It might be up to ‘entitled’ NYC parents to fix this “distance learning” mess; well good!

“…Some parents at highly-regarded Forest Hill elementary school PS 196 said their teacher has gone weeks without personal interaction with their child…” — NY Post

I have spent enough years in public education (at multiple levels), to fully grasp the apartheid of quality educational learning opportunities that form the basic framework of America’s public school systems. Anyone who says different is either an enabler of that discriminatory system, or, well, I not sure what to say that would be nice.

When I became a superintendent in 2000 I inherited an ‘unofficial’ NYCDOE policy. It seemed that teachers who won their arbitration cases (and there were a lot of them), against principals who were trying to rate them ‘unsatisfactory’ were somehow sent to specific districts and schools (you can’t send them back to their original school for a lot of reasons). To be specific, they were sent to Title-1 school districts and schools. I only found out about this ‘process’ because one of my principals called me practically in tears one day saying: “Superintendent Johnson, we are working so hard to turn this school around; and we are making tremendous progress; please, I can’t take a teacher that’s going to hurt us!” She was right, this was a school that had one of the highest concentrations of homeless students in the city; and yet we were making some demonstrative academic achievement progress. I called in the Director of HR and she confirmed that indeed she had directed the teacher to that particular school. “Why?” I asked, “Clearly that’s a school we are investing a lot of resources (e.g. teacher center, extra AP & staff-developer, STEM lab and F/T science teacher, art & music programs, etc.) to turn-it-around; at this point, we can only send good instructional practitioners into that school!” (beside we would ‘own’ that tenured teacher next year!) Her honest and sincere answer was painfully startling as it was enlightening. “I know you are doing everything possible to fix this district and a lot of people are fighting against you, and so if I sent that teacher to P.S X, Y or Z; the parents would raise hell and give you problems.” I thanked her (at times as a leader you must focus on the ‘good intentions’) and then directed her to “send the teacher back”. This led to my receiving a call from an official from central who proceeded to explain to me “how things work in community school districts”; a not-so-subtle dig at my having come from that less politically driven “High School Division”. I listened politely, and then informed the official that: “This process does not work for me, and therefore I am not taking her; and will not take any like her in the future.” I continued, “the Chancellor charged me with turning around what is in everyone’s estimation the most underperforming district (CSD29Q) in the city, and that’s what I am going to do!” “I would be happy to meet with you and the Chancellor, and if he directs me to take the teacher I will!” Never heard from him again and the process of ‘dumping’ (from both bad ratings and rubber rooms) personnel into our district stopped! I did not celebrate over this victory because I was fully aware that my stand meant that my colleagues/friends in places like districts: 9, 12, and 16 would suffer.

School systems nationally, not just NYC, have different ‘response modes’ for different communities. I and many others have said from the beginning that this “distance learning” thing was more effective public relations then efficacious public education. And further, this school closure crisis, if not addressed in a radical and strategically smart way, would produce dramatic learning losers and learning winners*.

In fairness to the NYCDOE some of that learning winning and losing can’t be controlled by any school district. Those children who have parents with the financial resources, education, information, and time, will gain during this school closure time. And it would be professionally unethical to ask (even if they would listen) those parents to decelerate their home instruction program. But if the official ‘distance-learning’ program is not working in more ‘entitled’ schools; then perhaps (and unfortunately but true) NYC’s elected officials will be forced to take some affirmatively drastic actions to fix the situation. And this could greatly help those communities where distance learning is also not working and could very much be inflicting long-term educational harm.

*“I said that the Covid-19 school closure situation would greatly help some students, while badly hurting others, well…”: http://majmuse.net/2020/03/26/i-said-that-the-covid-19-school-closure-situation-would-greatly-help-some-students-while-greatly-hurting-others-well/

*“Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers”: http://majmuse.net/2020/03/24/notes-from-in-house-exile-sadly-the-u-s-covid-19-virus-pandemic-will-expose-and-expand-the-prek-12-educational-learning-opportunity-gap/