Thursday, September 22, 2005

Once Upon a Time in the East...

Chancellor Klein came into town, guns blazing, promising to bring great improvements to the New York City school system. Soon thereafter, he went to Albany, hat in hand, and persuaded the powers that be to allow him retain teachers who failed basic skills exams, and hire 3,000 more uncertified teachers. Later, he expressed much righteous indignation over teacher quality. Apparently, the Chancellor did not see that as inevitable in a system that scours the universe to attract the lowest common denominator, fails even at that, so sets the standard even lower.

New York State expects kids who came from Korea three months ago to pass a grueling (for them) two-day writing test called the English Regents. Chancellor Klein sees fit to employ teachers who’d fail not only that test, but also a far easier one called the LAST test, which supposedly measures teacher quality.

Many will argue that teacher certification in itself does not guarantee a good teacher. That’s certainly true. On the other hand, the inability to pass a basic competency test is a strong indicator that a person is unfit to teach children. Such a person would not be granted an interview anywhere but NYC.

That’s a good thing, because interviews can be tough. I faced the NYC Board of Examiners for oral interviews (for two different licenses) when the city maintained the highest standard in the State. Their written exams, unlike those current candidates manage to fail scores of times, were no walk in the park either.

If you wish to work in Burger King, the manager will want to have some sort of conversation with you. If the manager determines you to be a drooling, insane lunatic, your employment prospects dim considerably. However, if you visit the Department of Education, wave a diploma, breathe, and meet the very lowest standard in New York State, they will indeed send you out as a teacher.

If you’re a Spanish teacher who doesn’t speak Spanish, come to NYC. They won’t nitpick about your substandard personal hygiene. If you’re a Chinese teacher who hates everyone from the mainland, and you regularly announce this to anyone within earshot, this is the place for you. If you don’t speak any recognizable language, this is the place to teach language.

The DOE won’t raise an eyebrow if you wander around the school in dark glasses talking to yourself. Nor will they make a fuss about your propensity to take off your shirt and beat your chest like Tarzan in the middle of a lesson. And why should they? They can always blame the UFT.

My ex-colleague, who both speaks and teaches Spanish, recently found employment in Nassau. He had to go through multi-level interviews and give a sample lesson before he was hired. That’s the least we should do before hiring someone to teach. If we want to set high standards for our kids, we’d better set far higher standards for those we assign to lead them.

I once believed that Mayor Bloomberg, in stark contrast to his predecessor, wished to bring real positive change to New York City schools. Unfortunately, he and the Chancellor, despite their much-ballyhooed good intentions, reverted to the exact practices that transformed NYC from the State’s best school system to one of its worst.

They did this for one reason, and one reason only—to continue the city’s long tradition of defying the law of supply and demand by settling for virtually anyone who could fill one of its ancient wooden chairs. Now they fight tooth and nail over the possibility of granting teachers a raise that keeps up with the cost of living. Why?

Because they can always lower standards even further, get more teachers, complain loudly about them, and blame the UFT contract for whatever goes wrong. But it mostly boils down to this fact, which rarely occurs to anyone:

They simply don’t give a damn who teaches the kids of this city.
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