Lately, I've been hearing about some horrible schools. Not really the schools precisely, but the administration of these schools. Can administration cause an entire school to fail or succeed? I would have to say, yes. Before Bloomberg's regime there were checks and balances in place - UFT consulation meetings, experienced principals and staffs, teacher cafeterias/ lounges and cohesive one building school entities with a shared focus. All that is gone. Each school is now its own fiefdom with their individual kings and queens ruling benignly or maliciously. When I was a kid and a big fan of the newly rediscovered Alexander Hamilton, I was shocked that his preferred form of government was a monarchy. I suppose he's not the only one who believes in them.
After being in well over fifty schools, I can quickly tell the good from the bad. One of the first indicators is the name. There is an inverse relationship between the length and complexity of the name of a school and it's true nature. If it has one or more long syllabled adjectives, you know you're in trouble (i.e. The Extraordinary High School of Excellence for the Examination of Elipitical Exercise). Another indication is the civility of the staff. If no one answers (or even acknowledges your presence) or makes eye contact, you can bet the staff is pretty much demoralized. Teacher absenteeism is another big clue. I've been in schools where 60% of the staff was absent on any given Monday and Friday. Another clue is seeing a half dozen or more pregnant teachers, not all of them women. (I'm joking of course, some of them may have been hysterical pregnancies brought on by gas, stress and despair.) Another H-U-G-E indicator is students with cell phones.
Since the cellphone ban was lifted by Mayor deBlasio, I've seen a marked decline in the discipline level of many schools where the phones haven't been reigned in. Teachers there are unable to teach and students are unable to learn. I've been to only one such school this year - last year it was seven out of my nine schools. The schools that allow them have severe observable behavioral problems. If I was a media, UFT or DOE statistician I could correlate phone use to bad behavior - but that would be a flawed assumption. It's partially correct, but incomplete. You see the phone use isn't the only or most important correlation I see - it's the fact that many schools don't collect those phones at the door. What does it say about the administration of that particular school? What does it say about the administration's attitude toward the students and staff? At best it's indifference, at worst incompetence. There's the correlation. If they don't care about cell phone use in school, what else don't they care about? Usually it's discipline, bullying, teacher contractual rights, and basic civility. If the UFT and DOE want to quickly ascertain which schools have a baseline indicator of competence, just walk in the front door. Then again does anyone really care? Other than fools, like me, who care about kids?
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