ITíS A LITTLE IRONIC
In a nation that is literally
polluted by education reform talk from every jackass and his mother up to the
President of the United States, in a country where people, including some
teacher unions, are coming to seriously believe that if only they could invent
the proper pay for performance scheme for teachers the achievement gap would
close, the U.S. would rise to the top levels of performance on international
math tests and reading would replace Facebook and Twitter as the pastime of the
young, one would think that in such an environment teachers and their union who
have led a successful movement of school reform would not be put in the position
of having to gear up to fight for raises that would
essentially keep them in the same economic position relative to their
peers in the area. Yet thatís the
case in Plainview-Old Bethpage.
five years ago, the members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers
(PCT) began to recognize the publicís growing discontent with our schools.
They were upset with administratively imposed math programs that ignored
basic math skills. They were
infuriated by central office personnel who answered their complaints with,
ďKids today donít need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
They all have calculators.Ē They
were perplexed by the lack of a core curriculum and wondered why what a student
in a particular grade learned was largely dependent on the school she attended.
Numbers of parents began to wonder why academic standards and
expectations for students were so low. They
and their childrenís teachers marveled at how this could be happening in a
district where people shouldered a considerable property tax burden to have good
the PCT began to try to turn these deplorable conditions around, we had no
allies in central administration and few - certainly not a majority - on the
Board of Education. As I went from
school to school exhorting our members to raise the bar for students, as we
began to form committees aimed at finding solutions to the issues that were
plaguing us, I often found myself encouraging insubordination and defiance.
ďI donít care what your principal says about teaching math.
Make sure your kids know basic, age appropriate math facts.
Close your door and teach them math!Ē was part of almost every speech I
made at our elementary schools.
Slowly, we began to evolve a strategy for rebuilding our academic program and a
political strategy for gaining the support to win mainstream acceptance of it. With
the help of some savvy parents, we organized a community coalition to change the
Board of Education which we quickly did. This
led almost immediately to the departure of almost the entire central
administration and the installation of people who latched on to our reform
agenda, seeing it as a unique opportunity for management and labor to be on the
same page and intrigued by the possibilities of real and rapid accomplishment.
During that time, and facilitating the progress that was made during it, the
Board of Education and the PCT put aside the often rancorous contract
negotiations and opted instead for extensions of the existing agreements with
raises that allowed our staff to maintain their relative position to colleagues
working in other districts in Nassau Country.
Our focus was on district-wide school improvement.
much has been accomplished too! Math
scores have gone up each year. Our
scores now compare favorably with top tier districts in the county.
English Language Arts scores are up very significantly too and will go
higher after we complete our work this summer on the second half of our new
skills based curriculum. High school honors classes and college level courses
are increasingly able to run at higher levels as students now get a clearer
picture of what will be expected of them in these classes before they register
for them. New science elementary
initiatives are on the way, and next year our middle school teachers will
complete the second year of study of
the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program that we believe holds great
potential for beefing up our approach to the education of middle school children
and better preparing them for high school and college.
Instead of keeping that momentum for change going and moving even faster, our members must now gear up to struggle with the Board of Education to avoid falling behind. The same pride that motivated them to undertake their reform efforts, efforts that were often at odds with their bosses and which put them at some risk, will now be turned to making sure that they are treated with dignity and respect and recognized as the essential element in making Plainview-Old Bethpage a quality school district. Itís just a little ironic that when schools are failing, people in power talk about paying more for quality and accomplishment. When teachers lead a movement for quality, when their ideas and hard work lead to demonstrable improvement, they are told these are difficult times. You have to expect to fall behind.
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