Teacher on the Street

The photo the Daily News took of me for today’s article. This is my intellectual pose.

The Daily News has back-to-school fever this week. Yesterday they ran a person on the street feature where parents and students critiqued Michael Bloomberg’s education record. It is a nice thought, although I do not remember the last time they ran a teacher on the street version. Therefore, I decided to do one myself as a response to said article.

Question: Are you better off now than you were 10 years ago, when Michael Bloomberg got full control of the education system?

Jorge Perlaza Sr., 37, whose son Jorge Perlaza Jr, 12, is a sixth-grade (sic) at Bronx Green Middle School:

“Oh, absolutely, they’re 100% better. The preparation for our children, getting information out to the parents, the security level is higher than it ever was. And teachers are very dedicated to the students. My son has been going to after-school programs since he was in first grade, and he will continue to do that here.”

Well Jorge, saying schools are 100% better since Bloomberg took over is quite the high compliment. Let us look at how you justify your assertion point by point.

a) “The preparation for our children….” – With all due respect, this is kind of a vague statement. Preparation for what exactly? It certainly cannot be college, for this Daily News article from last year shows that the college readiness rate of Bloomberg graduates is well below pre-Bloomberg grads. The percentage of Bloomberg grads in need of remedial classes when they hit the CUNY system has consistently hovered around the 80% mark. Maybe you are referring to the rise in state test scores under Bloomberg? Well, test scores were rising before Bloomberg. This is very important, since those exams of the pre-Bloomberg era were notably more difficult. Any teacher will tell you that over the last 10 years, state tests have been getting easier each year. This is mostly due to the impact of No Child Left Behind which ties federal funding to state test scores. States want to keep the fed dollars rolling in, so they consistently dumb down their exams. This puts the Bloomberg rise in test scores into perspective, does it not? On a final note, Bloomberg’s obsession with closing schools has wiped out pretty much any vocational programs the city had left, so students are not even prepared for the world of blue-collar skilled labor. It is tough to see for what exactly our children are being prepared.

b) “Getting information out to the parents….” – That might be an interesting point, and I trust that you as a parent would know better than I about how much information actually gets out to you. Bloomberg’s big innovation has been to staff schools with parent coordinators. In my experience, parent coordinators tend to be used by administrators as glorified school aides. They seem to have very little time to parent coordinate. I have heard parents around the city complain that their concerns fall on deaf ears. The parent coordinator has sort of acted as a buffer between parents and school leaders, ensuring school leaders do not have to directly hear from parents. I guess what I am trying to say is that, while I trust your judgment about information getting out to you, how do you feel about your information getting to the school? How much say do you have in your child’s school environment? The fact that Bloomberg abolished the Board of Education, a body that was democratically elected by the citizens of this fair city, and replaced it with his puppet Panel for Educational Policy whose meetings are basically for show, demonstrate that Bloomberg has no use for your concerns or opinions. This past February at Brooklyn Tech, there was a massive student, parent and teacher protest at the PEP meeting that was completely ignored by the puppets on the stage. They are completely insulated from your concerns as a parent.

c) “The security level is higher than it ever was” – I beg to differ with this statement. First, I believe metal detectors and the like create a false sense of security and make students feel like prisoners in their own schools. Second, thanks to Bloomberg’s destruction of teacher tenure, combined with his elastic definition of what constitutes “corporal punishment”, school staff is scared to death of disciplining any student, breaking up fights and basically exercising any type of authority. Bloomberg’s annual school report cards encourage principals to underreport serious incidents. In many schools I have visited, there is a palpable sense of insecurity from students right on up to administrators.

d) “Teachers are very dedicated to the students” – Does this imply that they were not dedicated in the pre-Bloomberg era? Would the fact that so many of our students graduate totally unprepared for the world of work or higher education change your mind about the dedication level? Do you see something wrong with the fact that Bloomberg’s regime has graduated more students than ever before, yet they have no job skills and need remedial classes in college? I am sorry, but I do not see the diploma mills into which Bloomberg has turned our school system as encouraging of more staff dedication to students.

e) “My son has been going to after school programs since he was in the first grade”- Great. There were more afterschool programs in the pre-Bloomberg era, just so you know. Bloomberg’s budget cuts, restructurings and disparity of funding among schools ensured a steady dwindling of afterschool activities. Remember when schools had debate teams? Well, those are all gone except for the few large high schools that remain. The reason for this is that in order to have something like a debate team, a school needs a large pool of students from which to choose. Bloomberg worships the small school model where, rather than 3,000 students in a building pooling resources and talent, 3,000 students in a building compete for resources and space, oftentimes with privately-run charter schools. On top of that, the forced exodus of veteran teachers has left school buildings without any qualified staff to run a debate team. Something like a debate team needs a few competent staff members who not only know the art of rhetoric, but who have institutional memory in order to build a program that transcends any particular group of students. Unfortunately, Teach for America grads who do not stay in the profession for more than three years have neither the qualifications nor the institutional memory to run a debate team. Afterschool programs are dying. I used debate teams as an example but it goes for everything else, from chess clubs to cultural groups. The fact that your son goes to an afterschool program does not mean Bloomberg is a champion of such things.

So Mr. Perlaza, care to rethink your assertion that schools are 100% better? What percentage is it at now?

Nadine Coriano, 32, whose son Jacob Oliveras, 11, is in sixth-grade at Bronx Green:

“No. When I was growing up, schools were so strict. Now, it’s so different. Now it’s like they don’t even care. And even with education, I feel like (the students) play more in class now than they did before. We should get teachers that can actually handle the children, so they can have a better education.”

There is much to untangle in your critique Ms. Coriano. First, you are right: schools were stricter in the pre-Bloomberg era. That is because there were veteran teachers in the room who not only knew how to handle the class, but were not afraid of being fired because Bloomberg defines “corporal punishment” and “verbal abuse” as taking any sort of disciplinary action towards a student. Therefore, it is not that teachers “don’t care”, it is more like teachers “don’t dare”. They don’t dare tell a kid to be quiet, lest the kid complains to the principal or their parents that the teacher is picking on them. They don’t dare break up a fight, lest they touch a student in the wrong way and get accused of physical or sexual abuse. They don’t even dare throw a sustained teacher glare at a misbehaving student, lest that glare is taken the wrong way. Teachers’ hands are tied. Combine that with a generation of Teach for America alumni who only had a 5 week training course on how to teach, and whose fuzzy-headed notions of education generally include such rigorous methods of instruction as gluing sparkles to student self-portraits, and you have the “play” you describe in your critique. You want more serious education? Get veteran teachers in there (you know, the ones Bloomberg calls “dead wood” and the ones the media portrays as uncaring burnouts) and give them some job protection so they will not fear being fired for sneezing the wrong way. Until that happens, there will not be any hope of serious education in NYC.

Miguel Diaz, 17, senior at Long Island City High School in Queens:

“I don’t think he’s doing a good job, but I don’t think he’s doing a horrible job. From what I hear, all the teachers hate him. … If they hate him, he must be doing something wrong.”

Oh Miguel, it is noble of you to try to take a fair stance on this question, but you are absolutely onto something in your last sentence. Maybe ask your teachers why they hate him. The answers you get might be very interesting.

Parent Anne Castro, 45, mother of Long Island High School sophomore Emily Castro, 15:

“He’s done a wonderful job. He’s organized. He’s not a people person. He does what needs to be done. I trust that he knew what he was doing (trying to close the school last year). We were happy with it. I was thrilled with her (her daughter’s) teachers.”

I think the Daily News meant to publish that this student goes to Long Island City High School. Let me get this straight Ms. Castro: you were happy that he tried to destroy your daughter’s school? Do you realize that he was going to most likely end up stuffing a charter school into that building that would have bled your daughter’s school dry of resources? If you are thrilled with your daughter’s teachers, why would you approve of a plan that would have ended up firing half of them? Is this what you mean by Bloomberg doing “what needs to be done”? Trusting that Bloomberg knows what he is doing in education is like trusting your daughter to drive the N train to school every morning. I am sure your daughter is bright, but she most likely does not have any train conductor experience. Likewise, Bloomberg might be rich and powerful, but he has no education experience. Due to this, he has derailed the entire system and it is going to take a generation to get it back on track again. Ironically, I would probably feel safer on a train being driven by your daughter than I do working in Bloomberg’s school dictatorship.

You are right that Bloomberg is not a people person. Being a billionaire totally insulated from the concerns of real New Yorkers tends to have that effect.

Howard Cheung, 17, senior at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan:

“I’ve certainly noticed more of a focus on standardized testing. … Teachers tend to teach more for the test. To me, that’s a bad thing, because it takes away from a richer instructional experience.”

This is why you go to Stuyvesant, Howard. This wins the award for most insightful and accurate comment in the article. Leave it to a teenager to outshine the adults.

Monse Serrano, 22, whose son Daniel, 6 is in first grade at PS 169 in Brooklyn:

“They’ve gotten better. They worry about the kids and now they’re more on top of the kids trying to get them to understand the schoolwork. … I’d like to see mandatory school uniforms. That way the students will pay more attention.”

Well Mr. or Ms. Serrano, why is it that so many kids are not understanding the schoolwork then? (Refer to my previous comments in this article). I do not think our children are stupid. I believe they are being held to low standards.

As for mandatory school uniforms, I am sure Bloomberg has toyed with that idea. This does not mean he believes it would be good for education. It merely means he probably has rich business friends with clothing company interests and mandating school uniforms would be a pretext for another no-bid, cronyism contract. Float it by Pharaoh Bloomberg himself, you might be onto something.

That is it for this installment of Teacher on the Street. Parents, I know you are doing the best you can, but you must wake up to the fact that Bloomberg has been educational poison. Do you see any of his rich friends’ children going to class with your kids? If the school system he has “reformed” is so wonderful, why is the 5th Avenue crowd with whom he rubs elbows continuing to refuse to allow their children to touch our public schools with a 10-foot pole?

The day that I buy into the idea that these billionaire education reformers actually believe in what they are doing is the day I see one of their children in my classroom.

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One response to “Teacher on the Street

  1. Great piece – point by point and as I read it I can apply point by point to my school. Zeno

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