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Have your voice heard in vote on DOE, mayoral control

The state law which created the city Department of Education and mayoral control also included a June 30 sunset provision. The state Legislature must either let the current law expire and go back to the city Board of Education structure, change it or leave it the way it is. This is important because the quality of our schools determines the quality of our students, which determines the quality of the city workforce.

This column has sought to print problems facing our public schools and the positive things found in them. Since state legislators will have to vote on any new law, hopefully you have ideas which you can convey to them.

Some children are kicked out of their homes or run away due to problems they face. There are parents who are alcoholics or drug users or who abuse their children. Some children are pressured to join gangs or buy or sell drugs or are bullied in school. TV shows and movies are often more gratifying than the lessons teachers are required to teach.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein say their policies are working and that standard test scores and graduation rates are up. But there are a half−dozen ways to fake test scores. Then there is the policy of credit recovery in high schools, where a student who failed a course can turn in an unmonitored report and receive credit for that course. I do not think this is terrible because sometimes a teacher has a personal hatred of a student and this could be a way to help that student.

Teachers learn from principals and sometimes pick on a student to show the class they mean business. This is the policy the principals now use on teachers. Some principals give “U” ratings to teachers to show they mean business. A teacher with 20 years of satisfactory work is given a “U,” then observed by the administration and given advice on how to be better. By the end of the school year, the teacher is given an “S” and the administrator can show the work done to improve the teacher. But if the teacher has too high a salary, he or she can be forced out so a new teacher can be hired at half the salary.

The City Council, state legislative education committees and individual legislators have been holding hearings. Parents have been complaining that they no longer have a voice in the weakened school districts. Superintendents have little or no power, community education councils have no power and parents have nowhere to go to solve problems — except newspapers. Some parents complain that the mayor ignores the law and it should be made stronger with oversight powers to make him follow the law and give parents more of a voice.

The teachers suffer, but they have the United Federation of Teachers to support them. Tens of thousands of teachers and parents were at a recent City Hall rally. One good thing the DOE did was create smaller schools, but the bad thing was teachers were let go because the schools had become smaller. Some of these teachers had been teaching for 20 or 30 years and had large salaries. Principals would not hire them under the new system because the higher salaries used up too much of the money allocated to the school. New principals do not realize older teachers have institutional memories, which can be valuable.

Recently, there was a flap over the fact that UFT members gave Council members cards with questions during a hearing concerning charter school advocates. Some people were embarrassed that questions were given, but that is the duty of a teachers union. Teachers care because their own children attend city public schools. What should have been asked was:

• Do charter schools only select the best students and not those who are slow learners or have learning problems?

• How many problem students do charter schools expel?

• How much money do corporation presidents, who run charter schools, make?

If some of this information has made you curious, attend a meeting or hearing concerning the law which created the current city school governance structure. Write or call your legislators. You have until June.

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