Scrivener.net

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Another week, another choice of scandals in the NYC public schools.

I. Sex is the scandal of choice for the tabloids. The Daily News introduces the past week's tale...
A Manhattan school teacher sends sexually explicit e-mails to a 16-year-old girl, asks her to sleep with him and phones her repeatedly at home. So, what happens? He spends five years doing nothing but fighting the city's efforts to fire him -- while happily collecting a $70,000 annual salary. That's $350,000 for sitting on his rump.

Which speaks volumes about the hidebound disciplinary system in which the city's teachers are cosseted. But the story gets much worse. Officials had the goods on Cary Hershkowitz, a chemistry teacher at Health Professions and Human Services High School on the lower East Side. This was no "he said, she said." For the stellar Hershkowitz confessed in writing to acting out his sexual fixation for the underage girl.

And yet an arbitrator, the even more stellar Robert Simmelkjaer, ruled that grossly putting the moves on a student is not an automatic firing offense...
The Post explains why...
The ruling, five years in the making, was made on the grounds that Hershkowitz was not offered union representation when investigators questioned him -- a claim the city Department of Education denies... Simmelkjaer first threw out the case against Hershkowitz altogether in 2000 .... A state Supreme Court judge overturned that decision [leading to Hershkowitz drawing four years' pay while "doing nothing" waiting for Simmelkjaer's follow-up decision.]

School officials learned of the illicit relationship from the girl's mother, who complained that Hershkowitz had called her house. He admitted to making the calls, saying he wanted "to be reminded of [the girl's] voice" and save time on computer messaging with her.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said ... "This is yet another glaring example of how dsyfunctional the current process for terminating employees is. Is there anyone in the city who would want this teacher back in the schools with children?"...
How can a public school system reach such a decision? And take five years to do so?

It's explained in telling detail by former NYC public school teacher Emily Sachar in her Pulitzer-nominated book Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach. An extract from the section on "accountability for performance" within the school system...

I spoke for several hours with representatives of the Board of Ed and the UFT (teachers union) [about accountability of teachers and principals for job performance] ... The statistics were eye-opening. During the most recent school year, of 62,000 NYC teachers, only 606 -- less than 1% -- were rated Unsatisfactory (U) by their principals.

"In a school system where more than 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory, there is no accountability and no need for a rating system," said James Stein, Director of the Office of Appeals and Reviews for the NYC Board of Education, whose office is responsible for helping principals get rid of bad teachers. "Nowhere in the world, in any workforce of which I am aware, does the percentage of satisfactory ratings come close to what we have at the Board of Ed. So we must conclude that the current system is meaningless." Randy Weingarten, counsel to United Federation of Teachers president Sandra Feldman, agreed...

But principals were even less likely to receive unfavorable reviews. Of the more than 1,000 principals in the NYC school system, only one had received a U rating the prior year... "Is that because everyone's doing such a fine job?", I asked Stein.

"No," he said. "It's because supervision and accountability are nonexistent in the NYC schools ... We will not solve our problems until we resolve whether we are a keeper of the public trust or merely an employment agency".

The greatest impediment to giving U ratings to teachers is that after giving one to a teacher, the principal can not transfer the teacher out of the school for three years.... [read more].

After reading that one begins to understand how it's been possible for the NYC school system to increase real per-student spending by over 50% in recent years -- to more than $11,000 -- with zero increase in student performance.

Ms. Sachar's book is more than ten years old now -- but, alas, as contracts get rolled over five years at a time, things stay ever the same.

II. The NY Times is above reporting tawdry sex scandals, so instead presents the governance story of the arrest of Joan E. Mahon-Powell, Chief of Staff of the previous Chancellor Harold O. Levy, who had also served as superintendent of the special city-wide district for low-performing schools -- now "accused of forging her credentials all along the way. Investigators say she was never even certified as a teacher."...
"She was successful for a long time, and really, it was a fluke that she got caught," said Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for the city schools, whose office conducted the inquiry.... "This was old Joan," he said. "Joan had been there for 20 years"...
And was making $152,000 a year. But the Daily News gave the accused her say:
"I feel I'm being treated unfairly," Joan Mahon-Powell told the Daily News. "I don't know the reasons why this is happening."

Asked directly whether she had lied about her background, Mahon-Powell said: "I did not."

The denials came just a day after Mahon-Powell, 48, admitted to fraud Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court. Schools investigators claimed she stole her best friend's credentials and wrote her name on them so she would qualify for high-paying jobs ...
So there we have the NYC public schools, from classroom teacher to the Chancellor's Chief of Staff.

Obviously, the system's 50% high school graduation rate and other notorious problems result from, you know, lack of money.