Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Size Isn't Everything

by special guest blogger La Quijota

When I think of the small schools movement in New York, I'm reminded of the story The Emperor's New Clothes. There are many sacrifices being made in order to have a small school. Unfortunately it seems as if teachers and students are the ones that are suffering. The union is handling the issues of ageism and retaliation that have become more rampant in smaller schools, so I will focus on what happens to a student in a small school.

If you are a student in a small school in NYC, a school that hires its own teachers and therefore can only provide the courses those teachers are qualified to teach, you are trapped. You are trapped because you must take your courses with the teacher that teaches that level and you have no choice, personality conflict or not. You are trapped into the foreign language that school offers. You are trapped into the arts IF ANY that school can offer. You are trapped in terms of the electives the school can offer if any. If you are highly intelligent you are trapped with the middle and low levels and will not be offered AP courses unless the school has a teacher qualified to teach them and enough students to enroll. As the school is likely to want to look good, students who would never pass the AP test are accepted into the class in order for it to have the requisite number of students. This means the teacher will still end up scaffolding down what ought to be a rigorous test.

Much is said about not knowing the other members of the staff, the schools being too big, and violence etc. I ask all to think carefully. Metal detectors have not been removed. Students are still being searched and yes there are still fights. However if you can cover up fights, not report fights, not suspend kids for offenses and play other games you can fudge your statistics. Its actually much simpler. In a school building with six mini schools inside of it, dividing the 12 monthly fights among them and then reporting the stats via the school name versus the campus name , add the stat fudging and you have an apparent reduction in violence. Recently, in my school, students from a mini school on the 3rd floor came to our 4th and 5th floors to invade and did this 3 days in a row. These three days of what can only be described as riots were brushed under the rug and reported as unrelated incidents that occurred pre-Halloween. There's the magic of semantics.

The final and most disgusting of all of the problems with small schools is the very idea that these schools should have themes at all. This means one school has a monopoly on law classes, or on art classes, or everwhat. So called international schools end up having large immigrant populations, often mostly Latinos, leaving the other schools in the building with mostly African-American students, creating defacto segregation. Something is very very twisted when it's obvious to all that one school is a "Latino" school and another is a "Black" school, fights occur between them for three days, and nothing is done about it.

Education at the secondary level is meant to prepare students for the rigors of University. It is supposed to give students an opportunity to discover what their interests are. Departments are supposed to unite teachers who teach the same subject areas. Now teachers are isolated and sometimes alone or one of a few teachers in a "department" for which no one is in charge.The small school has created what was once termed an industrial factory model into a sweatshop. It=s the same thing--maybe worse.

The word differentiation is tossed about as if that can ever make the difference between the literate and the illiterate student. The small school movement goes away from giving students a free and appropriate education. It leads to schools trying to fit their students into the box they have created. If a student arrives from another country as a SIFE student or special needs student, with only a 5th grade education and illiterate in Spanish as well as English, the big school model had enough teachers to have Wilson Classes and other low level literacy classes. The big school model had departments and specialists. The small school model with its lack of support staff, can take counseling time away from the counselor who may also be programming. With a small faculty the illiterate student is grouped with age mates and never gets the attention and specific educational efforts needed to get him/her on track. Such a student, effectively, is denied an education.

The schizophrenia of the small schools movement is that in the very same building where in generations past you could take any courses you needed to, the student in the international school can't take business and law classes in the business school or art classes in the art school as that would be returning to the "old way". However, they have learned in some of these big campus schools that gym cant work that way and forced all gym teachers to teach all students from all schools. They still haven't figured out lunch, feeding students as early as 10:30 in the morning and as late as 2 pm. Prom and student activities are a mess as all schools attend and crown multiple kings and queens. Graduation is also impacted as some schools must plan something for 55 students or less.

Cooperation is still happening between schools as large things such as laminators cant be purchased on every budget, and public spaces like auditoriums must be shared. What no one is talking about is how there have been lab rooms destroyed, chorus and music rooms destroyed and other specialty rooms destroyed while trying to divide up a school building equally. The fact is not all schools get access to all rooms. Walls are painted different colors, kids pick up quickly on the us versus them mentality, and no amount of intramural sports will fix it.

Perhaps I have the Cassandra complex, but I fear that we will be talking about how high school curricula have been destroyed by small schools.

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