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This article is part of our new feature "State of Education" where we hear what is going on in each state around the country, from an educator in that state. If you would like to write about your state, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Teaching in New York City during the Bloomberg reign can at times be quite frustrating for all involved. Mayor Bloomberg would like to think of the Department of Education like a business. His solution to a school that is not doing well is to close it, much like a branch of a store that is not making its sales goals. Education is not a business and cannot successfully be treated as such.
Bloomberg’s model runs on the idea that the reason the schools are not successful are because the teachers are failing in their duties. By closing the failing school, the staff are now without a job. This is his way of circumventing tenure and the union. A school is deemed failing by their report card. Every year a school is issued a report card based on state exams, parent surveys and student progress. If a school is failing multiple years in a row, it becomes a school at risk of closing. As of late, the teacher’s union has been working hard to stop school closings. The union states that by closing a school it demoralizes the community and puts teachers out of work and the Department of Education(DOE) is not supportive enough in aiding those schools that are struggling.
Special education has become a very hot topic in the city. The Chancellor Dennis Walcott cites the new special education reform as a way to include special education in the least restrictive environment possible as an opportunity for these students to rise to the challenge. He makes note of the fact that special education students that are included in general education classes whenever possible are more likely to come to school and are more likely to graduate. These students are will be pushed and held to a higher standard. Sounds fabulous when put that like doesn’t it? In reality, fewer seats in special education classes are now available. Students that should be in a 12:1 class but are not behavioral problems are being moved to Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes. I have heard from teachers in other schools that they have students that require a 12:1:1 bilingual classroom, but was denied the setting because of lack of seats. The student was instead placed in his or her home school in a monolingual ICT class. How is that student receiving the appropriate attention and services? Each principal is also responsible for providing teacher training to ensure that each teacher is prepared to meet the needs of an even more diverse learning setting in his or her classroom. Of course, more money would be needed to provide such training and never mind the materials that must go along with an incredibly diverse classroom in an inner city.
Special education has also been given a new tool in recent years. Special Education Information System (SESIS). SESIS is a tool that can be quite helpful to all teachers that service special education students. It is a system that allows the students Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and all related documents to be online and available to a teacher with a DOE login. No more hunting the IEP down from the folder it’s hiding in in the classroom. However, SESIS also requires that all service providers log every session individually. Depending on what service you provide you might even have to write session notes for every session and type those in individually. It turns into a laborious and tedious task. To edit or delete a mistake that has already been saved is extremely difficult. The issue becomes compounded by lack of time provided by school administration. A side note here is that time provided for work on SESIS is determined by each individual administration and some are more generous than others. The issue of time became such a big deal that the teacher’s union and DOE went into arbitration. The issue has been settled and DOE has been ordered to pay teachers for all hours logged in after school. While the DOE has been ordered to pay by the courts, some teachers are still waiting for payment.
It goes without saying that a school in an inner city has English language learners. In New York City there are supposed to be three available programs for ELLs. They are Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE), Dual Language (DL), and English as a Second Language(ESL). When a student is identified as an ELL, the ESL teacher is required to a provide a parent orientation. Part of this orientation is notifying the parents of the three programs and showing the DOE video on the topic in the parent’s preferred language. A quick explanation of the difference between TBE and DL: TBE is a program built around the expectation that the student transitions from working in the native language into English 100% of the time, and DL is always 50/50 home language and English. Ideally, parents would choose the option best for their child and placement would commence and everyone would be happy. In reality, there are few spots available in TBE or DL. The students whose parents choose one of those programs are more disappointed than not. Those programs are being cut due to lack of funding (books in both languages and bilingual teachers are needed) and lack of interest on the part of the principal. If you are the only school in the district with one of these programs, your school becomes a magnet for these ELLs whose parents are looking for placement. With today’s high stakes testing, these students are not the most desirable. Most have never been in school or have had their education interrupted. Their test scores are not what brings funding to the school.
Teacher evaluation has been in contention also. According to the State Education Department in Albany, all school districts in the state were required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by January 2013. The DOE was unable to reach an agreement with the teacher’s union and they missed the deadline. The result of this was a loss of $240 million dollars of state aid and is in endanger the loss $250 million dollars of federal grants. Both sides point fingers at each other for the negotiations breaking down. Bloomberg blames the teacher’s union and the union blames Bloomberg for striking down an agreement. As of now, negotiations between the union and the DOE are ongoing.
Teachers in New York City often feel that the DOE has left them hanging with high expectations that often seem impossible or unrealistic. Special education reform being a great example. The DOE expects the students to succeed even though many teachers cite lack of training and professional development that prevents them from reaching all of the students and guiding them to success. Bloomberg’s idea of a school being like a business puts him at odds with many people in education.
Because each principal is responsible for their school’s professional development, student placement and administration periods; these opinions may vary from school to school. If the staff has a supportive principal, odds are they feel that they can do the best by their students because the materials, professional development and student placement are where they are supposed to be.