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
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
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. #
Triumph was, In Reality, A Collective One
By Deborah Meier
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
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.#
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.
Do We Go from Here?
By Stuart Dunn
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
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.#
Wellstone; Profile in Courage
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.#
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. #
in Our Schools: The Principal Part
Charlotte K. Frank, Ph.D.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!#
Clayton is President of the United Parents Associations of New
York City, Inc.
School Is About
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
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. #
Matilda Raffa Cuomo and Deborah E. Lans
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
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.
Cuomo is the founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA. Ms. Lans
is the Executive Director.
Randi Weingarten, It’s Been a Very Good Month
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
Education Under Attack
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.
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
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.
Comes From Nothing
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
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
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. #