Friday, August 26, 2005

School of Blog on the mayoral candidates: Part I

Anthony Weiner was at the Grand Army Plaza station this morning. I have to admit, he is a handsome specimen of mayoral candidate.

According to the flyer he gave out, the first step of "The Anthony Weiner Plan for New York City" is to "Improve Our Schools by cutting through the red tape to allow our teachers to teach and our principals to discipline. He'll also help us to keep the best teachers by increasing salaries and allowing them to get back to the basics."

Vague. A trip to his campaign Web site clears things up a bit. Here's what he says about the curriculum:
The current uniform curriculum was chosen without real input from teachers, and micro-manages every aspect of the teaching process. The original reading program - Month by Month Phonics - had to be radically scaled down and supplemented after it failed to meet federal standards and was roundly criticized by
education experts. The math problem emphasizes "concepts" rather than basic mathematical skills like the multiplication tables. It's time to start over, emphasizing real involvement from teachers and a back to basics approach.

I am not a teacher, so I couldn't say if this is something that really concerns teachers. To me it sounds a little fishy; if you are a teacher, please comment!

Weiner also implicitly ridicules Bloomberg's parent coordinator initiative as a waste of money elsewhere on his Web site. True, the parent coordinator hasn't been taken fully advantage of in every school. But a mayor who doesn't value the role of parents in schools .... ?

UPDATE: Good analysis in the NY Times today -- the gist: the Democratic candidates just don't have that much to say about education.


reality-based educator said...

I'd like to make a few points in response to your post:

First, your conjecture that Anthony Weiner may not value the role of parents in schools because he ridicules the "parent coordinator" position created by Bloomberg and Klein is completely illogical.

Weiner may value the role of parents in schools very much but decide the money being used to pay parent coordinators could be better used to involve parents in schools(language translators and interpreters, cultural outreach, etc.)

I have never met the parent coordinator in my school. Most people, including the parents, have never met the parent coordinator in my school. In fact, the parent coordinator in my school is notorious for NOT being available to either parents or teachers. I have asked my friends who teach at other schools if they know who the parent coordinator is, and to a person, no one could name or place the parent coordinator or say exactly what he or she does.

Now I realize this is anecdotal evidence that the parent coordinator is a waste of time/money and I realize that the position may be valuable in some schools. But to patently criticize Anthony Weiner for not valuing parental input in schools just because he implicitly criticizes Bloomberg's creation of the parent coordinator position is frankly ignorant. Weiner is obviously not criticizing parental input in schools, or denigrating the role of parents in schools, he is simply criticizing Bloomberg's creation of the parent coordinator as a waste of time and money. This is a big difference!!!

Second point: how can you possibly characterize Weiner's criticisms of the uniform curriculum as "fishy" when you note that you're not a teacher and don't know anything about working with the curriculum? How do you know Weiner's criticisms are "fishy"? Have you worked with this uniform curriculum? Have you worked with other curricula that you can compare to Bloomberg's uniform curriculum? Have you written your own curriculum and decided Bloomberg's is better? Or are you just saying Weiner's criticisms sound "fishy" because you don't like Weiner and therefore think any of his criticisms of schools must be "fishy"?

The fact is, many teachers who have worked with the uniform curriculum hate it. As anecdotal evidence, I have friends who despise it, my accountant's wife (25 years as a teacher) retired after teaching it for a year, and the UFT newspaper has documented enough criticisms to make me at least OPEN-MINDED to what Weiner is saying about the curriculum. My school is exempt from the curriculum, however, so I don't know one way or another myself whether Weiner's criticisms of the uniform curriculum are valid or "fishy". Just like you don't.

Third, before crowning Bloomberg "King of Education", as the New York Times almost does today in its article, I wish reporters would take a closer at Bloomberg's "amazing test scores." Strangely enough, the DOE hasn't released the methodology of how the tests were scored. Did the DOE lower the number of correct answers needed for a passing score? Did the number of correct answers needed to pass remain the same, but the overall number of questions on the test increase? Did the DOE make the tests easier?

And why won't the DOE or the mayor release the methodology of the tests? If the mayor and the chancellor are so confident that the higher test scores are proof that their educational reforms are working, they should release the methodology of the tests.

I am dubious that test scores can improve so rapidly and so vastly across the board without some mathematical bamboozlement. Pressure has been placed on schools and school officials at all levels to come in with higher test scores. Don't kid yourselves that the improvement in the scores somehow means students are better educated and Bloomberg is a great "Education Mayor". Either the kids were taught to the test to the detriment of everything else, the tests were manipulated a bit to ensure improvement, or more likely, kids were taught to the test AND there was some test manipulation to ensure score improvement.

From your post, you sound like you don't like or respect Anthony Weiner, which is your right. But your criticisms of him are as slight and "fishy" as you think Weiner's criticisms of Bloomberg's education record are. I'm not supporting Weiner in the primary, but I don't want to entirely dismiss him or his criticisms of Bloomberg the way you seem to want to.

The person I'd like to entirely dismiss from office is Mayor Bloomberg (the "Mayor of Money" as Mike Lupica calls him in the Daily News). Bloomberg tries to leave no business special interest behind, whether it's tax breaks for his billionaire real estate buddies or $2 billion dollar football stadiums for his billionaire sports team owner buddies, but when it comes to a fair wage (i.e., one that keeps pace with inflation!!!) and fair treatment for police, fire personnel, teachers, etc., Bloomberg readily leaves the city behind by placing union-busting and wage-squeezing above the safety and needs of all New Yorkers. He has cut the starting salary of NYPD cops by 27% in the new police contract at a time when New York desperately needs professional people to fill the ranks of the NYPD and keep us safe from terrorism. Bloomberg would like to create the same "savings" in the contracts for the FDNY and the UFT. And yet, while he nickles and dimes working New Yorkers, he was willing to throw away $2 billion on the Jets stadium and another $2 billion to extend the # 7 train 8 blocks and three avenues.

Yeah, Bloomberg is the guy we should be dismissing...from office.

julie said...

Thanks for reading and responding! You're right that just because he thinks the parent coordinator positions are a waste of money doesn't mean he doesn't value parents' roles in education. And I agree with your choice of the word "ignorant" on Weiner's ideas for parent involvement, because to my knowledge he does not have any. Not that a mayoral candidate should be expected to have ideas for everything, but parent involvement in schools is a big thing, and if he believes the parent coordinator positions are a waste of money (which they may be in some schools), he should have some sort of alternative.

I am also completely ignorant on what it is like to teach using the city's current curriculum, and that is why I welcome comments from educators, reality-based or otherwise, who have to use it. Honestly, I don't know enough about Weiner to have prejudged him one way or another. The "fishy" comes from my predisposition to distrust politicians who tout "back to basics" curricula over those that stress "concepts" in an effort to win over conservative-minded voters.

So there you have it, I am ignorant and prejudiced. But I'm glad you still read the blog and contribute your thoughts!

reality-based educator said...

I found your blog through eduwonk recently and have been reading it and enjoying it. Keep up the interesting posts.

I have a blog too at reality-based I started it as an education blog back in March but have slowly transitioned into mostly politics. Anyway, check it out when you get some time.