Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Terrible Education Reporting of the New York Times

I have not always been involved in educational politics. Still, I remember some time in the eighties when we were granted a February break for President's week. The Times ran a story about how inconvenient this would be for parents, and how it would have been better if the DOE ran with keeping schools open. Absent in this story was the fact that the DOE was not, in fact, pressing to open schools. Rather, they wanted teachers to come in for PD, while all students stayed home anyway. Every teacher in the city knew that, but the New York Times didn't.

Some time later, I read a column about how, in the Bronx, children were being placed in bilingual classes that were not, in fact, bilingual. The writer claimed that anyone who wanted to learn English had to pay and go to a nearby Catholic school. I found that very curious. I had just gotten my first grade niece out of a similar bilingual class. I went to the school with her mom, and was met by a formidable secretary. The secretary advised me that it was unwise of me to ask for ESL placement, and that she was much better off where she was. I said I was representing the mom, who was with me, and that she had the absolute right to opt her child out. At that point, the principal came out of her office and helped us.

This process took about five minutes. The Times columnist said I was able to do that because I was an ESL teacher. The truth is I was able to do it because I knew the rules. The Times columnist could have let his entire readership know the rules, but chose rather to leave them with the fiction that the only way to avoid bilingual education that wasn't really bilingual was to go to Catholic school.

Now the Times is busy defending awful principals.  Amazingly, they reference Bill de Blasio's remark about a "hyper complaint dynamic." This was how de Blasio dismissed the bulk of sexual harassment complaints in the schools, and it's disgraceful. I am close to victims of sexual harassment and abuse, and dismissing them as cranks is just about the worst way possible to treat them. I'm very proud of initiating a UFT resolution standing against that nonsense.

Perhaps you wouldn't expect it, but the NY Post has much better education reporting. Sue Edelman digs for the truth, and if it falls on administrators, so be it. In fact, the Post just ran an editorial defending their reporting. The Times says Elvin was exonerated, but that's only part of the story.

DOE confirmed that the students were listed on class rosters and given “packets” of work but no actual instruction time by certified teachers. Elvin and others reportedly orchestrated the scheme in order to boost the school’s graduation rate.
Yes, a hearing officer dismissed the charges against her — not because they weren’t true. Rather, she claimed the central office had approved of her actions — and DOE refused to turn over the relevant records.
In short, it seems then-Chancellor Carmen Fariña was a de facto accomplice, rubber-stamping the sham credits — and DOE let Elvin skate rather than reveal the truth.
Then there is Santiago Taveras, who the Times says changed only three grades, but may have changed up to 900. It's galling that the Bloomberg "no excuses" types get into schools, the same ones they themselves would work to close, and push them to survive via systemic cheating. 
The Times goes to Shael Polakow-Suransky, a Bloomberg employee, who says all the principals are doing a great job and that it's just a bunch of cranky teachers acting up. Of course no one under Bloomberg ever did anything wrong except for those uppity whining teachers. 
Let's go back to the story about John Dewey, and how those awful teachers railroaded Katherine Elvin. Evidently Ms. Elvin just wanted to do the right thing, and rating over half the school developing or ineffective was part of her crusade for good. So what if there was a grade-fixing scandal? What's a few phony grades if we're targeting all those awful teachers?
One thing you won't see in the Times story is the fact that Dewey now has a new principal, and there is no mountain of complaints. I've been chapter leader of a very large school for nine years now. I don't know much, but I know this--there are complaints about me, you and pretty much everyone, but you don't see a pattern of complaints about a supervisor unless said supervisor is doing something really wrong. 
It's disgraceful that the Times would run such a shallow puff piece. More disgraceful still is their consistent lack of curiosity to uncover the truth.
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