great deal has been made of the fact that this year school opened
with a peace that has not existed for a number of years. Mayor
Bloomberg has gained the authority over the schools that has
eluded former mayors. The controversial Board of Education has
been abolished. The mayor has appointed his own schools chancellor,
and the chancellor has won the right to select superintendents.
The UFT, still celebrating a contract granting significant salary
increases with few concessions, is silent. All is wellor is
public school system remains deeply troubled. While governance
changes and teacher satisfaction were needed, these will only
be meaningful if they work toward improving the children’s education.
Just how bad are the schools? State officials have identified
thirty percent of New York City’s schools as failing to meet
English and mathematics standards. Despite some improvements,
the performance of the city’s school children remains dismal.
Recent test results still show less than one-third of the 8th
graders meeting standards in math. Schools and classrooms are
overcrowded. Problem children are warehoused in special education
from which they hardly ever escape. Over forty percent of the
children entering high school fail to graduate. But not to worry.
The mayor says New York’s are the best of the nations large-city
schools. Small consolation.
is not that we don’t know how to fix the problem. The New
York Times reports that at PS 138, a predominantly black
and Hispanic school in Crown Heights, close to fifty-five percent
of the students met the state standard in math this year, as
compared with only nineteen percent last year. What was the
secret? A committed principal and teaching staff, longer school
days, and special attention to students who were lagging behind,
paid for by funds provided by the district superintendent. But,
unless things change, rather than replicating the PS 138 results,
things are likely to get worse. Leadership is needed from the
top down. Motivations, other than personal satisfaction, for
principals and teachers to succeed must be provided. Funding
must be added to support the extra programs. The city’s school
funding has been cut by $100 million this year, and a further
reduction of $350 million is expected next year. And, the shortfall
is far greater than that. The school population is growing,
with increasing numbers of children entering school lacking
English proficiency. Almost $1 billion is needed to fund teacher
salary increases, new hires, teacher training, staffing shortfalls
and after-school programs. School officials tell us that the
instructional budget will not be affected by the budget cuts.
Where will the money come from? The mayor should not attempt
to solve the city’s financial problems by faulty accounting.
We have seen too much of this by Fortune 500 companies and the
of peace in the school system we need war on illiteracy, innumeracy
and the status quo. Instead of silence we need the chancellor
to articulate objectives and define programs. (The recent announcement
of the program designed to leave no child behind is a start,
but only a start.) We need an outcry for the funds needed to
do the job. We need to identify the revenue sources and economies
necessary to provide these funds. The appointment of Caroline
Kennedy as Chief Executive of the new office of Strategic Partnerships
is good news, but, the private sector cannot be expected to
make up the shortfall in funding.
Pataki cannot be permitted to coast through a reelection campaign
without being held accountable for his failure to fund NYC schools
adequately or equitably. The endorsement of the Governor by
the UFT, and other unions, illustrates just how cynical and
self-serving the unions have become.
mayor and the chancellor cannot be permitted to pass the buck
on who is responsible for making the schools work. If we do
not fix the schools now, the pressure to privatize will continue
to grow. It matters not that private schools have not proven
themselves capable of doing a better job; desperate people will
seek desperate solutions. We must not permit a silence to exist
in education this fall. The achievements of the past year were
not ends in themselves but means to an end. The hard part has
just begun. #