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Monday, 23 April 2012

Here are some pieces I wrote recently on public education - O’Leary

 Banned words in New York City schools? “I’m with the banned,” Part III, One of the most extraordinary examples of schools-are-for-teachers occurred in New York City: the maintenance of “rubber rooms” for incompetent teachers. In Moe’s words:
And these were public school teachers passing a typical day in one of the city’s Rubber Rooms---Temporary Reassignment Centers---where teachers were housed when they were considered so unsuited to teaching that they needed to be kept out of the classroom, away from the city’s children.
There were more than 700 teachers in New York City’s Rubber Rooms that year. Each school day they went to “work.” They arrived in the morning at exactly the same hour as other city teachers, and they left at exactly the same hour in the afternoon. They got paid a full salary. They received full benefits, as well as all the usual vacation days, and they had their summers off. Just like real teachers. Except they didn’t teach.
All of this cost the city between $35 million and $65 million a year for salary and benefits alone, depending on who was doing the estimating. And the total costs were even greater, for the district hired substitutes to teach their classes, rented space for the Rubber Rooms, and forked out half a million dollars annually for security guards to keep the teachers safe (mainly from one another, as tensions ran high in these places). At a time when New York City was desperate for money to fund its schools, it was spending a fortune every year for 700-plus teachers to stare at the walls
But maybe, beyond a few fixes, nothing much can be done, for this reason:
The parent groups and politicians who demand that the system be reformed blame the administration and the unions for stonewalling---and thereby miss the point that a civil servant once explained to me: If the government funds the schools through taxes and quasi-government agencies administer them, everyone involved is part of the government's constituency.
The incompetent teachers in the rubber room are citizens and voters like anyone else, including the children's parents. So are the administrators. So are the trial lawyers of the incompetent teachers and their union officials. And the trial lawyers of parents suing the board. So are the business people who clean and repair after episodes of graffiti and vandalism. And so forth.
Whatever reform the government intends is likely to be stonewalled by one of the groups that is in fact a legitimate part of its constituency. To put the students first, definitely and unapologetically, is not possible by the very nature of the system.
Very well, then, do I see private schools, charter schools, or home schooling as the answer?
For some students, yes. Their main advantage is not superior virtue, harder work, or better methodologies. It’s simply the fact that a private institution is free to prioritize how well the kids are doing over other interests.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Denyse, your revelations in this piece and those you have linked leave me well-nigh speechless. Balance,wisdom and common sense seem to have drained away into an abyss of mindlessness, through the measures taken by the educational systems you discuss.