Mostly written by B Keller.
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 as students with LIFO, with tenure, with seniority, with appreciation for what experience can add to the educational arena, with no charter schools or up to eleven 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) gone from this reform’s “educational plate”? When I attended a New York City high school in the 70’s, those classes existed. In 2009, the school I had worked for 35 years was closed for being a “failing school” still offered these types of classes (as it had since its inception). Let me get this right. My school was “bad” but it had these classes and it was closed. Newer, smaller schools are better, but they lack these courses.
The rhetoric says failure will disappear when “bad/failing” schools are closed. It suggests that simply by closing a failing school. That 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 playing well, I didn’t “close” my team or shut it down. I identified the problem, created a plan to address it and executed that plan. However 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, are not plans. 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. Playing with statistics and using “rubrics” even mathematicians cannot figure out in order to obfuscate examination and analysis, is not a plan. Treating children as if they were widgets on a conveyor belt is not a plan. Ignoring the knowledge, wisdom and success of proven educators and listening to business people 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 students learned and graduated. They 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, and 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, they 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 in the lives of my siblings, extended family members, 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 and Michelle Obama, former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, former chancellors of New York City schools, Dennis Walcott and Joel Klein, and a whole host of others.
I taught my students to take responsibility for their own education and their lives. Most did. The school where I, along with my colleagues, spent three decades teaching has been closed since 2009. We weren’t perfect; the system didn’t work perfectly; yet for many, many students, we still succeeded.
Nothing is perfect, but simply making changes or saying the changes are making things better, doesn’t make things better.