Saturday, April 14, 2007

On Reading

If you look at the latest issue of New York Teacher, you'll encounter a bold front-page headline:


Wow! Break out the champagne. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Let's see what the story says:

The headline proclaims:

Funds will provide meaningful reform

What is unmistakable amid the reams of detail is the victory for the UFT and parents working to shrink class sizes over the Department of Education’s strenuous objections. This budget requires New York City to reduce class sizes in all grades over the next five years to grade-by-grade averages set by the state education commissioner. UFT President Randi Weingarten called the provision a guarantee of “meaningful class size reform.”

Wow. A guarantee. And a meaningful one, too. I'm very impressed. But wait a minute. What's this? In the second column, I spy:

The legislation does build in some flexibility for Michael Bloomberg and future mayors by not specifying minimum target numbers the city must achieve or amount the city must spend on class-size reduction. The legislation also creates an enforcement mechanism, while at the same time protecting the city from lawsuits over class size by putting enforcement in the hands of the state education commissioner.

What's that? Could you speak a little louder, please? There's no minimum target number? There's no minimum amount on spending? The city is protected from lawsuits? Why would there even be lawsuits, since there are no minimum targets for anything whatsoever?

Let's look at the bottom of the page, and see what the law says:

Such plan shall include class size reduction for low performing and overcrowded schools and also include the methods to be used to achieve such class sizes, such as the creation or construction of more classrooms and school buildings, the placement of more than one teacher in a classroom or methods to otherwise reduce the student to teacher ration;

So let's see. If hizzoner cannot locate additional toxic waste sites on which to construct schools, if he continues closing school buildings, or using school-owned buildings for condos, if he continues to offer the best facilities in the city to charters run by billionaires, there are really some easy ways for him to meet this "meaningful" mandate.

For example, he could reduce class size from 34 to 33 (there are no minimum targets, after all), and place 66 kids in one classroom with two teachers. Consider, though, that this is the same mayor who insisted on 37.5 minute classes. He could reduce class size by .5, and place 67 kids in one classroom with two teachers. Or, he could reduce class size by .33, and place 101 kids in one classroom with three teachers.

Pretty soon some creative "reformer" will determine the extra adults should be paraprofessionals rather than teachers, so as to conserve valuable tax dollars needed to construct sports stadiums.

It's a win-win. Ms. Weingarten can loudly declare victory, and Mayor Mike can pretty much do whatever the hell he wishes, with no viable consequences whatsoever.
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