“Twas brillig and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble
in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogroves, And the mome raths
—Lewis Carroll, Alice Through
I rely upon my morning walks to
clear my head so I can concentrate on important issues. Lately,
though, these walks haven’t
helped. I hear lines from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” with
each step I take mixed up utterances from Tweed.
The child Alice (of Wonderland fame)
says of the poem, “Somehow
it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t
exactly know what they are!” That’s pretty much
how I feel when reflecting upon “Children First.” After
this past year, “Children First” seems to mean “Children
Mayor Bloomberg’s first priority was turning the Board
of Education into a centralized structure that disconnects
instruction and administration and mimics franchise-style businesses.
Now, I’m not about to defend the old bureaucracy at 110
Livingston Street. But within that structure, many BOE employees
developed relationships to identify and solve problems before
they affected children.
This year, because of the administration’s almost total
disregard for children’s needs, principals scrambled
for services that were not in place or were seriously deficient.
Here are a few of the problems that arose under “Children
Notwithstanding warnings from CSA and the UFT, the DOE failed
to implement a system to insure the safety of students until
this winter when a newspaper exposed the chaos ensuing in several
schools. DOE dismantled the suspension system of yesterday
but forgot to develop a new one.
Selections of literacy and math
programs were the hot topics. Ultimately, Schools Chancellor
Joel Klein back-pedaled to make sure the city didn’t
lose $41 million in federal funding. Was the
selection of programs that were not researched-based putting
our children first?
Does “Children First” mean our special needs’ students
receive appropriate instructional support services including
a timely evaluation? For Klein, the disassembling of one system
and its replacement with a new one was significantly more important
than meeting the needs of children. Children first?—only
after a massive organizational change that left thousands of
children without support services at all.
The social promotion and high stakes
testing program is allegedly based on the premise that children
come first. But between the lack of an appeals process in
the initial policy, and the question of whether some children
benefited from seeing last year’s test questions, this
administration did not put children first. If it had, Tweed
would have announced a well-thought-out plan, one that did
not need immediate revision, one that did not have parents
and children worried sick, and one that would have ensured
that the test results were untainted.
This year makes it clear that “Children First” took
a back seat to “Reorganization First” and that
much of what we hear from Tweed ends up being gibberish.
“Jabberwocky” is often
hailed as a masterpiece of nonsense. Unfortunately, much
of what we hear coming out of Tweed is nonsense too, and
differs all too little from the Jabberwocky that used to
emanate from the halls of 110 Livingston Street.#
Jill Levy is the president of the Council of Supervisors and