, responsible members of society and parents. Obviously, not everyone succeeded. No system will ever ensure that, but no one can refute the fact that these people succeeded and they succeeded without the “reforms and the small schools and the charter schools and the demonization and the vilification of teachers.
It was not easy, but when teachers worked hard and when students “bought into the plan”, and parents supported schools and others who may have meant well, but realized if they could not lead or follow, they had to get out of the way got out of the way, it worked. I know it worked because I not only saw it work in the lives of my students when I and my colleagues taught, I saw it work in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters, and cousins and uncles and aunts, and nieces, and nephews, and colleagues. I had the privilege and the opportunity to see it work with, as well as in, the lives of people of people like President Barack Obama, his wife, former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, current chancellor of New York City schools, Dennis Walcott, former chancellor Joel Klein, Denzel Washington and a whole host of others.
Nothing is perfect, and anything can be improved and bettered, but simply making changes or saying the changes are making things better, doesn’t make things better. I taught, and continue to teach my students, they have a responsibility for their own education and their lives, and I like to think that when you look at those who have graduated from the school where I spent three decades teaching, (along with my colleagues), even though we weren’t perfect and the system didn’t work perfectly, we succeeded.

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