Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chapter 11: Pterodactyl

Chapter Eleven:  Just Say No (Child Left Behind)

It’s good to be king and it’s good to be smart.
Who says?
That’s why this word “smart” is everywhere these days.  From kids to phones it’s good to be smart.  Smart educators, those who are well versed in scaffolding, unpacking, digging deep, jig-sawing, turn-keying and, additionally, ramping up – these smart educators, I say, have been smart enough to pick up on this smart word.  Where to put it?  What would a smart use of “smart” be?
“I’ve got it!  Let’s put it to the National Governors Association!  Aren’t they the ones who signed off on the NCLB money?”
“Yeah, so?”
“Well, those guys ought to be able to think of something.  I mean, what else do they have to do at those governors’ conferences?”
“And didn’t they invent the word ‘ram pup’?”
“'Ram pup'.  That was a way of ramming remedial English down the little pup’s throats.”
Cut to the next meeting of the National Governors Association.
Gov. 3:            Great convention, huh!
Gov. 12:          Yeah, that was some lap dance last night.
Gov. 27:          I’ll say.  I had to send my secretary to the ATM for more cash.
Gov. 8:            What lap dance?
Gov. 27:          I told you to slow down with those – what were they called?
Gov. 14:          Totalitarians.
Gov. 27:          Yeah, Totalitarians.  You were totaled.  What was in those anyway?
Gov. 14:          What wasn’t?
Bloomberg:     [At the podium]  If I could have your attention ….
Gov. 41:          Say, what’s that guy doing here?  He’s no governor.
Gov. 33:          He thinks being mayor of New York makes him better than us.  Hey!  Bloomberg!  Get the hell out of here!
Gov. 19:          Yeah, where’s Gov. 1?  He’s supposed to moderate.
Bloomberg:     Pipe down.  I’m just calling the meeting to order.
Gov. 29:          You just want to show your mug on national t.v.!
Bloomberg:     You think I need national exposure?  Nobody knows who the hell you are.  They wouldn’t know you from a pothole in one of your streets.
Gov. 29:          Oh yeah ….  [Getting up from table]
Gov. 43:          [Holding him back]  Take it easy.
Bloomberg:     Come on!  Come on!
Gov. 1:            [Stepping to the podium]  Thanks, Mike.  I’ll take it from here.
                        [Bloomberg takes seat at front table.]
Gov. 1:          All right, this meeting is called to order.  We have important business to get to so let’s get started.
Gov. 17:          Yeah, let’s get to the budget crisis.  We’re all in trouble.
Gov. 26:          No, first we have to figure out how to get rid of all these public employee entitlements.  Where’s the governor of Wisconsin?
Gov. 38:          We’ve got a crime problem!
Gov. 6:            Let’s start with immigration.  It’s getting way out of hand.
Gov. 1:            Hold it, hold it.  We’ve got an agenda.  You should all have it in front of you.  As you can see, our top priority today is the word “smart”.
Gov. 4:            What are you talking about?
Gov. 1:            I’m talking about our education crisis.  Didn’t you get the memo?
Gov. 4:            What memo?
Gov. 1:            The one I emailed last week outlining the agenda.
Gov. 4:            Well, sometimes I forget to check my email.
Gov. 1:            Did anyone get the email?
                        [Governors look sheepishly back and forth at each other.]
Gov. 1:            Okay, well here’s what we have to do.  We have to figure out how to fit the word “smart” into the education discussion.
Gov. 14:          Why’s that?
Gov. 1:            Because all the P.R. firms are telling us that it’s the best buzzword since “Where’s the beef”.  All the advertisers are using it.  Would someone wake up Gov. 8?
Gov. 22:          So what does that have to do with education?
Gov. 1:            Come on, Red.  Didn’t you take the NCLB money?
Gov. 22:          Yeah, so?
Gov. 1:            Well, didn’t you read it?
Gov. 22:          Well ….
Gov. 1:            There were provisions, Red.  They didn’t give you that money for nothing.
Gov. 22:          I was going to get to it.
Gov. 1:            [Shaking his head.]  Now, how many former educators do we have here?
                        [No hands go up.]
Gov. 1:            Come on.  Nobody ever took an education course?
Gov. 39:          My aunt used to teach 2nd grade.
Gov. 1:            Good, now we’re getting somewhere.  We’ve all just accepted a lot of money from this, whachamacallit – No Child Left Back – and listen – if you don’t use it on education ….   It’s not like car insurance money where you can blow it any way you want.  They’re going to check up on this.
Gov. 46:          Who’s committing insurance fraud?
Gov. 1:            Just a hypothetical, Bill.  I know you’ve got a lot of insurance interests in your state.  I could have said it’s not like siphoning oil profits off the top ….
Gov. 18:          Who’s siphoning oil profits?
Gov. 1:            Can we get to the point here?  One of the things we have to do with this money is come up with a marketing plan.  We have to pretend that we took this money because it was in the best interest of the school children in our states.  Can’t you get that through your thick heads?  Bob, would you wake up Gov. 8?
Gov. 17:          Just tell us what we have to do for this money so we can get on with it.
Gov. 1:            I told you.  We have to come up with a marketing plan to sell NLBC and the P.R. people are telling us to use the word “smart”.  So let’s get to work.  What does “smart” have to do with education?
                        [Governors scratch their heads.]
Gov. 1:            Come on, think.  One of you out there ought to be able to come up with something.
Gov. 42:          I’ve got something.  We could apply it to the kids.
Gov. 1:            Now there’s an idea.  See.
Gov. 42:          You know, those obnoxious kids who are always pestering their teachers, the smarmy ones.
Gov. 1:            Not smarm, Slim, smart.  Smarm isn’t going to sell anything.
Gov. 42:          Oh, yeah.
Gov. 12:          But hey, couldn’t we still apply it to kids?  I mean, a smart kid is a good thing, isn’t it?
Gov. 15:          Yeah, No Child Left Around makes your kid smart.  How’s that?
Gov. 1:            Pretty good, not bad.
Gov. 28:          Isn’t that like calling all the kids before dumb?
Gov. 17:          Who cares about them?
Gov. 28:          Maybe they’re parents now.  Do we want to call all the parents dumb?  What’s that going to sell for us?  By the way, what are we trying to sell again?
Gov. 1:            We’re trying to sell NLCB and we’re trying to use the word “smart” to do it.
Gov. 22:          I’ve got it.  Why don’t we use it like an acronym?
Gov. 36:          A what?
Gov. 22:          You know, like BLNC.  Each letter stands for something.
Gov. 7:            You mean the “S” stands for something, then the “T” and so forth?
Gov. 40:          Yeah!  I like it!  How about “S” for smorgasbord.
Gov. 1:            What the hell does that have to do with education?
Gov. 40:          I was just thinking of lunch.
Gov. 1:            Well, before we break, can we come up with some ideas.  There must be a lot of words that start with an “S”.
Gov. 34:          Silly.
Gov. 12:          Sexy.
Gov. 18:          Swish-a-licious.
Gov. 1:            What?
Gov. 18:          Sorry, I was just reading about the Yankee game on my smart phone.
Gov. 1:            Now listen, we want to get out of here for lunch by ten, don’t we?  Isn’t that our goal?
Gov. 9:            That’s a smart goal!  Ha ha.
Gov. 10:          Hey, I like that.
Gov. 9:            What?
Gov. 10:          “Smart” goal.  Why don’t we come up with a goal and call it “smart”?
Gov. 9:            Right, let’s break for our smart lunch.
Gov. 1:            Hold on, hold on.  I think you guys are onto something.  What if we combine the acronym idea with some kind of goal?
Gov. 31:          How can a goal be smart?  That’s ridiculous.
Gov. 45:          Hey, it’s for kids, isn’t it?  They’ll swallow anything – smart goal, why not?  Anyway it’s the teachers that will have to shove it down their throats like everything else.
Gov. 1:            First we’re going to have to shove it down the state school superintendents’ throats.  Then they’re going to have to shove it down the local superintendents’ throats.  Then they’re going to have to ….
Gov. 45:          Yeah, yeah, we get it but it eventually gets down to teachers shoving stuff down kids’ throats.  So let’s just come up with something.
Gov. 1:            Right.  So let’s get back to the “S”.  Keep thinking.  Think of an “S” word about some sort of goal.
Gov. 12:          Sinful.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 18:          Supercalifragil ….
Gov. 1:            No!!
Gov. 48:          Surrreal.  Surreal goal.
Gov. 29:          What the hell is that?
Gov. 48:          I don’t know.  My wife dragged me to an art thing last night and I heard it – stuck in my mind.
Gov. 1:            Sounds good.  Everyone in favor.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            What about “M”?
Gov. 35:          Money.
Gove. 1:          No.
Gov. 28:          Mastermind.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 44:          Malfeasance.
Gov. 1:            NO!!
Gov. 8:            How about “magical”.  Kids love magic.
Gov. 1:            “Magic.”  All in favor.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            “A”.
Gov. 12:          Hole.
Gov. 1:            Would you get serious?  This isn’t some sort of psychological association game.  Hundreds of millions of dollars depend on this.  Besides, it’s already past nine.
Gov. 12:          Sorry.
Gov. 13:          Aberration.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 12:          Abscond.
Gov. 1:            No!
Gov. 19:          How about “ABCs”.  We learned that when I was a kid.
Gov. 1:            Sounds good.
Gov. 16:          Wait a minute.  That’s not even a word.  That’s just letters.  That doesn’t count.
Gov. 19:          Sure it does.  “ABCs goal”.  See that sounds nice.
Gov. 16:          But what about the “B” and the “C” in there?
Gov. 19:          What about them?
Gov. 16:          There’s no “B” in CLNB – oh, sorry.
Gov. 1:            We’re talking about “smart” anyway, not NBCL.  How about it.  “ABCs”.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Okay, then what’s next?  Oh yeah, “R”.
Gov. 12:          Raunchy.
Gov. 6:            Refrigerate.
Gov. 1:            What?
Gov. 6:            Well, “chill” doesn’t start with “R”.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 47:          Retarded – doesn’t that have something to do with education?
Gov. 13:          You ought to know.
Gov. 1:            No, no, no!  Keep thinking.
Gov. 44:          Repercussions – you know, like what’s going to happen when 20-20 airs that piece on my house in Jamaica next week.
Gov. 12:          Not to mention the Jamaican housekeeper.
Gov. 1:            Okay, repercussions.  What do you say?
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Good, almost there.  “T”.
Gov. 12:          Tits.
Gov. 19:          Treasury – that’s where the money came from, right?
Gov. 1:            Yeah – no!  Keep thinking.
Gov. 32:          Tonsillectomy.  Don’t kids get those?
Gov. 1:            NO!
Gov. 27:          Pterodactyl.
Gov. 1:            Come on, what does that have to do with anything?
Gov. 27:          Hold on – kids love dinosaurs, don’t they?  It will grab their attention.
Gov. 1:            True, I never thought of that.  Okay, for “T” – pterodactyl.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            [Looking at his watch]  Okay, before we break, let’s just have the stenographer read this back to us.
Stenographer: Okay, resolved:
1.     The word “smart” is to be used in the marketing campaign for NBLC.
2.     The word “smart” will be applied to the word “goal”.
3.     The word “smart” will be used as an acronym.
4.     The letter “S” will stand for “surreal”.
5.     The letter “M” will stand for “magic”.
6.     The letter “A” will stand for “ABCs”.
7.     The letter “R” will stand for “repercussions”.
8.     The letter “T” will stand for “pterodactyl”.  By the way, “pterodactyl” doesn’t start with a “T”.
Gov. 1:            What?
Stenographer: I’ve got spell check.  I thought it was a “T”, too.
Gov. 17:          Of course it does - tear-a-dack-till – you can hear that it starts with a “T”.
Gov. 25:          Who cares what it starts with!
Gov. 34:          If it sounds like a duck ….
Gov. 25:          It didn’t exactly look like a duck, though.
Gov. 12:          I’d like to get my hands on her pterodactyls.
Gov. 1:            So that’s it.  We’ve got, let’s see here, we’ve got “surreal, magic, ABCs, repercussions, pterodactyl” goals.  How does that work?
Gov. 32:          Works for me.
Gov. 12:          I move we adjourn for lunch.
Gov. 8:            [Waking up]  Seconded.
Gov. 1:            All in favor?
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Motion passed.  Let’s get out of here.

The S.M.A.R.T. goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.
Of course, the P.R. people later revised the governors’ decisions.  Since they are made for public relations, they are generic enough to be inoffensive to most.  Who would argue that a goal shouldn’t be specific or measurable?  It’s hard to imagine a goal that is attainable but not realistic or vice versa but unfortunately “smart” has both an “a” and an “r”.  How smart is that?  “Smat” goal doesn’t have the same ring.
Teachers have been instructed to use “S.M.A.R.T.” goals along with the new common core standards in creating lesson plans.  This means that lessons should have specific content or skills as their focus, that it is realistic and attainable for the students to learn the material and that the teacher can measure the amount of learning and re-teach if necessary over a reasonable amount of time.  All of this has always been done by teachers as they have taught standards-based lessons without articulating the standard as part of the lesson.  The difference is that now it all is supposed to be articulated, even “shoved down the students’ throats”, as one imaginary governor put it.
So let’s apply the S.M.A.R.T. goal concept to NCLB.  Let’s consider the “AYP” goals – “adequate yearly progress”.  Let's apply the “Specific” to the word “adequate”, as amorphous a word as the English language might spew out.  By the year 2014 all schools are to have made “adequate” progress in such things as narrowing the gap in  the academic performance of various minority groups that have historically diverged significantly as a result of social, cultural and economic differences that, if anything, have only been exacerbated over the past decade.  It was left to each state to define the term “adequate”.  Clearly the attainable aspect of this depended entirely on the definition of “adequate”.   The only thing “realistic” about it is that each state was left to itself to make up their own definitions.  The arbitrary year of 2014, which arrived only13 years after the passage of the NCLB law, was timely only in that it meant that W. would be long gone by the time schools across the country began to fall short of their goals.
How S.M.A.R.T. are the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessments?  In the year 2011 how attainable is it that schools are going to have on line MAP assessments available for all students?  How realistic was it in 2002 that in 12 years schools that were struggling to find rooms and desks would be ready to seat every student at a computer for an on line test?  Maybe the only things that we’ll be able to measure will be the low ratio of computers to students; the number of students unable to take the test; the number of students who failed to complete the test because of technical problems or because they couldn’t type fast enough; the number of students absent on test days; and the number of “U” rated teachers at the end of the year because, after all, it’s someone’s fault that these S.M.A.R.T. goals weren’t achieved.
As recently as spring 2011 I attended a workshop on the new PARCC testing methods. [1]  At this workshop we were assured that by the school year 2013-14 there would be quarterly on line tests aligned to specific standards in math and English.  Furthermore the tests would be marked automatically on line, off site.  Math teachers were assured that there would be software available to determine whether or not a student deserved credit for work done on a problem that showed knowledge of process yet nevertheless yielded the wrong numerical answer.
Even more incredible was the assertion that software would be available by then to mark English essays.  The exchange between the workshop facilitator, Jaime Aquino, and the teachers went something like this:
“Do they have software that can mark argumentative essays?”
“Well ….”
“Do they have it now?”
“No, but they say they’ll have it in time.”
“They are going to have software that can read and evaluate essays for organization, meaning, language and conventions?  They are going to have software that can analyze development and support of an argument and that can recognize and appreciate counter-arguments?”
“They tell me that they will have it.”
Specific – no; surreal – very.
Realistic?  Attainable?  Is this even desirable?  What is the point of marking essays by computer software?  What is the point of taking the evaluation of student work out of the hands of the teacher?
Let’s just consider one last aspect of NCLB – the goal of 100% graduation rates by 2014.  Even administrators have a hard time saying this one with a straight face.  Teachers faced with all of the problems described in this “memoir” only laugh.  Never has anything like a 100% graduation rate been achieved but in the past it was admitted that not only was it not feasible, let alone attainable or realistic, it wasn’t even desirable.  Whose dream is it for everyone to be “college and career ready” – and let’s apply the S.M.A.R.T. rule to that P.R. phrase as well.  How specific is “career ready”?  At least it’s possible to get ball park figures on what it means to be “college ready”.  But if history has shown us anything it is that people find their way in life; some go on to great success in entirely unexpected ways.  People stumble into career B while hotly pursuing career A and career B turns out to be for them.  What made them “career ready” was their open-mindedness, their willingness to try something new, to take a risk, their ability to adapt and most of all their simple desire to succeed.
Now that I think of it, the one thing that best fits the bill for “career ready” is the traditional liberal arts education that is and always has been designed to give students a high level of literacy, a thorough knowledge of basic math and algebra, a grounding in the sciences, American and world history, and exposure to as many other fields of study as possible including music and the arts, performing arts, crafts, auto mechanics, economics and home economics, sports, chess, film, technology and other clubs – in short, everything that a school used to be known to provide.
What does any of this have to do with the main theme of this “memoir”?  By redefining “college and career ready” as the ability to pass an exam based on a standard, the world is left out and the school really does become something that is for the teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats rather than for the students.  The best students should be in schools that offer them as many choices as possible rather than the choice of which Regents test or PARCC exam to study for today.
I have heard administrators instruct faculties to make every class a “Regents” class.  The reason for that is obvious.  The school may sink or swim based on that one statistic.  The school might be closed.  If there is another point that I’m hoping to make here, it is the absurdity of thinking of schools in these terms.  Schools are not capitalist enterprises made to be subject to these new, contrived “free market” rules of “adequate” progress and skewed statistics.  Schools exist to enrich the cultural appreciation of the students who attend them and to bring out the talents of those students as well as tabulating numbers based on their performances on various assessments for the limited uses that those numbers have.  If a school is "under-performing", however that is measured, it ought to be supported and improved, not shut down like a bankrupt pawn shop.
At one of the schools I taught at, there was an annual Shakespeare Festival in the spring.  This took place outdoors and became a real field day.  During this festival there was no Regents prep going on – at least not directly.  There were soccer games, chess matches, performances of Shakespearean scenes and anything else that students wanted to do.  Most of all there was fun and it involved everyone.  Students, teachers and administrators interacted in ways that freed them up from their usual roles.
One year the rumor spread that there was to be no festival.  That possibility energized the students like no Regents exam ever could and they made sure that we did whatever it took to make that festival happen.  Of course there were those who just saw it as a way to take advantage of something but the “best” kids that I’ve been talking about through this story – they were there.  They were the ones that insisted that the festival take place.  It was for them and rightly so.  It was the least we could do.
I’m reminded of the old anti-drug crusade – “Just Say No”.  Slogans and bromides are easy to spout.  Dealing with a serious issue like drug addiction or the fundamental social and economic issues behind the low graduation rate isn’t so easy.  It’s easy to say, “Let’s leave no child behind.”  No one wants children left behind, least of all teachers and parents.  Whose dream is it for everyone to graduate and go to college?  If anyone’s, it would be the dream of parents.  Unfortunately, in politics parents, like every other demographic, are first and foremost voters.
“Let’s give them something that will really get them excited about the democratic / republican ticket.”
“Like what?”
“Let’s tell them that their kids will go to college for sure.  No doubt about it.”
“Yeah, that’ll get them out to the polls.”
“No Child Left Behind – that’s the ticket!”

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

UPDATE: June 12, 2013

Since writing this chapter more than a year ago, I've started naming names as a result of facing a level of incompetence and bad intentions beyond even what I was expecting.  (See chapters 35, 36, 42, etc.)  Therefore I will now identify the school that once had this Shakespeare Festival as Jonathan Levin H.S. in the Taft building.  It was during April / May 2012 that the rumor spread that there would be no festival and the students took action.  I and the English department were in charge and we got the festival together in short order in spite of a reluctance on the part of the administration to participate but with the help of many students and other faculty members.
On March 11, 2013 the PEP voted to "phase out" JLHS.  Whether or not this fact was relevant, this year rumor became fact.  Principal Hoxha refused to schedule a Shakespeare Festival, which had traditionally been held in late May.  Again the students responded.  They went to the principal to demand that the festival be held as always.  Seniors had experienced it the previous 3 years and come to expect it.  The Shakespeare Festival was a popular event.
This time Principal Hoxha refused to relent and declared that there would be no Shakespeare Festival on the grounds that there was no "educational value" to it.  There was none.
That means that this year's freshman did not get to experience the festival.  But that is not the only thing these kids will be missing out on.  Imagine the next 3 years for these students in a school that is being "reformed" by being "phased out" over 3 years.
Next year there will be no new freshman class.  The high functioning students in this year's freshman class will be sophomores next year with no freshman in the school.  The following year they will be juniors with no sophomores or freshman beneath them.  In the last year of the phase out this year's freshmen will be seniors and will be the only students left in the school.  They will never know what it is like to be in a "normal" high school where they rise from the bottom of the pecking order to the top.  There will be no way to recover this missed experience.
This is "education reform" at its finest.

[1] This workshop was called “PARCC Assessment Overview” and was held on the campus of BMCC on Sat., March 26, 2011.  It was attended by about 50 NYC teachers and as well as a few administrators.  The facilitator was Jaime Aquino.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chapter 10: Successful Failure

    Chapter Ten: Successful Failure

I was teaching a 10th grade class and having trouble getting anyone to care about the literature or about the prospect of taking the Regents or about the exciting class discussions we weren’t having because no one seemed to care.  There were three girls who always sat in front and did care.  It often seemed as though I were tutoring these three students while the other 25 were at a social club.  Even for the school that I was in, 3 out of 28 was a very low participation rate.
But this wasn’t an unruly class.  They were well-behaved as long as “good” behavior wasn’t defined by class work.  Mostly they sat in pairs or small groups in spite of my attempts to organize them differently and talked quietly about whatever they talked about in spite of my attempts to get them to focus on the material at hand.  Attendance was good.  It was as though they were punching a clock.  They knew that they had to be there so they showed up.  It seemed to me that in their minds showing up was all that their academic responsibilities demanded of them.
I often resorted to a standard lecture that went something like this:
“Listen, class.  Don’t you understand that you need this credit to graduate?  Don’t you realize that I can’t give you a passing grade if you don’t do any work?  Don’t you realize that you aren’t going to learn anything if you don’t do any work?  Don’t you realize that you’re wasting all your time and that you won’t ever again have this kind of time to waste on learning?  Er, I mean …..”
I went through the usual litany of rational arguments but to no avail.  Finally I topped off all of this irrefutable evidence with what should have been the clincher.  “Hey, I don’t need this class.  I passed 10th grade English a long time ago.  You’re the ones who need to pass it now.  This isn’t for me.  This is for you.”
I must have given this lecture half a dozen times before it finally drew a response but it wasn’t the response that I was hoping to get.
“Mr. Haverstock,” a young man finally said to me, “this isn’t our class.  This is your class.”
This struck me as just as nonsensical as what I’d been preaching all semester must have seemed to them.  It was incomprehensible to me.  The possibility had never occurred to me before.  I’d been saying just the opposite as though it were as self-evident as blue sky and green grass.
I continued tutoring the 3 girls in the front for the rest of the period but after class I talked to the student who had made the comment.  I wanted to find out what he could possibly have meant.  The conversation went something like this:
“Why did you say that the class is mine?”
“Because it is.”
“How is that?”
“We’re only there because you have a job as a teacher and need students.”
“But the class is for you to learn.  I already know this stuff.”
“How is any of that ever going to help us?”
“You need to read and write for everything you do.”
This didn’t make sense to him because he already knew how to read and write.  At least, he could read and write well enough to do the things that up to that point he had needed to do, which meant getting a passing grade of 65 in most of his classes.  I judged his reading level to be slightly below grade level and his writing level to be 3 or 4 grade levels low.  I also knew that with a little practice both could be brought up quickly and easily.  This student was more than capable but had spent most of his academic career with this concept of the purpose and nature of “school”.  It wasn’t for him.  It was for someone else that he would never be.
A couple of things began to crystallize.  First, these students saw absolutely no link between school and real life.  The only way that school might have been relevant to him would have been if somehow he were going to be making money there.  Since in his mind at that time he was never going to be a teacher, school was not relevant to him, not for him.  He was going to end up the way the vast majority of those around him ended up – working menial jobs and getting by on welfare and / or unemployment.  There were plenty of examples around that confirmed that one could live more or less comfortably with an apartment, possibly overcrowded, enough to eat and enough of the amenities of modern life – video games, sneakers, t.v. – without doing more than that.
In a sense it was a cost / benefit assessment that they were doing.  They could work hard for 4 years in high school, graduate, work harder for another 4 years at college, and then there was a chance – after 8 years of sacrifice - that they could get a job that was going to be worthwhile in terms of income and job satisfaction.  There was only a chance that after 8 years they might come out with something better than what they could get without doing anything at all.  When you added in the pervasive belief that white people owned and controlled everything, many had already decided by the age of 16 that the potential benefits weren’t worth the risk.  The fact that I was a white teacher standing in front of them only confirmed these beliefs and decisions.
Second, school seemed to them to be nothing more than another business in the neighborhood where people worked, had customers and made money.  Teachers and administrators were like the owners of small businesses and students were the customers.  The good part of that is that they didn’t have to do anything to fulfill that role.  Just by showing up, the school / business was getting customers every day because the law mandated that the customers go to school and therefore it was making money – you could see the money all around in books, building renovations, employees working and that was the most important element of the school/business - the employees were employed.  By showing up they were playing their part in this business set-up – a scam to be sure but scams are something they’re comfortable with.  Those are all around, too.
They were never going to own a school or a business.  You needed a great investment to get to either position – capital to put into your education or capital to put into your business.  They didn’t have that kind of capital.  They best they could hope for from a school was to get a job as an aide, security guard or, if they were lucky and knew someone, which they didn’t, custodian.  These jobs were like being employed by neighborhood clothing stores and fast food restaurants.  They put some money in your pocket but you weren’t going anywhere.
After that conversation with that student I still didn’t really see his point of view or necessarily believe that what he said was true but I never forgot it.  It was such a radical departure from my way of thinking about schools and education.  It seemed to me as though they were seeing the world through a warped mirror.  My responsibility didn’t change, however.  I still had to try to get them to take academic work seriously and believe that it was important.
As curious to me as this strange, looking glass view of the purpose of school was the lack of ambition on the part of so many able students to even shoot for anything higher than the bare minimum.  One of the most frustrating things for a teacher is to see a capable student underperforming.  The conversation with that 10th grade student gave me a glimmer of what was behind this, although it took some time to start to figure it out.  If that were really all there was to it, if the school was for us and not for them, then why were they coming to school at all and why were they bothering to care about their grade at all?  Of course, there were a lot of students who, in fact, weren’t coming to school at all.  Maybe that was a reason.
A majority of the students, however, cared about one thing and one thing only – passing and they didn’t care whether they passed with a 65 or anything else.  There was no difference in their minds between 65, 75, 85 or anything else that wasn’t 55.
“Am I passing, Mr. Haverstock?”
End of conversation.  It was rare that a student asked what they might do to raise their grade above the bare minimum.  The 3 girls who sat in the front of that class all did that but they had to accept that they would be looked upon with a certain amount of contempt and scorn for doing so.
Many teachers, including myself, have made the mistake of telling a student that he/she was passing.  This is especially a problem if you admit it during the final six weeks of the semester.  That could be the last time you see that student.  If you say, “No, you’re not passing,” you might see that student and hear that question until it becomes “yes”.  Then you see the student only enough to maintain that level of achievement – “yes” in response to the only question on their minds.  Again logic and reasoning seem to have no bearing on this.
“But you could do so much better than 65.  I’m expecting at least 85 from you.”
“Okay, Mr. H.”
Meanwhile it is as though they have a built-in calculator that flashes “65” in their brain.  I imagine that it’s something like a guitar tuner.  When the needle drops below 65, suddenly a piece of homework or class work gets done.  When the needle dances above 65, that homework or class work suddenly disappears.  They keep their brains finely tuned to a perfectly pitched 65.
A grade of 65 seems to be a compromise between success and failure.  When I tell them that they could get 85, I’m only telling them something that they already know.  In fact, they’ve likely been told the same thing by every teacher they ever had and earned a 65 from.  They know they can do it.  There is no doubt.  They’ve probably even earned a 75 or an 85 in some class to prove the point.  The problem, especially in high school, of course, is that while they are certainly capable of getting 85, they can’t do it without working at least some and the longer they wait, the more difficult it becomes to do that.  The further they fall behind, particularly in writing and math, the harder it gets to catch up.  But it is still relatively easy to get a 65 so they do that and continue to believe that they could do better if they wanted to.  They’re like the aging basketball player who continues to believe he can still deliver on the court because he used to be able to do it.  Then one day after doing nothing for a few years, he hits the court ….
65 also represents a level of rebellion.  Teachers want us to get 80 or 90.  My parents want me to do really well in school.  They’re always screaming at me about that and threatening to take away my computer.  Parents are called in.  The student sits there while the parent says the same things to the teachers.  Promises are made. –deals, handshakes and then it’s back to 65 as usual.  This is fairly normal adolescent behavior except that by doing poorly in school as a way of rebelling, students who need education as a means of advancement are hurting themselves greatly.  But they don’t discover that until graduation time and they see the scholarship money going to others.
Parents have historically wanted better for their children than they had for themselves and the way has often been through education – become a doctor, a lawyer, etc.  That worked for many generations.  Children found ways to rebel without hurting themselves.  Curiously, however, I have seen the opposite now at work.  Parents still want better for the kids but the kids now seem to look at their parents and say, “Well, it was good enough for you; why shouldn’t it be good enough for me?”  It is, of course, frustrating for parents to watch their own children make the same mistakes that they made and that is part of the difference.  Many parents today are hoping that their children do what they say rather than what they themselves did.  Unfortunately many kids are finding out just as their parents found out – when it’s too late.
Then there is the peer pressure involved in walking this fine line between passing and not passing.  If 40% of the class is failing, there is a great deal of pressure on those students who are deciding which way to go – pressure to go the wrong way.  If 40% are failing, how big a deal can it be?  Anyway the kids who are passing are nerds.  The failing rebels are much cooler and funnier – that’s where you find most of the class clowns, after all.
I’ve been talking about how the best students have been sacrificed to the worst over the past decade in NYC public schools but here is another aspect of this.  By my estimation, the “best” are those 20 or 25% of kids who are immune to this sort of peer pressure and to all of these ideas and beliefs that lead to a failure to care about academics.  But there is another 30% or so who are not immune to it.  These are not the “best” but only because they are susceptible to this sort of peer pressure.  They are not mature enough or they don’t have the self-discipline or their parents aren’t involved enough – there are many reasons why they are more susceptible but susceptible they are and therefore they, too, need to be freed from an environment that so negatively impacts them.  In that 10th grade class that I described in detail in chapter 8, there were 4 such students who failed because they allowed themselves to be influenced in this way; there were 3 others who passed but whose grades were lower than they otherwise would have been if not for being thrust into that environment.
So by getting 65 in a class, these students have actually accomplished a few things.  They have shown their ability to pass and have earned the ongoing assumption that they could pass with a higher grade if they wanted.  They have demonstrated to their peers that they are fully capable of failing if they want to and that next semester they just might do that.  They have shown their parents that they can’t tell them what to do or that their parents don’t know any better than they do.  They’ve shown their teachers that the school is for teachers rather than for students.
I’ve come to describe this situation as “successful failure”.  Unfortunately, a 55 works as well as a 65 to successfully fail or maybe better.  Even more than a 65 a 55 proves all of these same points and proves them with real authority.  After all a 65 might not mean much to a college admissions person but it will earn the credit toward graduation.  So a 65 isn’t as successful a failure as a 55 is and these are the only two options.  The lowest grade given in NYC public schools is 55.
The 55 grade encourages successful failure.  The student may earn a 20 for the class but the grade on the report card says “55”.   It’s really the same as an “F”, which means everything below 60 in conventional grading.  By using the number “55” rather than the letter grade, however, the student seems to be only 10 points away from passing.  They seem to have come “this” close to passing, proving only that they could have passed simply by doing a few more assignments or showing up a few more times – a most successful failure because of course they could have done those few more assignments – piece of cake.  The best failure is the one that comes closest to passing while not quite passing.
Another aspect of successful failure and equally as curious is the failure to graduate.  The closer you come to graduating without actually graduating, the more successful the failure.  I’ve seen many students who missed graduation by the slimmest of margins.  One of the best students I ever taught, one who passed all of her Regents with very high marks didn’t graduate for lack of a single gym class.  She missed it by less than a full credit – the most successful failure I’ve ever seen and the greatest waste of a high school career I’ve seen because she could have been swimming in scholarship money.
There are myriad ways to successfully fail to graduate.  I knew another student who didn’t graduate not because he didn’t have the credits and not because he couldn’t pass the Regents but because he refused to sit for the Regents.  This was a very deliberate act of failure, which made it one of the most successful on record.  What could be more direct and dramatic than the simple refusal to graduate?
Of course, most students who don’t graduate fail to do so as a result of successfully failing in their classes for years – that or not showing up enough, which is another failing form of success.  Unfortunately the successful part of this equation tends to evaporate over time, leaving only the failure in the long run.
Now we have an entire school system bent on successful failure.  Between 2006 and 2010, after the mayor and his chancellor might have had that imaginary conversation that took place in chapter 9, things were looking up for the NYC schools.  The math and reading scores in the elementary and middle schools were creeping upward and the mayor / chancellor weren’t loath to take credit for these advances.  These reform schools were created by them.  The number of state tests increased during this time as well so progress could be well monitored.
The first glimmering of problems came when a federal study indicated that the increases in test scores that the city was reporting did not, in fact, reflect higher levels of performance in math and reading according to national standards.  That came during the spring of 2010.  Then during the summer of 2010 the reform school house of cards fell apart altogether when it was revealed that the tests had been “dumbed” down and that the feds were right.  The scores may have gone up but proficiency levels had stagnated.  All the advances claimed by Bloomberg/Klein evaporated like steam from their morning 10-dollar cafĂ© lattes.  Perhaps the mayor was thinking that the 3rd term wasn’t such a good idea after all.  “You gotta know when to fold ‘em ….”  He could have gotten out and let his successor take the blame as W. did, ducking out and leaving his economic fiasco for Obama to deal with.  It must have been about this time that Klein decided that he’d had enough – he was gone at the end of 2010 – or perhaps the mayor had a new scapegoat in mind.
That was successful failure on a grand scale.  Students were still performing below grade level at an unacceptable rate but you couldn’t tell that from the statistics – objective statistics, that is.  Who can argue with statistics?  Test scores were looking very successfully rosy.  They had succeeded in turning failure into success.  Of course, it was going to come out eventually but then they’d have the high schools to blame.
“Hey, high schools!  We gave you kids who were performing at and above grade level at rates never before seen in the city.  What did you do to them?  Actually de-educate them?  How do you actually remove knowledge from a student?  Deteach?  Why aren’t they graduating at the same rates predicted by their middle school scores?  Those numbers are objective and irrefutable ….”
But did they learn their lesson from this?  Did they learn anything at all from the collapse of their successful failure?  Now during the summer of 2011 there are similar revelations coming out every week, it seems, this time concerning the literacy and math proficiency of graduates.  The graduation rate hit an all time high of 62% for the NYC class of 2010.  Of course, great pressures had been put on high schools to increase their graduation rates or else.  Funding was drying up; worse, by this time they were successfully closing schools – yet another form of successful failure.  The very reform schools they’d opened up as a way of reforming the schools were now being shut down, shuttered, like condemned tenements or padlocked like a small business that failed to pay its taxes.  But that was only to be expected – don’t 80% of small businesses fail in the first 3 years?  Why should the new little school-businesses be any different?
As the numbers of graduates has gone up, the numbers of graduates who are prepared for college has hit an all-time low.  The numbers of students who require remedial English and math courses has skyrocketed.  As many as 75% of high school graduates are not prepared for college.  Schools are reporting graduation rates of 90% and higher but of that 90%, 5% or 10% are ready for college based on the criteria of a 75 on the English Regents and an 80 in math.
Of course, that’s good for the college and university game, which is booming.  For them it’s like getting a CEO’s yearly bonus – students paying them money before they can even enter their regular classes.  Like the good profit-driven capitalists that they are, colleges and universities must at this moment be devising ways to improve upon this catastrophically successful failure.  I mean, it’s only in their best interest to keep graduating kids that need a few extra classes, which they’re only too happy to offer.  It is their mandate, isn’t it?
This is truly successful failure on an even grander scale.  The graduation numbers are truly something that the reform schoolers can be proud of.  They may not have learned anything but at least they’re persistent – that’s supposed to be a good thing, the thing, in fact, that gets the successful person over the top.  Isn’t it?  Maybe it even works for the successfully failing overachiever.
This combination of high graduation / low literacy and math proficiency numbers is like a 55 / 65 earned in a class.  I’d say it comes out to a 60, a grade that teachers cannot give out but which would make for the perfect successful failure – neither passing nor failing.  That’s exactly where the successfully failing student wants to be and that is exactly where the entire NYC school system is in 2011 – neither passing nor failing or better yet, passing and failing at the same time, depending on how you look at those objective statistics.
I’d like to bring in their parents for a conference – I mean the parents of the entire school system (whoever that might be).
“Listen, Mr. and Ms. School District, your child is underperforming.”
“I know.  We’ve talked to it.”
“You did.”
“Yes, we told it that if its grades didn’t improve, we’d reduce the budget and get rid of teachers.”
“And did the grades improve?”
“Yes, its grades got better – which is why we’re wondering why you called us in for this conference.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it cheated.”
“Yes, see the answers on these standardized tests?”
“Well, now look at this.  Here is the answer sheet.  Someone got their hands on the answers before the test.”
“You mean before they took the tests they knew what the outcome had to be?”
“I can’t believe it.  No school district of mine would ever do something like that!”
“Well, it did.”
“Then we’ll have to punish it.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“We’ll threaten to lay off 6,000 teachers.”
“And you think that will work?  Your school district has been underperforming for decades.  Do you think that will change it?”
“Maybe we’ll have to take away seniority, too.”
“Thanks for coming.  Take a cookie.”
“Thank you.”
On their way out, Mr. and Ms. School System are talking under their breath: We’ll show them.  They could have improved student proficiency … if they’d really wanted to but it’s an urban school system, after all – a lot of peer pressure not to do so well.  We certainly don’t want to act like those nerdy suburban districts.  Those numbers weren’t that exaggerated ….
Meanwhile little school system is out in the schoolyard bragging – I could get that higher proficiency rate … if I wanted.
Successful failure on a system wide scale - which all brings me back to the student who told me that the class was for me, not for them.  I didn’t understand what he meant at the time.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chapter 9: Reform School, Part 2

Chapter Nine:  Reform School, Part 2

[Although all of the stories about schools in this book are true, this chapter is another purely imaginative, i.e., fictional account of what a teacher in the summer of 2011 might think of a conversation that might have taken place between NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel, Klein, ca. 2006, four years into their tenure.
[“What is a fictional account doing in a “memoir”? you rightly ask.
[I can only say in my own defense that I much prefer fiction to memoir, but in truth I’m attempting to create an entirely new genre by mixing memoir with fiction, thereby cementing my place in the annals of literature.
[“Won’t that be confusing and a little disingenuous?” you also rightly ask.
[Well, confusing, perhaps, to the semi-literate but I’m trying to make very clear which are the fictional parts.  I’m putting them in parentheses.
[“But you also put excerpts from your journal in parentheses.”
[True, but that will be worked out, I hope, in subsequent drafts along with all of the other typos and mistakes and foolhardiness – es.
[“By the way, who am I that you’re talking to?”
[Anyway, to make the point again, in spite of being included in a “memoir”, which nevertheless, as I’ve said, isn’t about me but is about the best kids being sacrificed for the worst in Bronx schools, this particular chapter is pure fantasy, though based on what has transpired over the last 10 years in NYC education]:

Klein enters Bloomberg’s office.
Talk to me, Joel.
Well, Mike, I’ve been going over more proposals for new schools.
Talk to me, Joel.  [Mayor picks up phone.]
As you’ve indicated, we set up the new Leadership Academy.
[Mayor listens intently to his phone.]
That’s the program where we’re indoctrinating, er, training future principals.  We’re going to be needing a lot of them, you realize.
[Puts away phone.]  Talk to me, Joel.
Well, Mike, if we’re going from 25 high schools in the Bronx to approximately 140, then we’re going to be needing a lot of principals.  I mean, where there used to be one principal, there’s going to 5 to 7 per building.  Multiply that by the other boroughs – do the math.
That’s a lot of principals.  What are you doing about it?
Well, as I said, we’ve set up the Leadership program to train them and we’ve had terrific response.
Well, for the prospect of doubling your silly, little teacher salary, who wouldn’t go for that?
Actually, they mostly say that they just want to get out of the classroom.  They can’t take it anymore.
Well, that’s not the official word, of course.
Of course.
And what are you doing to them in this Leadership thing?
Well, we brought in the same people you use in your business, Mike.  We’re giving them all the stuff that you’ve done in the past, you know, sensitivity workshops so they know how to make charges of sexual harassment and racism go away.
Those are useful.
We show them how to keep the real Galaxy budget separate from the one that the UFT sees.
I remember that.  We’ve used it a lot.
Then the workshops on how to microman…, ah, er, monitor work time.  They’re learning how to trick teachers into giving up their professional period altogether.
Really?  How?
Well, the principals offer them a deal where they don’t have to come in twice a month for the contractual faculty meetings and they don’t have to stay late for that.  They usually fall for that.
What do they give up for that?
Their professional period.  Now the principals can keep tabs on them during that period.
And if they don’t go for the deal?
Well, the principals just make them log in and out on their professional duties.
What are those?
Mostly busy work but they can’t do any planning or marking during that period.
So you’ve got them trapped.
Exactly.  Now, we’ve already got a plan to get rid of all of those teacher lounges they’ve got in those buildings.
Yeah, all they do is shoot the bull all day in there.
Right.  And we’re getting rid of those teacher centers.
What are those?
Those were rooms where teachers had teaching resources and ran workshops of their own.
Can’t have that.
Right.  Imagine devoting space to that – which reminds me.  Space is going to be a big problem.
How so?
Well, 6 principals means 6 principal’s offices, 6 secretarial staffs, 6 attendance offices and so forth.
Uh huh.
So we’re converting all those teacher lounges and teacher centers, libraries, clinics, teacher cafeterias and anything else like that into new principal offices.  Most of the art and drama rooms are gone now.  Some of those places actually had wood shops and home economics rooms but we’re getting rid of all of that.
‘College and career readiness’.
What’s that?
I’ll tell you later.  For now it means we’ve got more rooms to convert in those old buildings.  They’re turning boiler rooms into classrooms!
Now that’s innovation.
We’ve got the teachers mostly cramped in little closet spaces.
Cubicles.  Good.  No desks of their own, I assume.
Ha-ha, good one.  Anyway with computers now, who needs desks?
But it’s costing a lot of money.
How much?
Hell of a lot.
Well, it’s got to be done, right?
Ah, and then there’s what they call the hire / fire workshops.
No kidding!
Yeah, they role play.
Oh, I’ve seen that.  You’re fired!
[Klein looks startled.]
I’m role playing, Joel.  Relax.  I loved those workshops – made all of my veeps and assistants do it every year.
[Relieved.]  Yeah, they’re great.  They teach them how to never say anything positive from day one so that no one has any idea how they’re doing.  That way you can fire them at any time for any reason.
You know, they modeled those workshops after my method at the radio station.
You don’t say.
Used to call it Bloombergs’s taxonomy.  I had seven levels of intimidation, from the “no response with grim expression” to the “clear out your desk” memo with the name spelled wrong.
As a matter of fact, they were misspelling names just this morning.
Prospective principals at the academy – they were picking it up pretty fast.  Looked like they’d already done some of that.
Of course, Joel, the union is still causing us problems there.
Yeah, but you’ve insisted that principals no longer have to hire from the pool in the new contract, right?
Not budging on that.
So they can hire.
Right, we’re still working on the fire.
But won’t this create a surplus of teachers in the system?
What do you mean, Joel?
Well, if principals are hiring but no one is getting fired, it just stands to reason that eventually ….
We’ll have that worked out soon enough – if not this contract, the next one.
But your term will be ….
[Mayor gives chancellor a “no response” level reply.]
Oh, right, 3rd term.  Anyway, at least in some of the charters the principals can fire people so if we can lure enough of the teachers into those schools, we can pick ‘em off one by one.  It’ll be like the wild west.
How do we lure them in?
Just like we did with the Indians.  We make their lives miserable where they are.  Don’t you see?  You’ve used that, I’m sure.  Then we give them this new open market set-up, sort of like a reservation ….  Mike!  You’re insisting on that in the new contract, too, aren’t you?
You mean where the teachers can leave their schools during the summer without getting a release from the principals?  I don’t know, Joel.  That runs against all of my gut instincts, giving teachers more freedom.  Weren’t we just talking about getting more power for the principals?
All in good time, Mike.  But for now this is how it works.  The idea is to make the teachers’ lives miserable and then give them an out.  But the out is to a charter school where we’ll be able to fire them.  Get it?  It’s a set-up, Mike, and a damn good one.  It’s like giving the Indians land that we can later just take back.  Think of all the money we can save dumping all of those bloated salaries and pension plans.  We could actually make up a portion of the money we're waste..., er, investing to put in all those new administrators.  You’ve got to stick with that one, Mike.  Give the union whatever they want, but keep that in there.
Okay, okay.  If they’d just stop holding up that charter stuff up in Albany.  Do you have any idea how much of my own money ….
Union is pretty strong up there, Mike.
Tell me about it.
Yeah, but once we get charters up to 10%, 15%, then we’ll really be able to start getting rid of salaries, er, “ineffective” teachers.
How long is that going to take?
All depends.  In the meantime, the new principals are going to know how to do it.  They’ll be ready.
Tell me about the new schools, Joel.
Well, we’re seeing all kinds of stuff, Mike, some of it good, some of it pretty crazy.
Talk to me, Joel.
Well, ha, ha, one guy came in with a proposal for a school called Bronx Academy for the Humanities.  That was a good one.
But you told them we’re getting rid of all the arts, didn’t you?
I guess he wasn’t listening.  Another one was proposing the Brooklyn High School for Social Promotion!
Well, you know, he meant for the advancement of humanity, something ridiculous like that, not social promotion in the school.
You threw him out.
Fast.  Threw out the Queens Arts Academy, the Brooklyn School for Music and Arts, Bronx High School for Drama, School for Gay and Lesbian Experience ….
Wait, what?
Well, actually they were pretty good in the sciences but they were going to require a dance class for graduation.
Oh, right.
We almost went for the Staten Island Institute for Jamaican Cuisine.
Like Jamaican cuisine.
Can’t let that interfere with your judgment.
No.  We rejected the New School for New Studies.
What was that?
They were still working on the curriculum, said there had never been anything like it.  Then there were other non-starters like the High School for Cultural Studies, Harlem School for African-American Studies, School for Chemistry and Fashion Design.
Yeah, they figured they could slip it through by putting chemistry first but it was all about fashion design.  You should have seen the suit that guy was wearing!
[“No response” reply.]
Good, Joel, you’re really getting that down.
Okay, good.  Now, talk to me about the good ones.
Well, so far we’ve accepted the Bronx High School for Regents Prep.  The entire curriculum uses old Regents exams for the daily lessons.
Then there is the Manhattan School for Test Taking.  We just suggested that they change it to School for Test Passing.  Sounds better.
Yeah.  I’ll put my P.R. staff on it – see if they can come up with some good school names.
Okay.  We like the Bronx High School for Business, the Bronx Academy for Business, Bronx Business Prep with a plan for a franchise in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Business Prep, then maybe Queens Business Prep and Manhattan Business Prep.  In fact, this guy had big plans.  He wants to number them.
Didn’t they used to do that?
You mean P.S. 237 and so forth?  Yeah, but now it will be Bronx Business Prep 100, 101 and so on.
I like it.  Have this guy see my secretary.  Maybe I’ve got something for him down at Tweed.  I like the way he thinks.
I’ll make a note of it.  We liked Business Studies High School, the Business Academy of Innwood, High School for Business and Business Studies, the Profitability Academy, High School for Higher Profits, the Academy for Lower Taxes, the No Taxation Without Representation High School ….
That’s a good one.
Yeah, we liked the allusion to history, even though they don’t teach any history there.
Every course is economics?
Right.  At least they’ll get some history in their name!  Ha, ha.  Then there was the Tea Party Institute, the High School for Hiring and Firing, the Cubicle Academy, the Academy for Executive Creation ….
Not creative.  They meant training.
Then change it.
Academy for Executive Training?
Okay.  Then there was the Academy for Obsequious Acquiescence.
I wish I could’ve sent my kids there.
Yeah, me, too.  That guy shined my shoes.
Knows what he’s doing.
Gave him the best space we had available.  We liked the Academy for One-Upmanship but told them to refine their grading policy to reflect the theme.  You know, you should really have to show someone up to get an A there.
Good.  What about the Academy for Stock Options and Stock Market Prep?
You know about those?
A couple of friends.
We liked those, of course.  They’re going downtown along with Wall Street High School, Day Traders Prep, the Institute for Initial Investment – we’re thinking of giving them space in Trinity Church.
Can we do that?
You’re mayor.
I’ll have to talk to historical sites ….
Listen to this, Mike.  You’ll love this.  They are going to take in an initial investment from every kid they admit into the 9th grade.
You mean like paying tuition?
Well, but it’s not tuition.  It’s “initial investment”.  They tell the kids or their families – what do they know!
Right, but this “initial investment” is money going into the school.
Yeah, but they invest it.  They tell them that they are going to match this initial investment with equal amounts from the city, the state, the federal government and from private sources –they were hoping you’d contribute personally.
Go on.
They were going to invest this initial investment and guarantee a return of at least 6.75% over four years.
How much is this initial investment?
Twenty-five hundred minimum.  They can go as high as they want.  The curriculum consists of managing the investment.  They’ve already got a list of prospective invest …, er, families looking for good schools.
That’s why you put it in Trinity Church!
Well, prayer never hurts. Ha ha.
[Mayor is lost in thought.]
If the kid’s investment exceeds 6.75%, he graduates and doesn’t have to take any state tests.  They’ve got a list of colleges and universities ready to take the graduates no questions asked if they graduate with an 8.25 or higher.
What if they don’t make the 6.75?
Look at the market, Mike.  They’re putting everything into mortgage broker deals.  Those guys are making a killing.  They can’t lose.
Okay, as long as they diversify over the long run, I mean, over the 4 years.
But it’s guaranteed by city dollars, and besides, they’ve always got new money flowing in.  Any guy, I mean, kid who falls behind, they’ll pick them up with new tuition, er, initial investment.
That sounds like a pyramid ….
It’s all out in the open, Mike, and besides, it’s not really investment, it’s education and here’s the good part.  The school gets to keep any profits over 8.25%.  You see.  We can’t, I mean, they can’t miss.
Have this guy ….
A woman, Mike.
Have her send her C.V. to me.
I’ll make a note.
Is that it?
Well, then there are the media schools.  We liked the Rush High School – they get kids out in 3 years with no electives, right to the point.
We liked the Michael Savage School – they listen to the program in every class every day - Rush Limbaugh Prep and O’Reilly Academy – they do the same and they follow the web sites and so forth.
Good to be media savvy in this day and age.
Right.  Then there are all the Bloomberg schools – that was a popular idea - Bloomberg Business Prep, the Bloomberg Academy of Business and Politics, the Bloomberg School for Politically Ambitious Businesspersons – there were about 10 of those.  We picked five.
Only five?
Well, you know, one per borough.
Pick them all.  I like it.  Two or three per borough is fine. Do these Bloomberg schools listen to my station?
I’ll make a note.
Do that.
Okay.  Then we liked the Jefferson High School for Math and Science.
But you told them to change the name.
You can’t use Jefferson.
Why not, Mike?
He was a president.
Yeah.  That’s why they chose it.
Think about it, Joel.  Why are we opening all these little schools?
To break up the union and to make the DOE administration even more top heavy.
No, those are just side benefits.  What do all of those schools have in common, Joel, the ones you liked?
They’re business schools.
No, Joel, they’re businesses and they’re going to be run like businesses.  Why are you running those hire / fire workshops?
Yeah, okay.
And what happens to little businesses when they don’t make money, Joel?
They go out of business.
And what is going to happen to these little schools when they don’t make money?
They’re not supposed to ….
You know what I’m talking about.  When they don’t start cranking out little high school graduates?  Just because we take a school and divide it into 5 or 6 little independent pieces, do you really think anything is going to change?  Aren’t they going to be using the same raw materials and turning out the same low quality product?
So we’re going to be closing them when they aren’t productive, I mean, when the graduation rate stagnates at 50 or 55%.  We’ll just say that they’re failing and get rid of them.  Why do you think we’re getting rid of all of those old names, names like Kennedy, Taft, George Washington, Lincoln?
I don’t know.
Because it will be much easier to start closing down little schools with names like the Academy of this or that.  Once we can open and close schools like businesses, it’ll be a piece of cake to start treating the teachers like menial help, hire, fire, whatever.  Principals and superintendents, too.  Then the parents will have no choice but to go for charter schools.  Did you ever hear of schools being closed down like this before?
This is our legacy, Joel, as long as we can get it through the courts.  We are the innovators.  We are changing the way people see schools.  They are all going to be small private businesses run by entrepreneurs.  Are you getting those people into that Leadership thing?
We’re doing outreach to the business community, sure.
People used to see a school and what did they see?
Education?  A prosperous future?
They saw part of their culture.  They were cultural institutions.  You can’t close down a cultural institution like you can close down a business.  Jefferson High School.  How are you going to close that down?  We’re lucky we’ve been getting away with phasing them out so far.  But who’s going to give a damn when the Academy of this or that closes down?  See where we’re going, Joel?
Yeah, Mike, it’s making sense.
In 10 years all they’ll have is a bunch of little fly-by-night schools that can be opened and closed like a nail joint on 85th St.  And by the way, Joel, keep that word out of those names.
What word?
‘School’.  Academy, institute, prep – keep those going.  Eventually no one will even remember what a school was.
I’ll make a note.

Meanwhile back in class …..
“Mr. Haverstock, did those people really say that?’
“No, I made it all up.  I never met either one of them.”
“Then how do you know they didn’t say it?
“Good question.  I guess I don’t.”
“Then maybe they did say that.”
“Maybe, I guess, but remember, I made it all up.  If they said the same stuff that I made up ….”
“That would be some coincidence, Mr. H.”
“It would, although ….”
“You just keep saying that so they won’t sue you for libel.”
“That’s right.”
“So you can pretend people say anything?  Isn’t that lying?”
“Not if you say in advance that it isn’t true.  All fiction is made up.  Remember, you told me this was realistic fiction.  They’re both public figures.”
“You mean if they weren’t public figures, you couldn’t make up stuff about them?”
“Yeah, the laws are different for public and private people.”
“Like the one that says the rich get richer.”
"Yeah, like that one.”

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.