Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where Will the Children Play?

In PS 48 in the Bronx, they need only walk to their schoolyard. That's because principal John Hugues decided it was a priority.

"He got fired up," parent leader Arshel Brown said of Hughes. "If we had more people like Mr. Hughes, we'd all be on the ball."

Playgrounds are a scarce commodity in New York. A 2003 City Council study found that half of the city's nearly 800 elementary schools had no playground at all.

Meanwhile, "reformer" Michael Bloomberg unilaterally attempts sweetheart deals to build playing fields for elite private schools. Fortunately for the kids of PS 48, their principal didn't see fit that they should wait till they could afford tuition at the Spence School.

Hughes got no help at all from Tweed, and tired of getting "the runaround" from so-called proper channels.

When Hughes took over the school in 2001, he sought funding from the School Construction Authority, but with classrooms squeezed into trailers all over the city and 100-year-old buildings clamoring for repair, playgrounds were not a priority.

No one disputes that playgrounds are not a priority in Mr. Bloomberg's New York. In fact, Mr. Bloomberg has no apparent problem dumping a bunch of trailers in a lot somewhere and labeling it a school. In Mr. Bloomberg's New York, the only thing that matters is test scores and accountability. Of course, despite the fact that Mr. Bloomberg has made no progress whatsoever with test scores he can't manipulate, the closest he's come to accountability has been the remarkable spectacle of Jim Liebman, chief accountability officer, literally running away from concerned parents.

"Reformers" like Mayor Bloomberg think the only thing that matters is test scores, and simply ignore the fact that their "reforms" fail to achieve even this narrow goal. Having observed really good schools, like the one my kid has attended, I see three constant elements:

1. Good teachers
2. Reasonable class sizes, and
3. Decent facilities

Despite Mr. Bloomberg's grandstanding about teacher quality, he's done little to address the first element. Actually, I'd say he loves bad teachers, because to him, "accountability" translates to passing the buck. Without bad teachers, he'd have absolutely no one to scapegoat.

As for two and three, it's fairly clear he ignores them completely. His claims of having reduced class size by .2 kids per class are laughable even if they're true. In my school, stuffed several times beyond capacity, class sizes regularly exceed 34, the highest class size limit in the state. And if Principal Hughes school doesn't demonstrate this administrations utter disregard for decent facilities, I don't know what does.
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