Monday, November 08, 2010


This post is extracted from Jamaica's weekly Chapter Newsletter and it is strictly my opinion. The story concerns Jamaica but is applicable to any school that is struggling and is reviewed by the DOE and State in the process.

Jamaica High School has been denied resources by the Department of Education over the last few years since we started downsizing but that does not stop DOE officials from coming to our school to tell us how we need to improve.

I ask any school in the world to take the Jamaica challenge: Cut 30% of the teaching staff (student enrollment drop is less than half of that) and take away roughly half of the school’s space, raise class sizes beyond what the union contract calls for in scores of classes, replace an excellent Programmer and Guidance Coordinator with assistant principals who are untrained in these areas and must still also do their previous jobs, while continuing to permit unlicensed non-secretaries to perform secretarial duties. Then, place new schools in the corners of the building and equip those schools with up to date technology and provide their teachers with lower class sizes and a beautiful makeover for their parts of the building while students and staff of the old school that includes many at risk pupils are shoved into the middle of the building in obsolete rooms. Do all of this to the old school and then ask it to raise the graduation rate and promotion rate. Even set up the lunch schedule to favor the new schools. Their kids eat lunch during normal lunch hours between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. while the old school’s kids are eating lunch starting at 10:00 a.m. or after 1:00 p.m.

We at Jamaica challenge any school to thrive under these teaching and learning conditions. A Quality Review or Joint Intervention Team visit under these circumstances is a setup for failure. Separate and unequal schools are unfair and it is time for the DOE to be held accountable for mismanaging the education of our kids.

Last week Jamaica had a Quality Review-Joint Intervention Team (city-state) visit and it was a farce on a major scale. (I do not know the score we received on the QR.) I will say that the state people were quite professional in their review. From all reports they were very personable and listened to what we had to say. They did not call in the Chapter Leader for a formal discussion but we did exchange some pleasantries. It was the two quality reviewers from the city that interviewed me in one of the most bizarre interactions I have ever experienced.

I was trying to explain to these officials what we do in the Advanced Placement United States History class and how we have revived the program in the last three years and now have pupils scoring the top grades of 5 and 4 on the rigorous examination. We built up the program without the supports other schools have. The male quality reviewer cut me off in mid sentence and told me how we have an English Advanced Placement class that has 34 students in it and this is educationally unsound. He seemed to be criticizing me for this situation. I told him that I couldn’t agree more that it was unwise to have 34 in a college level class in a high school but that in actuality the class had 37 and as Chapter Leader I grieved it and 82 other oversize classes at Jamaica this fall. He would not even admit that we have oversize classes. I said the principal and DOE lawyer used the half class exception to justify them. At this point, the two reviewers looked at me like I was from Mars and would not talk about the half class size exception.

What stunned me was that they seemed to be trying to put me on the spot for the oversize classes. Were they kidding? We were truly coming from two different worlds. I mentioned the Quality Review from two years back that said we need new technology but we have lost so much funding that we can barely afford a piece of chalk in this school while the new schools in the building have modern equipment and lower class sizes. I said the education in this building is separate and unequal and our kids deserve an equal education.

I compare our plight to being in a prison where the warden cuts our food ration by 30% and then complains that we are too skinny.

There is no way around the conclusion that we believe strong forces from outside would like to destroy Jamaica High School. We clearly are being set up to fail by the Department of Education and our union’s response has not exactly been tough.

I read yesterday’s NY Post article about Jamaica High School giving away credits very closely. Even by adding over 1,000 credits to student transcripts, we still couldn’t get enough points on the DOE Progress Report for this year to get a C grade. That is hard to believe. Of course when administration took those credits away our grade became a lower D but I am still forced to conclude that they would have found a way to give us a D even if all of our students graduated in a week.
Isn’t it strange how Jamaica for at least two years in a row didn’t receive any credit on our progress report in a category called Additional Points even though our internal review shows that we have moved along English Language Learners who are obtaining Regents Diplomas? Where are our points? 

If DOE reviewed us fairly, they would have to admit we are performing miracles on a daily basis even with all of the obstacles they have placed in our way.
It looks like the DOE also under-counted our graduation rate just like they did last year. Therefore, it’s déjà vu or Ground Hog Day as we repeat the same scenario as last year. We must admit that many of us are tired of fighting with an employer that in my opinion does not play fair. However, we learned from last year’s experience and now is the time to wage another battle to keep going by exposing the truth. Hopefully, this blog piece will get the ball rolling.

As for the extra credit probe of Jamaica High School for adding questionable credits to student transcripts that the NY Post is reporting on, I agree with Leonie Haimson that principals are cutting corners all over because of pressure to boost promotion and graduation rates.

High stakes decisions based on student progress are ridiculous when the school plays only a small part in determing student performance. Outside factors are far more important according to scholarly research and common sense. Hopefully, there will be a time when sanity returns to our schools.


Leonie Haimson said...

James: do you remember the names of the DOE officials who criticized the school for large classes? What a Catch-22!

Anonymous said...

If you know the names of those DoE officials, do a blog on them and their hypocritical statement.

The DoE is working overtime to tear down the existence of Jamaica High.

Put up a fight. You have people here in the Bronx that will support your effort.

NYC Educator said...

Great, great piece James. It's incredible the DOE puts a gun to the head of every school in the city and has the audacity to pretend it's trying to improve them. That the clueless twits who questioned you are part of a Quality Review indicates they would likely not recognize quality if someone were beating them over the head with it.

Day by day, this system resembles nothing more than Catch 22, with the various principals measuring "black eyes" and "feathers in their caps."

Anonymous said...

Good work James, Jamaica High School has a long history of struggle, may be this is why they persecute you and the school. The DOE with the help of our own union controlled by the Unity Caucus is committing a crime not only in Jamaica but through out the city. We need to unite the teachers to fight back and form a close alliance with the parents and the students. Jamaica will live, long live Jamaica!!

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Anonymous said...

Their now moving their tentacles down to middle schools and saying that many schools are not making adequate yearly progress. At I.S. 195 they have made numerous mistakes in the computing of the schools grade. They have also changed the rules again this year for closing schools. The peer index of schools that are being compared to other schools is absurd. They do not look at the whole child and do not take into consideration children in foreclosure, homeless, living without biological parents, single parents, mental illness, ELL, Special education or disabilities. In other words every kid is supposed to be on the same page no matter what the circumstances.
The reason why they want to close I.S. 195 in Harlme is to provide KIPP charters with more space for their students. Their starving the schools of funding and resources to make it an uphill battle.
They spoke about all the resources they gave the schools in the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Yay, it's back to being James' Jamaica HS blog!!!

Anonymous said...

It looks like the Unity person is back. If you don't think the Jamaica story teaches lessons for all of us, then your thinking here is just totally off base.

Anonymous said...

Any one who thinks the Jamaica HS story is isolated or irrelevant is dim. As a elementary teacher, I can attest to the same on this level. They may not be trying to close us for a charter, but the systematic undermining of the professionalism of teachers is system wide.