I can only suppose it's an effort to compete with charters in doing things differently. Unsurprisingly, those representing charters decline to sing its praises:
The program has been largely dismissed by the city’s influential charter sector; its leaders call it an unproven strategy that has not yet shown tangible improvements for schools.
Of course, "tangible improvements" are open to interpretation. Last I looked, charters had not only failed to show them, but in NYC were also not subject to Chancellor's Regulations that prohibit, for example, allowing children to pee themselves rather than granting the fundamental dignity of allowing them to go to the bathroom.
A Daily News story from last year has some less than encouraging words on the PROSE program, from none other than sitting Chancellor Carmen Fariña:
“You see something here that in some other schools would raise people's eyebrows,” she said. “You have one teacher with almost 40 kids in the class and you have another teacher with eight kids in the class. And no one is saying this is how many I have, this is how many you have. They're saying in order for me to do my job here, you're gonna do your job there.”
I'm not sure when it was that Carmen Fariña last worked as a classroom teacher, but I still do, and I also represent over 200 working teachers. I can tell you with 100% certainly there are a whole lot of things teachers don't tell their immediate supervisors or principals. The likelihood they would tell such things to the school chancellor hovers somewhere below nil.
So we have 48 kids. Eight of them, according to someone or other, require individualized attention. 40 of them evidently do not. In this scenario, over 80% of the students are in an oversized class and we're supposed to celebrate that because the teachers, as far as Fariña knows, aren't complaining. That's not the most persuasive argument I've ever heard. Why couldn't there be two classes of 24 without the PROSE initiative? In fact, if she feels so strongly about it, why doesn't Fariña ante up so all those kids could work in groups of 8?
In fact, an SBO could be used to enable an oversized class. We had a strings class in our school that was one over the limit, and we had an SBO to allow it to stay that way throughout the year. In exchange, the teacher was relieved from his C6 assignment, repairing instruments. Admin agreed not to overbook the class in the future, and it seemed a better decision than removing a kid at that point in the year. The teacher even did his C6 assignment, as no one else was gonna do it if he didn't.
If the PROSE programs are so fantastic and innovative, why are oversized classes their calling card? How about letting us see, now, each and every program so we can assess them? How about letting us know why these things could not be achieved via a regular SBO process?
Are these programs just a propaganda tool to show that public schools can do new things just like charters? For my money, that's nothing worth aspiring to in the first place. Also, the UFT has already kowtowed sufficiently to charters. Not only did we drag the trash talking Steve Barr and Green Dot to NYC, but we also opened and colocated our own charter. Just how far backward do we need to bend in order to prove a point?
If it's about showing we are flexible with the contract, I absolutely don't believe the contract favors us. In fact since 2005, I've seen it favor us less and less. This notwithstanding, it happens to be constructed by both the union and the city. I've seen it work in favor of UFT members, and I've seen it work in favor of administration. I don't think we need to hold it in contempt, and show our enemies we're willing to push it aside to show how open-minded we are.
If there is some great value in the PROSE schools, I'd like to hear about it. What exactly is it they can do that a general SBO cannot? Why are they better than the UFT Contact, and if they're so wonderful why isn't everyone using them? When are we going to see exactly what goes on in these schools rather than vague allusions in Politico?
If they are as good as Mulgrew and Fariña say they are, they have nothing to lose by showing us the full picture.