Tuesday, October 05, 2021

When The Public Schools Fail

I'm a little hesitant to talk about "failing schools".  As a teacher, when I see a "failing school" I ask why is it considered failing.  Of course it's considered failing if a large number of students is failing, but where does the fault lie in that?  My observations tell me that "failing schools" often have a lot more problems than just low grades--those problems are brought from the community into the schools by the students.  But if there are discipline problems, why are there discipline problems?  It's not like the teachers of the school don't want order and an opportunity to teach, so why do schools have discipline problems?

The answer is simple.  The moment parents or community groups challenge a rule or a disciplinary action, the dam begins to break.  Administrators, either at the school or the district level, give in because doing so is easier (for them) than maintaining a standard.  The moment students know there is no penalty for misbehavior, you get plenty of misbehavior.  And why would you expect any different?

So I place the burden of "bad" schools on the students, the community those students come from, and administrators.  Yes, there are incompetent teachers as well as bad teachers--those who made the news awhile back, changing students' answers on standardized tests to make themselves or their students look better, for example--but for the most part I don't think teachers carry the lion's share of responsibility for a school's being considered "bad" or "failing".  You can say that since I'm a teacher, my view is somewhat self-serving--and it would be if it weren't sincere.  On this blog I have never shied away from calling out bad teachers, but teachers don't usually support lax disciplinary policies or stupid grading policies.  When a school has those, it cannot help but spiral out of control.  It will be a "failing school".  When a district doesn't care about student achievement, there will be many "failing schools".

That's what happened in this district:

In what could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, middle-class black families in Queens are mobilizing against the city Department of Education’s routine acceptance of rotten public schools.

As The Post’s Georgett Roberts and Selim Algar report, these parents in District 29 aren’t taking “We need more resources” as an excuse.

“A lot of people knew that it was bad,” explains local activist Michael Duncan, “but they didn’t know it was this bad.”

How bad? District-wide, just 28 percent of black students in grades 3-8 passed their 2019 state math exams and just 37 percent passed English. At some schools, almost no one passed: A whopping 94 percent of fifth-graders at PS 134 in Hollis, for example, flunked math; 83 percent bombed English.

No wonder the district saw a 13 percent drop in enrollment over the past four years. These are the children, after all, of middle-class black homeowners, “successful people,” Duncan points out. “The results in our schools are not reflective of the community. Something is wrong here.”

Money’s not the problem. PS 134 spent $27,000 per student in 2019, much more than double the national average (New York state spends the most per pupil in the country). Catholic schools and small private schools in the area spend far less, with far better results.

No, the problem, Duncan and others in the new Students Improvement Association say, is that the DOE’s chief priority is making the adults who run the schools happy, rather than ensuring kids get the best education.

Failed superintendents, principals and teachers aren’t fired; they’re dumped on majority-minority districts. Meanwhile, the de Blasio-era rollback of discipline has also fueled classroom disorder, as Queens state Sen. Leroy Comrie has warned.

District 29 isn’t unique: Gotham spent nearly $27,000 for every public school student across the city in 2018 — with dismal results. But the teachers union and other special interests do just fine.

With the pandemic further exposing the DOE’s priorities of serving the adults, not the kids, the rebellion in District 29 could force a sea change: If enough parents refuse to accept the system’s indifference to learning, a change will have to come. 

Let's hope.


Ellen K said...

There are multiple problems. Parents and activists seeking to blame others for their children's failures is part of it. Union activists who refuse to allow bad teachers and administrators to be fired is another piece of the puzzle. We no longer have a meritocracy, where the best students are rewarded. Instead we have this piecemeal system that cooked test data to make it politically palatable to the people footing the bills. Meanwhile the infrastructure of most districts waste money on programs, books and materials that do very little improve actual academics, but while line the pockets of administrators or city politicians. The worst thing any teacher can hear upon returning for summer training is "The administrators have been to a seminar." You know that means they will change everything because some slick huckster promised them test scores would rise if they bought into whatever bag of magic beans they had to offer, I still remember the binders of glorified Venn diagrams, one per teacher to the tune or $175 a piece. I can't help but think so many of the elementary and middle school teachers could have made far better use of that money than a book of graphic organizers. They could have hired teachers for that money.

Anonymous said...

Even if the best teachers were hired, the admin still restricts what is taught. Differentiation is not happening ... its study hall for the capable while the teacher works with 'the students that REALLY need me '.

Me personally, I learned the hard way when my kid came home with an F on a midterm in middle school. Review of midterm - had to make an appt, could only look and take notes -- showed the grade level material, per the Regents' course objectives, was tested. Review of the course material showed 1/3 of units had not been taught in my kid's section...he had scored a 100 on the material that was taught, as had 20 other students in the section. The goal is for the included to pass, and that's where the time was spent. Nope, they included did not 'pass' and that's shown in the state grade level math exam results. The teacher was excellent...but the hands were tied with unrealistic expectations that she magically figure out how to successfully teach very very medically ill students who were five grade levels behind but sitting in the section. She did give me a JHU-CTY brochure. And of course she is allowed to tutor her own students privately, over the missing units just as music teachers do. People pay. Its $60/hr here, and its not a rich area of NY. -- lgm

Anonymous said...

As far as that $22835k per pupil in NY for 2019-2020..most of that is special ed. If you go to the state's website, for ex:

https://data.nysed.gov/fiscal.php?instid=800000050065 you'll grab numbers. They've hidden it more in the last few years, so you'll have to dig.

In my district, the unclassified student per pupil is less than $10k, we are average needs for NY. Most newspapers publish that number for each district. The money is going to federal and state mandates for special needs and ENL, as well as compensation for current and retired staff including Cadillac health care. Quite a bit is in medical services and transportation, but those numbers aren't split out easily online. --lgm

Ellen K said...

Here's a dirty little secret public schools would rather you not know. When they publicize those student teacher ratios they include the severely disabled student who has a teacher to themselves along with the geometry class down the hall with 45 students to one teacher. The norms ignore that students with complex learning, physical and behavioral problems are often parachuted into general ed classes without aides, requiring the classroom teacher to figure out a way to teach what may be a third of their students individually while still keeping the rest of the class on schedule. It's impossible and administrators know that. While TV shows and programs show these rosy images from Least Restrictive Environment where all the children blossom, the stark reality is that special needs students have special needs and their needs according to the IEP's are often distracting and disruptive.