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January 2003
Getting to Work
by Stuart Dunn

With the elections over, Mayor Bloomberg has begun to address the city’s budgetary problem. While I don’t agree with the particulars of his plans to raise revenues, I do agree that revenue increases are needed to prevent disastrous reductions in services. This is particularly true of the public schools. He now must face up to getting the state to pay a fair share of the cost of public education here in the city.

The school system can, and should, continue to work to improve efficiency particularly by reductions in personnel in the district offices and central administration. Savings in these areas will be needed to help fund teacher salary increases and necessary additional personnel such as assistant principals and teaching specialists. The mayor has recognized that the cost of school construction in NYC is outrageous (almost three times the average cost per square foot of equivalent construction outside of the city). The chancellor should also examine the cost of maintenance and repairs. The mayor should assure transparency in this area by providing the city council with the information that it has requested.

The budgetary problem should not be permitted to distract from the fact that the schools require immediate attention. For months, the mayor was consumed with reorganizing school governance. More recently, the mayor and chancellor have begun to focus on substantive changes. Perhaps all the reorganization and relocation wasn’t merely “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”

In recent weeks policy initiatives have been announced which could make a difference in the children’s education. The hard part is converting these policy changes into actions. The most comprehensive of these is the citywide public school choice program under the No Child Left Behind Act. This program initiates a transfer process for eligible children from failing schools to “better performing schools,” including transfers across home district lines. How the receiving schools will accommodate the potential flood of transfers remains to be determined. Perhaps, the chancellor is counting on the fact that parents will not take the necessary actions to get their children transferred. Let’s hope that this is not the case.#

While the program of transfers can provide immediate help for students in failing schools, in the long run, these schools cannot simply be abandoned. They must be brought up to an acceptable level. In this regard the initiatives announced to improve principal leadership and accountability is quite hopeful, including the planned financial incentives to get the best principals to transfer to low performance schools. Now we need a similar program for teachers.

Altogether, there appears to be real movement on the part of the mayor and the chancellor. Making the schools work for all of our children is a long-term project—but the journey begins with the first steps. #

December 2002
Guaspari’s Triumph was, In Reality, A Collective One
By Deborah Meier

I enjoyed the message of Marie Holmes’ article, “Guaspari Makes Music in Harlem” (Education Update October, 2002). Roberta Guaspari is a musician worth honoring and the work she is still doing deserves widespread recognition.

But the work of school change could also use the truth! And the truth may have its own virtues, anyhow.

In fact, Roberta Guaspari’s work has taken place in the context of three schools—all of them rather remarkable places—and all of them noted for their heavy investment in the arts, and in music: the Central Park East schools. They are a story of the collective triumph of the love of art and good education, and one that has spawned dozens and dozens of copycats in New York City and across the nation.

In fact, it was a triumph that depended also on the existence of a network of schools and an unusually creative district (itself the subject of a wonderful book entitled The Miracle in East Harlem). When the first of the Central Park East schools offered Roberta Guaspari a home, they knew it would be tough going, and they were responsible for making it financially feasible. It was a united effort that saved us, time after time, from seriously undermining our work in the arts—or Roberta’s program.

At Central Park East I (featured in the film Music of the Heart) the school, for 26 of its 27 years, has had another full-time music teacher, Barry Soloway, and he was not and is not the villain portrayed in the film. His job was not threatened by the 1991 cuts, but not because he had more tenure, as the film implies, but because the school’s families, staff and kids wanted Soloway first and foremost. He did not simply teach only 30 or 40 kids, but every single child in the school, in regular music classes, plus three choruses; he produced an annual opera and gave recorder classes for all the older kids. His chorus sang throughout the city, worked with world-famous choirs and made numerous recordings of their work. Like the other sister schools, Central Park East also needed to protect a full-time art teacher and art room! Each of the three sister schools managed to devote nearly two positions to the arts for student populations of under 200. In short, we had the equivalent of five art teachers between us—teaching about 600 kids. One of these was Roberta. We were all determined to find a way to keep Roberta—who taught over 100 children in our three schools to love and fall in love with the violin—without losing any other valuable art program that benefited our children’s lives. Managing to pull this off was a community-wide triumph.

Even if it never had an impact on “academic performance,” music, dance and the arts are central disciplines for all of our children and must be protected. Roberta is dead right about that.

The three schools she worked with were all inventions of a group of extraordinary teachers—starting in 1974 with the creation of Central Park East I. And all three schools still thrive today because they are examples of whole communities insisting on doing what’s right and creating precedents that have outlasted their founders. Roberta was and is one great teacher within three very great little communities, which have a lesson to teach about music and the good life. Studies done about Central Park East schools have discovered that with pretty much the same budget as all other schools, the kids have a substantially greater shot at graduating high school and going to college; interviews suggest that many features contribute to this, including music.

Why do we have the tendency to simplify important stories by turning them into individual triumphs rather than collective ones? The latter is actually even more helpful. It’s the real “education update” story that needs repeating.#

Deborah Meier is former teacher—director of Central Park East School (1975–85), co-principal of the Central Park East Secondary School and currently (1997-) co-principal of Mission Hill School, a public school in Boston’s Roxbury community.

Where Do We Go from Here?
By Stuart Dunn

I shall not take up space analyzing the national elections. Enough has been written about the Democrat suicide and the Republican victory. But, I think it is important to look at the results in New York State and try to understand the ramifications for public education in New York City.

George Pataki won a well-deserved victory. He has, in his eight years of service as governor, matured as a speaker and a leader. His opponent, Carl McCall, came across as a nice guy who was in over his head, with little to offer in the way of programs. Alan Hevesi will be a fine comptroller and Elliot Spitzer has achieved national fame as an attorney general. The assembly and the state senate go along their merry way, gerrymandering the districts to reinforce party control. As usual, issues made very little difference to them in this past election. With the state governance divided between Democrats and Republicans, little help can be expected from Albany.

One thing is clear—we are in for a difficult time, financially. The nation, the state and the city are all looking at significant budgetary deficits, and voters are not inclined to watch their taxes increase. Although some revenue enhancement will be a necessity, New York City’s public schools will have to find ways to do more with less. We are fortunate to have a mayor who understands financial management. The question is, will he have the courage to do what is necessary?

Let me offer a few areas to be looked at for financial savings, which also might improve the education system: 1) Continue to reduce the administrative bureaucracy; 2) Restructure the special education and bilingual education programs; 3) Resist demands for further compensation increases by the UFT which are not tied to productivity and merit. Look for significant give-backs in the areas of teacher assignment and fringe benefits when negotiating the new contract next year; 4) Speed up the process of getting incompetent teachers off the city payroll; 5) Make better use of technology in classroom education; 6) Find ways to get disruptive students out of the classroom so that teachers can teach and children can learn (I expect this will be far more effective, and cost less, than reduced class size in improving the education of the children); 7) Examine school construction, maintenance and repair costs to eliminate waste and fraud.

Next year will be a very difficult one for public education in particular, and city services in general. Mayor Bloomberg will need all the help he can get in dealing with the budgetary crisis. Let’s all try to be as constructive as possible.#

Paul Wellstone; Profile in Courage

Senator Paul Wellstone was a true patriot. Unlike many of our elected officials, he never abandoned his beliefs or pandered for votes. He took positions, sometimes standing alone, which he believed were best for the nation. Even those who disagreed with him respected him. His untimely death was a loss to all Americans.#

November 2002
Silent Fall By Stuart Dunn

A 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 it?

The 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.

It 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 Federal Government.

Instead 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.

Governor 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.

The 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. #

October 2002
Leadership in Our Schools: The Principal Part
by Charlotte K. Frank, Ph.D.

Over this century, countless “magic bullets” have been suggested for reforming our schools. In the 1920s, a progressive movement sought to eliminate curricula and external standards. In the 1950s, we were advised that the answer was to create fewer, larger schools out of the many, smaller ones—yet today, we see many larger schools being divided into smaller learning centers. We’ve gone through “relevance,” “technology,” “school uniforms” and other concepts du jour that, by themselves—so people thought—would have the power to revolutionize education and transform our schools.

All have been important ideas; all have contributed, in their own special way, to improving education. But none has focused on a crucial element in school reform: leadership. It seems an obvious concept. Leadership is vital in all areas of our society: government, business, leading a baseball team, conducting a symphony. The study of leadership has grown as an academic discipline, through the work of such individuals as John P. Kotter, Henry Mintzberg, Rosabeth Moss Kanter and others. But the principles of leadership have not been suitably adapted to our schools. While effective classrooms require the leadership of the teacher, effective schools require the leadership of the principal.

Indeed, our principals are eager and willing to take that responsibility. But what has the actual job of the school principal become today? Readers of Education Week may recall a recent article in which several principals discussed their duties. These include building the staff—and frequently running baby-sitting facilities for them; conducting adult literacy programs so parents can better help their children with their studies; dealing with children with emotional or behavioral problems; following and implementing federal rules regarding special education; and taking on such other roles as union negotiator, community and parent public relations liaison; master of playground rules, bus schedules and budgets; and, in some cases, emergency plumber.

School leadership today is upside down. It’s become 80 percent operations and 20 percent academic leadership. That’s looking at education through the wrong end of the telescope. Unfortunately, our current school environment dictates it—and too many principals and school superintendents have been trained to fit that mold. This is particularly distressing given our nation’s recent “No Child Left Behind” legislation. If our goal is academic excellence for all our children, then our educational leaders have the responsibility—and must be given the tools and training—to carry out that mandate.

The term principal, as you may know, is shortened from the original concept of the position as principal teacher. It’s the principal’s role to be a school’s instructional leader. That role, in turn, encompasses many elements—for example, working in collaboration with teachers in establishing the educational climate for the entire school building; disaggregating data so that they know what is happening in each and every classroom; assessing existing and proposed teaching tools to determine which are succeeding, which are not, and which are not likely to; working with the teaching staff day in and day out—supporting and encouraging those individuals who really care, and helping to strengthen the skills of those who desperately need assistance. The job, overall, is ensuring that the necessary environment and tools are in place. Principal means, quite literally, taking the principal role of leadership on the team that contributes to effective learning. That team must also include parents and members of the community, who, so often, are eager to help if only they were personally called upon and guided in making their specific contributions. But seeing where they can help, and personally enlisting that help, takes vision, and then translating that vision into specifics—all of which are other aspects of leadership.

The challenge of instructional leadership is exciting and psychologically rewarding—which is why so many dedicated men and women want to choose it as a profession. The reality of the role, however—particularly in terms of workload, stress and pay—turns out too often to be another matter. As a result, surveys show, many teachers are reluctant to train to become principals. As today’s principals retire, and as the need for school administrators grows (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an increase in that need of 10 to 20 percent through 2005), our nation’s educational system faces trouble. Thankfully there are foundations such as The Eli Broad and Wallace-Readers Digest Funds that are very actively involved in providing better preparation for supervisors. City and State systems have to design a systemic approach to solving this problem. This would include requiring graduate schools of education to play a more meaningful role in their preparation of supervisors. One idea I’d like to see implemented is “building a bench” within a district—similar in concept to building a bench on a football or baseball  team.  In  this  concept,  teachers and potential administrators in the district would be trained in instructional leadership, right in the schools and under the guidance of respected presiding or former principals, in order to build their practical knowledge and experience of what the job takes. The “heir apparent” would be in place to ensure continuity in any school change that has occurred.

I’m pleased to see that one organization, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), is already taking sturdy steps in this direction. It recently published a handbook, Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do, detailing principals’ responsibilities, with emphasis on instructional leadership.

The NAESP publication, among other things, identifies a number of standards that redefine such leadership for today’s principals. These focus on leading schools in a way that puts students and professional development at the center; promoting the academic success of all students; creating and demanding rigorous content and instruction; using multiple sources of data as a diagnostic tool toward the goal of instructional improvement; and actively engaging the community to create shared responsibility for student and school success. The report also describes ways in which policymakers can offer improved support for school principals.

Central to raising our nation’s academic achievement are our teachers. In New York City for example, the United Federation of Teachers, in response to requests by their teachers for curriculum in all the subject areas, assumed a leadership role by working with the leaders in the city schools, and published a curriculum for teaching English Language Arts (K-12). With this information, principals can work with their teachers to build the capacity for their students to successfully meet the ELA standards. Pivotal for success in this process is the school principal. Let us properly prepare them to do the job that has to be done—and give them the environment and tools they need to fulfill their mission to be the principal teacher.#

Charlotte K. Frank, Ph.D., is senior vice president for research and development at McGraw-Hill Education, a unit of the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Formerly a teacher and administrator in New York City’s public school system, she recently served as Regent of Judicial District 1 in New York 

September 2002
Education Is Fundamental
By Ernest Clayton

This year marks the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in NYC, as well as the country. The city experienced its darkest moments as all energies focused on the common good of a united nat+ion. As fundamental as education is, it took a back seat to the securing and rebuilding of lower Manhattan’s community and NYC’s financial district. Leadership played a key role in the stabilizing of our city at that heightened time in our history. Our political leaders and citizens displayed a strength and courage that gave the city the confidence to move forward as a unified front.

While the city was trying to recuperate from the deva0station, the NY Court of Appeals determined [4 to 5] that an 8th grade education is sufficient for students to become productive citizens. One year after that horrific ordeal, children are still suffering from that old, traditional form of post-slavery education.

We must start educating our children for academic achievement across the board. Steps have been taken during the aftermath of 9/11 that indicate we are moving in a direction that could make education fundamental.

On June 10, 2002 legislation was signed into law giving control of the New York City public school system to the Mayor. Included in the law was a “maintenance of effort” clause that should increase, not decrease, public school funding in our city. Parents feel that someone has to be held accountable if this criminal assault against our children is to continue another day. The Mayor selected his chancellor, Joel Klein, who has already reached out to the United Parents Associations of NYC (UPA) before taking office. He has also made a difference after his first week on the job by reversing, with the stroke of his pen, what ex-chancellor Harold Levy had agreed upon with
the teacher’s union regarding the 20 minutes per day of additional classroom instruction time. The chancellor added two full days of classroom instruction by taking away two professional development days from teachers. UPA immediately posted a gold star on Chancellor Klein’s annual report card. That this happened so swiftly shows the cooperation of the teacher’s union in a light that parents have been pointing towards for sometime. Now that the smoke has cleared from 9/11, that light should illuminate brighter than ever before. UPA applauds the union and the Mayor for allowing children to come first. Now, we need to be vigilant and attentive towards the course of action being laid out for our children’s
academic achievement. Parents, our children must succeed–there is no alternative! Teachers will now earn a fair and competitive wage. 9/11 has become a symbol of strength to our nation and has attracted a record number of new teachers this year with certifications in hand.

The Federal government has re-authorized Title 1, the “No Child Left Behind” legislation that will bring resources to parents who have children attending non-achieving schools throughout our state.

While serving on State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Task Force on School Governance this year, UPA fought hard for parental representation on any reconstituted board of Education. And, parents behold; a precedent was set appointing five parents to the New York City Board on Education Policy.

We have already proven, as a city, that we can accomplish the rebuilding process–especially when everyone is committed. Imagine what we could do if we set our sights on educational achievement! We can no longer wait for another generation of “victims” to arise. Parents, should we accept a merely “adequate education?” Should we expect more from the NYC Dept. of Education? I think you know the answers. It is time to take a stand on our children’s education and Leave No Parent Behind!#

Ernest Clayton is President of the United Parents Associations of New York City, Inc.

July 2001
What School Is About
By Stuart Dunn

With the New York City mayoral race heating up, the public is being deluged once again with political rhetoric on what the candidates will do to improve the schools. Perhaps it is unduly cynical to call it rhetoric, but past experience with political generalizations makes a person skeptical.

Take the case of President Bush. After reducing taxes, his most important campaign issue was education, with his commitment “to leave no child behind.” His education bill has hardly reflected this promise. The party change of Senator Jeffors was probably due more to this failure than any other issue, and that defection may serve to motivate the President where his own promises have failed. Perhaps he should recall his father’s request “to read my lips,” and what his failure to live up to his promise cost him.

It is a good thing to remind ourselves periodically what education is really about, and what it is not about. As always, it is easy to confuse cause and effect. It is not about training students to enter the labor market. It is not about religious training. It is not about providing jobs to administrators, teachers or aides. It is not even directly about patriotism and citizenship. And, it is certainly not about political rhetoric on these issues. What it is about is giving kids the basic tools to live a full and satisfying life, instilling a love of learning and teaching them how to learn. It is about socialization and respect for others. If we give kids these things, they will be good citizens, and they will be able to find meaningful and rewarding employment.

New York City teachers are in the midst of negotiating a new contract. Contract negotiations tend to reduce professionals to the basic roles of employer and employees. But in this case, we cannot lose sight of what teaching is about. A contract with the teachers should not be about protecting incompetent teachers, but it must provide teachers with the security to teach without undo pressure from the community or the administration. It is not about maximizing compensation, but it must provide adequate pay to attract and retain qualified teachers. Teaching, after all, has to be more than a job, and the UFT must acknowledge this if it is to regain the support of the general public.

With each question about our schools, we should ask how do we achieve the real objectives of education. There must be an overall plan, and that plan must be based on what it is we want to achieve. I suggest that all those involved in education keep this in mind while they debate the details. #

June 2001
Meeting the Newcomer
By Matilda Raffa Cuomo and Deborah E. Lans

Fifty-three percent of New York City students come from immigrant families. At least 17 percent of New York City students—170,000 children—are English Language Learners (ELLs), students who have entered the school system in the last three years for whom English is not a native language. More than half of these children speak Spanish, ten percent speak Chinese and the balance speak approximately 140 other languages.

ELLs, particularly those who first enter the school system in middle or high school, have a particularly difficult time meeting the standards necessary to exit ESL or bilingual programs or for passing Regents exams. In 2000, two-thirds of the fourth-grade ELLs in New York City failed the English language arts test, as compared with 50 percent statewide. ELLs require longer to graduate high school and, particularly faced with new Regents requirements, they are showing increasing dropout rates. Just in the last two years, the rate has increased from 17 to 24 percent.

What should be done? It is apparent that the State and the Board of Education need to invest substantially more money in bilingual and ESL teaching to recruit and train teachers; acquire and disseminate curriculum materials; hire translators and take other steps to facilitate effective parent outreach and education; assure the availability of summer school classes; and to promptly place ELLs in classes meeting their needs.

After-school programming needs to be made available to ELLs in order to provide them additional support with language arts skills. ELLs need to be placed in mentoring programs. Mentors—particularly those who have experienced acculturation themselves—can be particularly helpful for children who may be having difficulty adapting to our culture and whose families may not have the knowledge of the school system, college application and selection process or career paths that their children may need to reach their full potential.

At Mentoring USA we are attempting to address the special obstacles faced by ELLs in several ways. First, this Fall we will introduce an ESL Mentoring program. Bilingual mentors will receive special training and, working under the guidance of skilled teachers, will link one-to-one with ELLs to work with them on an individual mentoring plan designed to meet that child’s needs, as identified by the child’s ESL teacher and parent(s) and by the child. The child will benefit from individual attention to language arts skills.

In addition, Mentoring USA’s BRAVE program (Bias Related Anti-Violence Education) offers all youth in our programs the opportunity to explore their ethnic, racial and cultural heritage, through the reading of books about their countries of origin, heroes from their cultures and special holidays and celebrations observed in their lands. Activities linked to the readings allow the youth and mentors to share these materials with one another and to elaborate on the messages of tolerance and the value of diversity which underpin the BRAVE program.

The continued strength and vitality of our city depends on our providing assistance to our immigrant youth— to assure that they receive a sound and strong education and feel fully welcomed in and connected to our culture, as well as their own.

Mrs. Cuomo is the founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA. Ms. Lans is the Executive Director.

May 2001
For Randi Weingarten, It’s Been a Very Good Month
By Stuart Dunn

On April 12, Mayor Giuliani announced the completion of contract negotiations with District Council 37. According to the NY Times, the contract calls for a four percent increase retroactive to April 1, 2000, another increase of four percent retroactive to April 1, 2001, and an increase of one percent, which the district council’s locals can distribute in any way they want. Most members will receive an additional three percent by reducing their pension contributions without decreasing their pensions. The contract, which expires in June 2002, requires no productivity increases to offset these pay increases.

Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT, immediately announced that the District 37 contract should not serve as a pattern for her union. In private, I expect she jumped for joy. The Mayor, who had made merit-pay the central condition for his bargaining with the city’s unions, came away with the acknowledgment that the city had the right under this agreement to pay additional compensation to employees for outstanding performance—some merit-pay agreement. If the teachers can get a similar provision Ms. Weingarten will be a happy camper.

This announcement was followed by a conference entitled, Exemplary Educational Practices, Labor/Management Issues. It is unusual for a Chief Executive to attend such a conference during contract negotiations, and even more unusual to call for significant salary increases for his employees, but that is exactly what Schools Chancellor Harold Levy did. This conference turned out to be a big love-in, except for the Mayor’s contribution. It is now clear that the Chancellor supports the union position that the teachers should receive a large, across-the-board salary increase. His argument is that this will make NYC competitive in the hiring and retention of quality teachers. He neglects the fact that all the other school districts are calling for similar increases, which if achieved, would leave NYC exactly where it started, except that it would have a bigger bill to pay.

The UFT view is that the teachers deserve a big increase. I don’t know what the teachers deserve, the “just wage” having gone out with the Middle Ages. However, if it takes higher salaries to hire and retain high quality teachers, NYC will have to pay higher salaries. But, it must be sure it is paying these salaries for high quality teaching. The only way I know of to achieve this is through pay-for-performance. The role of the union is to negotiate a merit pool; management should determine how that money is distributed.

At the same conference, Bob Chase of the NEA, said, “salaries are a quality issue.” I think that should read, “quality is a salary issue.” It is to be hoped that the Mayor will insist on a real merit-pay contract, and that the candidates for mayor will not so desire the support of the UFT that they will undercut the negotiation.

April 2001
Public Education Under Attack
By Stuart Dunn

Let there be no mistake, public education is in serious trouble. On the day after President Bush’s non-State of the Union address, the New York Times carried three separate articles (in addition to those on Bush’s address) on education entitled: Board Votes to Revamp Bilingual Education to Give Parents More Choice, High School Dropout Rate Rises, and Levy Fears New Test Will Bring Huge Surge, High Court to Hear After-School Evangelism Case With Wide Implications.

The President made education a focus of his speech, second only to tax reduction. He emphasized that his plan provides for additional federal funds for education, so as “to leave no child behind,” and annual testing to see how the schools are doing in spending this money. He made it sound like the funding he proposed, which he would turn over to the states with little federal control and which increases federal funding from seven to eight percent of the total public school budget, would somehow bring about a major change in student performance. While discussing his plan, he failed to mention that it calls for significant tax relief for middle-class parents of parochial school students and does little for poor parents. It seems that his real motivation is questionable.

Here in New York City, the School Board endorsed Chancellor Levy’s plan to provide parental choice for students who lack proficiency in English. While the plan is an improvement—parental choice is desirable —Levy’s plan would still leave too many students for too long in bilingual programs. The Chancellor revealed that the dropout rate jumped to 19.5 percent for the class of 2000 from 17.5 percent for the class of 1999. According to the Times, “the report suggested that many students were dropping out because they were demoralized by being held back,” and noted that, “tougher requirements may be too discouraging for some students.” Does the Times mean to imply that these policies should be dropped? Hopefully, not. These statistics do emphasize the magnitude of the failure of NYC’s public school system. The Mayor took the opportunity to renew his call for abolishing the Board of Education, instead of addressing the underlying issues.

And, just to round the day off, the Times reported that upstate in Milford, a religious group is suing for an evangelical club, lead by adults, to meet at the public elementary school. This kind of suit, coupled with the President’s aim to involve religious groups in social service and suggestions on relaxing the rules for federal financing to parochial schools, presages a major challenge to the Constitutional separation of church and state.

Meanwhile, the UFT and the City are stalled in contract negotiations, primarily over the issue of merit pay, and an excellent principal was lost at Bronx HS of Science due to Levy’s procrastination. The public education establishment, it would seem, prefers to fiddle while the public schools burn. Those who believe that public education is crucial to our democracy had better face the real challenges of educating our kids, because if we don’t, there soon won’t be much of it left.

January 2001
Nothing Comes From Nothing
By Stuart Dunn

The public has been told repeatedly that the NYC teachers are underpaid. Salaries for teachers in the city range from $31,900 to $70,000 for a ten month school year, during which teachers work approximately 180 days. (Good teachers do not work a shorter day than others, they do a great deal of work after they leave school.) Most people work 240 days during a twelve month year. On a 240 day annualized basis, teacher’s salaries would range from $42,533 to $94,333. The benefits—health insurance, pensions, etc.—far exceed that which most jobs offer. All this, plus security assured through a system of tenure, makes for a much better compensation package than advertised.

Nevertheless, we function in a world of supply and demand, and good teachers are in short supply. If schools outside of NYC pay higher salaries, and thereby attract and retain better teachers, we must be willing to pay more for quality teaching too. But the operative words here are “good,” “better” and “quality.”

The UFT refuses to consider any form of merit pay. The union is willing to penalize, and even lose, the better teachers in the system in order to equally compensate, and retain, the less competent ones. The Mayor is right in refusing to accept this situation. Parents and taxpayers should support his position. There are many things which need improvement in our schools, but the most fundamental is the quality of our teachers. A good teacher can overcome many obstacles, a poor one can do little with the most favorable classroom situation.

The union offers little in return for its demand for a 25 percent salary increase. Longer school days? A longer school year? Maybe, but over and above the across-the-board increase demanded. Teacher evaluation? Pay for performance? Mandatory certification? The end of tenure? Don’t be ridiculous.

Yes, NYC needs pay parity with the other school districts, but that parity should be based on a system which includes merit pay to reward highly qualified teachers, and a realistic way to discharge unqualified teachers. Until the union accepts this, teachers will be paid less here in the city, and except for the dedicated few, the system will continue to fail to attract and retain better teachers. Worst of all, the students will continue to under-perform. The union is playing into the hands of those who want a voucher system, which would damage the public schools and degrade teacher pay. The UFT, once a force for improving the quality of education, is today a trade union, where the things that matter are compensation, seniority and security. Only the teachers themselves can force the union to recognize that unless that changes, teachers will receive less than they desire, and that many deserve. #

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