Friday, July 09, 2021

Today in PTA (Pass Them All)

My late friend Chaz wrote about Maspeth High School three years ago and two years before that. It sounds like an awful place to work, and from what he wrote, it looks very much like a test prep factory. The only thing is, no one is allowed to fail. After all, what would it look like if 100% did not pass? 

Well, it would probably look like a real place. Students are human and sometimes fail. I know this well, because more students in my classes failed this year than ever in my career. Now I could have passed everyone, and I suppose that would make me look like a genius. What I did, in fact, was make my classes easier than ever before. After reading complaints from parents that students were overworked, I started doing most homework assignments in class.

All my students had to do was write the answers. If they got them wrong, they could correct them in class. And despite that, I probably had around a 60% compliance rate. Students who did the work passed, for the most part. Admittedly, I gave a few essay assignments that we could not do collectively, and they counted as tests or projects. I made them very easy to do. And still, that 40% who didn't do the homework didn't do that either.

I had students ask me, at the end of each semester, if they could just do one project to make up for everything. I told them they had to do all the work, just like the rest of the students. They were not happy with that answer, but it was really not fair to my students who were doing everything to pass others for virtually nothing. 

I have to say, though, that I was not pressured by anyone in my administration to simply pass everyone no matter what. Now I'm sure my AP and principal would have been happy to see more students pass. In fact, I too would have been happy about that. But there's just not much I can do for students who didn't show up until the last week, who didn't lift a finger until some counselor told them summer school was rapidly approaching. 

A place where you're pressured to pass everyone no matter what is a hellscape. You may as well not be there. In a situation like this, your work is irrelevant. You may as well sit in front of the class, read the Times, and let the students play on their phones. If you're going to just pass them all, what's the difference?

It's not surprising, though, that learning is not at a premium in some places. As far as I can see,  no administrator seems to learn anything at Maspeth High School.  They were in the news in 2016, selling students books rather than providing them, as every school I've ever worked in has. And it looks like, after that, they finally terminated one principal for sleazy practices. 

But they go on, and now, yet another principal seems to have bitten the dust. It takes years for something like that to happen, while teachers can face 3020a charges pretty much at the whim of a principal, any principal. 

A group of teachers told The Post in August 2019 that administrators pressured them to pass failing students and that staffers gave out Regents exam answers during the test.

The whistleblowers also reported that kids who did little to no work were graduated via phantom classes and credits.

2019 sounds like two years ago to me, at least.  I've seen teachers facing charges in a New York minute, and for things far less egregious than that. In fact, I've seen teachers brought up on charges for nothing more than irritating a principal. No one knew this better than Chaz, who spent years fighting unfounded charges only to be bounced back as an ATR. (Chaz took this well and became a great advocate for ATRs.)

Of course there is an egregious double standard. But the root problem here is that we continue to evaluate administrators not by how they support the people who do the actual work of teaching, but rather by their test grades and passing scores. For administrators obsessed with feathers in their caps and black eyes, helping students learn has no meaning whatsoever. Nor does staff morale, likely as not nonexistent in places like these. 

That's a disease, and it's been going on forever. Of course it was exacerbated by Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and the Obama administration, which winked and nodded at atrocities like Race to the Top. Sometimes it feels like we have no friends anywhere. I'm not sure where it's written that threatening and mistreating teachers results in better education for students, but of course I've never taken courses in administration. 

You'd think, after reading years of stories like these, someone would say, "Hey, maybe we should try a different approach." Sadly you'd be mistaken. Too bad Bill de Blasio did not expend one minute ridding the DOE of Michael Bloomberg's ever-lingering stench. And too bad that Eric Adams, who took millions of dollars from the charter lobby, who thinks Zoom classes of 400 are the bestest thing ever, is likely the next mayor.

It's tough to  anticipate things getting much better any time soon.

blog comments powered by Disqus