The Rising and Setting of the Sun: Can the Mayor, the Chancellor and Union Change Together?


It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.
James Gordon, MD.
I had a dream: Joel Klein standing on the beach at Rockaway at dawn, holding a major news conference, announcing,  “In three minutes, the sun will emerge from the sea  …”
A reporter asks, “Chancellor Klein, doesn’t the sun rise every morning.” The Chancellor responds, “It is my Children First Initiative that guarantees the rising of the sun, do you think if the sun was unionized it would rise every morning, do you think if the sun was burdened with work rules it would rise, the West Coast is burdened with work rules, with unions, the sun sets on the West Coast, that’s not an accident.”
New York University has just issued a Report:

The study … found that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing.

It also showed that fifth graders living in public housing did worse on standardized math and reading tests than fifth graders who lived elsewhere. Researchers found this disparity in fifth-grade test scores even when comparing students at the same school who shared similar demographics, like race, gender and poverty status.

The researchers suggest that public housing’s culture of poverty offers young people few role models to stress the importance of education, limits their resources and exposes them to crime or widespread peer pressure from those not doing well in school.

Those of us who teach children are well aware of the pernicious culture of public housing, aka “the projects.” The crack epidemic devastated public housing: gangs rule too many projects, grandmothers raising grandchildren, deteriorating buildings … the Report underlines what have seen for too many years.

The response of the Department: trash the Report.

Andrew Jacob, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Education, said officials there will review the study. He said that student test scores had gone up significantly since the 2002-3 academic year …

“We’ve seen an upward trend across the city in test scores, and the gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers has narrowed,” Mr. Jacob said. “What the chancellor is focused on is making sure that every student, wherever he or she lives in the city, has the opportunity to get an excellent education.”

The claims of rising scores across the city have been debunked numerous times by Eduwonkette and Diane Ravitch, among others.

The teacher union has focused on an agenda starting with Community Schools, to address the issues beyond the walls of school buildings. Richard Rothstein and the Broader, Bolder Agenda folk point to the limitations of the “schools alone can eradicate the achievement gap” faction.

Too many teachers; however, use social status, race, class as “excuses,”… how often have you heard, “if only parents were more involved, if only the kids came to school on time, if only they paid attention …” An irony: teachers in the heart of Brownsville, and in the suburbs utter the same “if only” laments.

Teachers and unions must be careful, teachers, whomever they teach should make progress, and, management has an obligation to measure that progress.

The Department and the City must work together to create a synergy, to recognize the impact of poverty and create approaches that strengthen schools by strengthening families.

Teachers must accept that student progress and teacher value added are intertwined: some teachers are more skilled than others, a few schools actually encourage peer evaluation. The current New York City teacher school-wide bonus plan may presage the development of tools that measure individual teacher value added.

The Department, the City and teacher unions may be tip-toeing on the edge of substantial change, and change is the one tide that can never be stopped.

One response to “The Rising and Setting of the Sun: Can the Mayor, the Chancellor and Union Change Together?

  1. There are 2 ways to improve educational achievement. 1) End the free lunch program. Research in the 1970s showed that children who received free lunch scored lower than those who didn’t. If this program had been terminated results for poor kids would have increased. 2) Stop misreporting and lying about test scores. This has gone on from the dawn of the annual citywide testing program in 1969. The test performance of inner city parents and grandparents who grew up in the NYC public schools was often lied about to make politicians and educators look good. Chancellor Cortines bravely said this was educational neglect–that resulted in miseducation, mislabeling and impoverishment–and eventually led to their children entering the school system at a disadvantage. Until there is truth-in-testing, the chickens will keep coming home to roost.

    The first point is facetious. The second point is dead serious. The real problem is that we do not have leaders who will dare to speak the truth. Or, should I just say we do not have leaders!


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