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Walcott’s Dilemma

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We have long been a fan of Dennis Walcott, a Cambria Heights resident, who was named city schools chancellor after serving as a deputy mayor. We believe Walcott is a man of integrity who understands the importance of public education better than his boss. And we are hoping he is uncomfortable with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to close Jamaica High School and replace it with two new schools with names created by a public relations firm.

And although he has defended the mayor’s decision to abandon seniority when it comes top teacher layoffs and evaluate teachers based on standardized tests, we are certain Walcott sees the problems in this approach.

In a letter to the editor published last month, City Councilman Mark Weprin took City Hall to task for its proposal to use standardized test scores to constitute 40 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation. This is a bad idea born in the mind of a man of privilege who never attended a public school.

“What makes a good teacher?” the councilman asked. “I will bet that if you think back to your school years and try to remember your best teacher, you will think of someone funny, witty, creative or inspiring.”

We are dismayed by the thought that some public school teachers will abandon the more noble instincts that brought them to teaching in the first place and decide instead to spend the entire school year preparing students for standardized tests.

Although we would like to see an insider stand up to the mayor on the issue of public schools, we understand the dilemma that Walcott and others face. As far as we can tell, the mayor does not encourage debate among his closest advisors and will not tolerate dissent. If Walcott were to tell the mayor that closing a school like Jamaica HS is a bad idea, he might not remain an insider for long.

But the fight is not over. In May, the United Federation Teachers, the NAACP and electeds filed a lawsuit against the city Department of Education in an effort to block the closing of 22 schools across the five boroughs. The union said the city failed to honor its agreement to give principals the resources they need to turn their schools around.

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