Seeking a Balance in
Lots of people have been asking why, if the schools were doing so well,
would the system need a third major reorganization in five years? Many
questions were raised; some in public rallies and town meetings and some in
print. The mayor listened and that’s why a coalition of parents, teachers and
community groups recently reached an agreement with the city that addressed
some of our key reservations.
Although things are constantly changing, this is what the agreement did:
On the plus side, Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to change the new school
budget formula to ensure that schools that do well will not lose funds for at
least the next two years—and schools with large numbers of poor or
special-needs children will receive additional resources.
A particularly big plus is that class sizes
should start to shrink, helped largely by an infusion of resources from the
settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court case. This is something New
York City public schools have needed for a long time and it is heartening to
see that Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration recognizes this need.
Also, in response to coalition complaints about parents and educators being
excluded from the decision-making process, the Department of Education has
created committees that should allow parents and other stakeholders to offer
views on crucial policy matters such as class size reduction and school
funding. In addition, parents, educators and students are completing a
system-wide survey of their own schools.
Other benefits include an agreement to create a pilot program focusing
attention and resources on middle schools, a parent engagement committee to
bolster school leadership teams and a commitment from the chancellor to
maintain teacher tenure standards.
These changes are significant improvements in the original proposed
Yet, we are still concerned that too much responsibility has been shifted to
the principals from the central bureaucracy and that federal and state
regulations still require excessive testing. Students must take math, English
and science tests in third- through eighth-grade—and Regents exams in
high school. This has been augmented by the new system-wide report card. As a
result, teachers must commit huge amounts of time to paperwork involving
A new survey by the United Federation of Teachers shows educators spend nearly
five hours and 15 minutes of class time a week—equal to 11⁄4 days of
classroom instruction—on mandated paperwork involving student
assessments. Some 89% of those surveyed said they had more assessment-related
paperwork than before.
Preparing students to take so many high-stakes tests consumes a great deal of
classroom instruction time. In both elementary and secondary schools, 89% of
teachers said their schools devote significant class time to test preparation
activities. Elementary school teachers said they begin preparing for
high-stakes reading and math tests about 7 1⁄2 weeks, on average, before the
tests. During that time they spend close to eight hours per week —almost
a third of their weekly teaching time—on test preparation, taking time
away from core subjects like social studies, the arts and physical education.
Middle and high school teachers said they begin preparing for tests almost
seven weeks ahead of time and 70% said they spend at least half of each
teaching period on test preparation. With so much time devoted to test prep,
teaching and learning in the classroom can’t help but suffer.
So the reorganization is indeed a mixed bag, but parents can rest assured that
we in the coalition will do our best to make it work for the sake of our
The partnership formed by educators, parents and the community around this
issue might be the strongest in New York’s history. Given that the coalition
members share the goal of providing our kids with the best education possible,
we hope to build on our momentum and be a public force on behalf of our schools
and our students.#
is the President of the United Federation of Teachers in NYC.