ICE Warnings on Working Conditions Ignored for Years by Unity/UFT Leaders & DOE
By James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica HS & HS Executive Bd Rep.
The citywide Evening high school program in NYC for students who were at least sixteen years old and needed to make up classes that they failed or never had the opportunity to take in day school has been eliminated by the Department of Education. Evening schools were set up in a number of the city's high schools to serve a wide variety of students. Many of them attended classes in the day and some did not. Each evening high school in the centrally run program served students from several different day schools.
According to August 11 NY Sun, the Department of Education admitted that the evening high school program was "an abysmal failure." The Sun went on to explain that 28,000 students were referred to night school, while only 14,000 attended and only half of these passed courses. A close look at the evidence will reveal that evening high school did not die of natural causes; it was starved to death by educational neglect from the DOE and their accomplices at the UFT.
For many years teachers in evening high schools had been complaining about abominable working conditions, particularly when it came to overcrowding and lack of access to books and supplies. The DOE chronically under-funded its evening high school program. Evening school teachers spoke about a chronic shortage of supplies and books. They said that they had to use antiquated textbooks and put up with huge class sizes.
Classes were routinely packed with pupils since the contractual guidelines for class size limitations (34 students is the maximum for most high school classes) did not apply to evening school because it was a per session activity covered by Article 15 of the UFT Contract which says nothing about class sizes. Therefore, the DOE could place an unlimited amount of students into evening high school classes and not worry about grievances from the Union. The DOE routinely took advantage of this provision.
The normal procedure was to register 50, 60, 70, 80 or more students per class. It was not uncommon to have over 100 kids in a class. On the first few evenings of each semester, students would enter a mob scene otherwise known as a classroom. The lucky ones would find a seat. The remainder of the crowd was forced to fend. It was not unusual to see students in evening school standing in the back or the aisles or leaning on the window sills in the cramped classrooms. It is hardly the fault of the teachers or the pupils that so many students were not able to pass under these deplorable learning conditions. Most pupils simply gave up and stopped attending. When teachers complained to the administration or the UFT about the conditions, they were often told that they should be happy to have a per session job paying them additional income and they could be easily replaced if they didn't like it. A few fortunate instructors had their classes split but huge class sizes were normal.
Several years ago I raised the issue of evening high school overcrowding at the UFT Executive Board. UFT President Randi Weingarten asked me to provide specific information. Subsequently, a teacher took a great risk by giving me the list of class registers for Jamaica Evening High School. Class sizes were over 50 and 60 in certain classes. I was appalled. I faxed the list to Weingarten. Amazingly, when the UFT investigated they found that there wasn't a class size problem since by the middle of the semester so many students had given up and were chronically absent. Instead of being angry that the DOE was subjecting teachers and students to horrible overcrowding that forced many students to cut class, UFT leaders accused me of making stuff up. The teachers at Jamaica Evening High School knew that going to their union was a waste of time and basically resigned themselves to DOE's abominable evening school conditions.
For those that see the UFT Contract as the cause of virtually all of the problems in NYC education, the end of evening school should serve as a cautionary warning. If the UFT contract which is only moderately enforced now is completely eliminated, then day schools will become like evening high school. There would be nothing to stop administration from packing 60 or 70 students in a classroom, forcing the class to use dilapidated books and telling the teacher that he/she should be grateful to have a position. We need a stronger teacher Contract that is properly adhered to. As for evening high schools, the DOE should mend the program by fully funding it instead of ending it.
P.S. According to the NY Sun, money that would have gone to evening school will be spread to day high schools and principals will be told to offer their own AM, PM or Saturday schools for pupils that are behind so they can make up course credits. The Sun also said that principals should "combine these classes with the additional 37.5 minute classes added to the school day for struggling students under the recent teacher contract." The 37.5 minute sessions were not supposed to be for credit bearing classes. (During the battle over the contract last fall, ICE warned the UFT that the DOE would try to make the 37.5 minute sessions into classes.) Also, many high schools are already overcrowded so they don't offer the 37.5 minute sessions and don't have the space for the huge P.M. schools that would be needed to accommodate the many pupils who need to make up courses. To expect each individual school or a group of schools in the same region to offer the same diversified program that the night schools had (even in their chronically under-funded state) is unrealistic.
The losers: as usual it's the students. They will have fewer opportunities to take the courses they need to graduate.