People For Public Schools – In Jackson Heights
Dromm Discusses Educational Issues & What Can Parents Do To Help
May 28, 2014 / Jackson Heights / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz. I attended what was essentially a communal sit down dialogue Daniel Dromm, Chair of the NYC City Council Education Committee. He met with a six-month-old group that goes by the name of the Jackson Heights People For Public Schools. And together they discussed the plethora of issues being grappled with by educators, policymakers, parents and pupils in the wake of the Bloomberg Administration’s departure.
I consider myself to still be in the learning mode of trying to understand all of the issues faced by those managing public education so what follows is essentially a partial record of the discussion.
As background based what I do know from prior coverage in the Queens educational arena, the Bloomberg Administration embarked on an effort that appeared in some respects to favor de-unionizing and privatizing the NY Public School system via the closing of public schools which were staffed with generally experienced, unionized teachers; and opening privately run charter schools, generally run by fairly new teachers who worked for non-union wages. The Bloomberg Administration also moved toward splitting schools into smaller entities.
Click here to read more about a dialogue with Daniel Dromm, NYC City Council Chair of the Education Committee, about education & public schools in Queens.
People For Public Schools – In Jackson Heights
Dromm Discusses Educational Issues & What Can Parents Do To Help
May 28, 2014 / Jackson Heights / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz. The Bloomberg Administration generally relied upon test scores to grade schools failures and withdraw resources in a multi-year process. Critics argued that this process was very distracting to educators, parents and pupils alike. And they believed that the Bloomberg approach was not only flawed by nearly singular reliance on what they believed to be culturally biased testing, but also in their neglect of children from lower income neighborhoods and those with special needs.
Advocates said the charters were more successful schools as measured by standardized test performance, and because they are non-union would cost the taxpayers less money. Critics rebutted that the process of educating the public was being compromised to succeed in standardized testing. They also said that charter school recruitment was targeted to the children most likely to perform well academically in school, which favorably biased their performance statistics. And that this sort of recruitment process [targeting those most likely to succeed] was an anathema to one of the core concepts upon which America was founded, which is that of providing equal opportunity to all. We did a story previously about the Bloomberg Administration’s attempt to break up one of the most successful schools in NYC and Queens, as the largest NYC charter school operator was making plans to open a school in Queens. Some of the parents of the targeted school did not find these two events to be a random coincidence.
The debate on schools includes levels of taxation, union versus non-union staffing, private versus public educational management, managing equal opportunity for the best and the brightest alongside those with less academic aptitude, teaching a multi-lingual pupil population, finding true measures of academic achievement and progress and managing public resources including school building capacity in a period of expanding school populations amidst a challenging economic climate and disagreement among the electorate as to how best to approach the issues. How’s that for a mouthful?
I’ll be the first to admit that the above encapsulation may not fully capture the give and take in the debate, but I will continue to try to do so over time. One thing I am sure of and that is that running the nation’s largest and possibly the world’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse public school system has got to be one of the most challenging and – if successful - possibly one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Creating a nurturing and successful learning environment for the ethnic, economic and genetic diversity of the NYC public school system population could facilitate cross cultural understanding - not just here in New York City - but the world.
Education has the potential to be the sweet spot of the melting pot.
Anyhow, I took a seat inside the classroom of the Community United Methodist Church in Jackson Heights on a Wednesday evening and here is what I heard.
Councilman Dromm said that there have been about five schools built within the Jackson Heights area within the past ten to twelve years. He admitted that this added school capacity lagged the overall growth of the school age populace and said that NYC needs to do more. He noted that his predecessor, Robert Jackson of Harlem, had taken the issue to Albany but to date Albany hasn’t embraced increasing funding for school expansion.
Some of the dialogue was school-specific, but for the purposes of this story, I’m going to keep out specific names until I become more knowledgeable about them. One parent mentioned that the principal of one public school seemed resistant to adding a bi-lingual program.
Dromm mentioned that the new head of English Language Learners [ELL] in NYC, Claudia Aguirre, was supportive of instituting ELL programs where there was sufficient demand. He said that part of the resistance to adding these programs stems from a lack of space or teaching resource.
Someone said that there were incentives in place to motivate schools that don’t have ELL programs to begin them, but no incentives to expand them in schools where additional capacity is needed. One parent remarked that some ELL programs cover only the early grades and then vanish in the upper grades.
One person asked why is it necessary for 1,500 Queens children to leave the borough every day to get a good education? She noted that these kids leave the neighborhoods where they live, because the schools are failing in Pre-K through 8th grade and in some cases have been closed down.
Dromm took Newtown High School as an example of some of the chaos in the school system during the Bloomberg Administration. Newtown was a C school a few years back. It was then targeted as a turnaround school and eventually made a targeted school closure. During these times it was starved of resource as the Principal and staff were re-deployed to other schools in the system. Parents began seeking other options and both attendance and school safety were issues. The UFT [United Federation of Teachers] sued to get the staff and resources back and the school’s performance improved from a C to a B in spite of all this chaos.
Dromm noted that this sort of chaos went on in many other schools around the borough including LIC High School and Jamaica High School. He said that when a school is starved of resources, parents have no choice but to seek enrolling their children in other schools. What happens then is that the schools left behind in the neighborhood, get worse as the kids with parental support and involvement leave. That’s why 1,500 kids leave the borough daily to matriculate at other schools. We did a story on the proposed closing of LIC High School a couple years ago in the midst of the controversy.
Dromm also talked about the role and weaknesses of relying solely on standardized testing. He noted that one particular testing company, with Hedge Fund allies, incorporated cultural bias into its tests. An example of this, he noted would be to talk about walking out onto a porch versus a terrace, where inner city kids who aren’t surrounded by many ‘porches’ might not know what one is. Another example would be to include something about subway tokens in an exam being administered in a rural area where the kids might not know what a token is.
This cultural bias is one of the reasons that testing should not be the sole metric for evaluating schools and pupils. Other metrics like grades and other metrics should be included in making a more comprehensive and thus fair decision.
Dromm also talked about segregation issues in the school system, most notably in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. He said some sections of these boroughs were more segregated that the American south in the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of the solutions / approaches to this problem would be to expand the districts to provide kids with additional school choices for enrollment.
Another parent asked why kids can’t take some specialized classes at schools only blocks away? Dromm answered that they were looking into making ‘shared resources’ an option, but how to administer this needs more work as there’s no system in place for managing this.
Someone said that the specialized high schools appeared to be populated by kids who perform well on standardized tests, some due in part to specialized tutoring provided by their parents. One person noted that the specialized schools seem to skew toward high Asian enrollment rates. Another noted that grades, like standard tests, aren’t always a fair measure either because some schools grade more leniently than others.
English as a Second Language [ESL] programs were also discussed. One of the parents noted that ESL programs can have two different populations with very different needs and accommodating them in the same program is challenging at best. One of the populations would be new immigrants with little or no knowledge of English versus another population that has some command of the English language but needs to improve its understanding / literacy rate.
Dromm noted that putting students in heterogeneous groups seemed to help students learn English faster / better as they learn from one another. We did a previous story on a Flushing High School, which employed that method successfully.
One of the discussion tangents included how to encourage the bright students to learn at a more rapid pace, while still meeting the needs of those less capable of learning at their speed. In the early elementary years, all children are grouped together in a heterogeneous mix of aptitudes. But at the intermediate level, the children are separated by aptitude / academic performance and many of the best students left their neighborhoods to go to the better schools elsewhere in the city. This left the neighborhood schools with less resource, acumen and talent.
Dromm said that the solution to this is to have gifted and talented programs in every neighborhood school so the kids don’t have to leave their neighborhoods to get a good education.
This dialogue was organized by the Jackson Heights People For Public Schools organization. They were formed about six months ago and seem to have a very involved and educated membership. You can find them at jhpps.tumblr.com.
One of the members asked Dromm, “What can we do to help?”. Dromm told them to keep doing things like this. He can bring their concerns and opinions back to the NYC City Council Committee on Education and cite them as a source. One person asked what about the Parent Teachers Associations [aka PTA]. It was noted that these are more structured organizations and the dialogue is less open and free.
Someone said that the School Leadership Team [SLT] is the only group with any power. It was noted that the teachers have their union to fight for their issues, the prinicipals have power by virtue of their office, but that parents need to form organizations like this to bring pressure to bear on elected officials, unions and staff to help guide the outcome of an issue.
I want to thank the Jackson Heights People For Public Schools group and Daniel Dromm for what I thought was an informative session about public education in Jackson Heights, Queens and NYC today.
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