Monday, August 28, 2017

Thanks to the Teachers Union, Poorest Students in New York Will Be Taught By Worst Teachers

Last year, 822 public school employees sat idle in “rubber rooms” in New York City.

Well, perhaps not entirely idle. Some played Scrabble, others slept. On average, a quarter of these taxpayer-funded employees have sat in these rubber rooms—places where teachers who have been dismissed from the system but can’t be fired spend their days—for five years.

The average salary of these teachers—who are not working—is $94,000 per year. Their counterparts in the district who are working every day earn $10,000 less each year.

Yet, as the poorest and most disadvantaged children in New York head back to school in the coming weeks, they’ll find these union-protected employees have been shuffled into their classrooms, likely moved into unfilled teaching slots in the worst-performing schools in the city.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a vocal opponent of school choice, has not only backed policies that prevent low-income children from leaving these schools. His administration will now transfer teachers who had previously been fired from the district system for disciplinary reasons or poor performance—a rare occurrence, indeed—into classrooms across the city, likely to schools that are already underperforming and have trouble filling teaching slots.

“You’re going to force the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most,” one Manhattan principal told The New York Times.

These teachers cost New York City taxpayers $150 million last year alone, the result of a deal struck initially by the Bloomberg administration with the teachers union to provide more autonomy to principals over personnel decisions, without unionized teachers facing the threat of actual firing.

If, come October, schools still have unfilled teacher slots, some 400 teachers currently filling rubber rooms—or what the city refers to as “Absent Teacher Reserves”—will be transferred in, with no input from school principals.

Instead of moving these teachers out of the system entirely—as would happen in the private sector, private schools, and many charter schools—these teachers are retained due to policies pushed by union special interest groups, and will now make their way back into the classroom.

It is a crystal-clear instance of union policy protecting adults in the government school system instead of working to ensure children have access to a quality education—and in this case, quality teachers.

While union heads argue that the new policy of moving these idle teachers back into hard-to-staff schools will provide “stability” for students, principals, understandably, see things differently.

According to The New York Times:

“I have had over the past five years a lot of [absent teacher reserves] come in,” said the principal, who spoke anonymously for fear of repercussions for the school. “And I have to say, less than 10 percent of them—way less, maybe 5 percent of them—would I hire.”

This in a city where just 28 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading, a figure which falls to fewer than 2 in 10 black and Hispanic students.

It is a further injustice to the children already trapped in the worst-performing schools in New York City to double down on the lackluster education they currently receive by transferring these individuals—previously relieved for poor teaching performance, among other things—into their classrooms.

Stanford scholar Eric Hanushek has identified how important teachers are to children’s future success, particularly for poor children. As Hanushek has found, children in classrooms with teachers near the high end of the quality distribution experience an entire additional year of learning.

He also found that having a good teacher—as opposed to an average teacher—for three to four consecutive years would close the mathematics achievement gap between poor and non-poor children.

Access to a quality teacher can also have a dramatic impact on a child’s future earnings potential. According to Hanushek, relative to an average teacher, a teacher in the 75th percentile would increase each child’s average income by $14,300 over the course of her lifetime, or $358,000 in a classroom of 25 children.

Access to quality teachers is one important feature parents look for in a given school.

It’s unbelievable then, that in an American city today, policymakers would assign children to government-run schools based on their parents’ ZIP code, consigning the poorest among them to the worst schools. And then to top it all off, would send some of the worst-performing teachers into their classrooms.

Yet that is exactly what will happen this fall in New York.

If only parents could exercise school choice.


Safe spaces and ‘ze’ badges: My bewildering year at a US university

Fear of causing offence on campus is stifling free thought – as I’ve found to my cost

As a child in Glasgow, I learned that sticks and stones might break my bones but words didn’t really hurt. I’m now at New York University studying journalism, where a different mantra seems to apply. Words, it turns out, might cause life-ruining emotional trauma.

During my ‘Welcome Week’, for example, I was presented with a choice of badges indicating my preferred gender pronouns: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘ze’?

The student in front of me, an Australian, found this hilarious: ‘Last time I checked, I was a girl.’ Her joke was met with stony silence. Later I realised why: expressing bewilderment at the obsession with pronouns might count as a ‘micro-aggression’. Next stop, ‘transphobia’.

It was soon obvious to my fellow students that I was not quite with the programme. In a class discussion early in my first semester, I made the mistake of mentioning that I believed in objective standards in art. Some art is great, some isn’t, I said; not all artists are equally talented. This was deemed an undemocratic opinion and I was given a nickname: the cultural fascist. I’ve tried to take it affectionately.

After a year on campus, on a course entitled ‘Cultural Reporting and Criticism’, I still feel unable to speak freely, let alone critically. Although it doesn’t apply to my own course, friends have told me about ‘trigger warnings’ that caution they are about to be exposed to certain ideas; the threat of micro-aggressions (i.e. unintended insults) makes frank discourse impossible. Then there is the infamous ‘safe space’ — a massage-circle, Play-Doh-making haven — where students are protected from offence (and, therefore, intellectual challenge).

During class discussions, I’ve learned to discreetly scan my classmates’ faces for signs that they might be fellow free-thinkers. A slight head tilt at the mention of Islamophobia, a gentle questioning of what exactly is meant by ‘toxic masculinity’. I was thrilled to see a scribbled note — ‘This is utter shit’ — on someone’s copy of one of the reading requirements, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (an introduction to queer theory). In this way, I found the members of my secret non-conformist book club.

We met in a disused convent in Hell’s Kitchen and discussed campus-censored ideas. We read Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus and Walter Benn Michaels’s The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. We were a diverse group: a Catholic woman, a black conservative man, an anti-theist neoconservative, a Protestant libertarian, and a quick-witted Spanish contrarian. We were united in agreeing that we should be free to disagree. We made our own unsafe space, and at the end of each meeting, we were invigorated and parted on good terms.

It seemed to the members of my book club that academia is losing its way. It is riddled with paradox: safe spaces which are dangerously insular; the idea of ‘no absolutes’ (as an absolute); aggressive intolerance for anything perceived as intolerant; and censorship of ideas deemed too offensive for expression. It’s a form of totalitarianism and it’s beginning to infect British universities, too.

The morning after the US election, New York was bluer than ever. My classmates were in tears, including one professor. Protesters chanting ‘Not my President’ took to the streets as cries of ‘How did this happen?’ ‘What will we tell our children?’ and ‘What a terrible day for [insert identity group]!’ echoed down NYU’s hallways.

Two weeks later, I spent a slightly surreal Thanksgiving with my friend’s family in the DC area. My friend’s father is the former Republican senator and twice presidential candidate Rick Santorum. As I stuffed my face with turkey, I couldn’t believe my luck. Santorum’s insights into the new administration were as close to an insider’s scoop as any student journalist could hope for.

I was sure that, despite their differences in outlook, my classmates would be fascinated to hear about what he had to say. But before I had mustered the courage to share my experience, I received the following email from a professor: ‘Dear all, hope you are all recovering well from any encounters with Trump-supporting relatives over Thanksgiving. I should be all right myself in a day or so.’ Naturally, when this professor asked me, ‘How was your first Thanksgiving?’ I chose to speak exclusively about marshmallow yams.

This is daft, certainly. Even funny, in a macabre way. But it also raises a serious point: the university experience in America is now not one that will adequately prepare students for real life. In real-life democracy, people disagree — and normally they don’t die or suffer emotional injury because of it. In normal life, there’s no reason not to like someone with whom you disagree politically. On campus, opinions are often ontology: you are what you think. But this is dangerous logic: if I hate what you think, I must hate what you are.

At the end of the year I hosted a party in my grungy sixth-floor apartment in Washington Heights, where my classmates finally came face-to-face with some real-life conservatives. I had naively hoped people wouldn’t talk about politics. But my hopes were soon dashed. A friend’s boyfriend came wearing a Reagan and Bush T-shirt. When confronted about his choice of outfit, he shrugged confusedly: ‘It’s laundry day.’ Another friend, an African-American conservative, who was wearing a US military cap, was furiously berated from across the room by a liberal of colour, ‘How can you be a conservative and black?’

When two classmates pointed in horror to the (admittedly large) crucifix on my wall — my own identity signifier — I climbed out of the window and on to the fire escape. The game was up. An image of the dying Jesus had scuppered my intellectual, perhaps even moral, credibility. I would be returning to NYU in the autumn, the flag of ‘cultural fascism’ forever nailed to my mast. A highly intoxicated friend, who had been enthralled by the whole experience, soon joined me. Handing me a cigarette, he congratulated me on ‘bringing people together’.


Australia: Sydney public schools record a huge rise in the amount of Muslim and Hindu students - while Christianity continues to decline in popularity

Public schools in Sydney have recorded a huge rise in the number of Muslim and Hindu students with Christianity on a sharp decline.

A New South Wales Department of Education survey found the number of Muslim and Hindu students were standing at 52,000 and 20,000, respectively.

Last year, enrollment for Muslim students in public schools was at 50,000 while Hindu students were standing at 18,600, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The newspaper reports that more than 230,000 students did not identify themselves with any religion at all. 

There was also a sharp decline in the number of Christian students with the number of Anglicans falling from 105,300 students last year to 99,000 this year.

Other forms of Christianity such as Presby­terian, Protestant and Baptist were also on the decline, according to the newspaper.

However, the number of Catholic students were unchanged at 103,000.

Parents and teachers have also called for ethics classes to be more readily available across the state after the data showed 230,000 students identified with 'no religion'.


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