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16th August

First Published in The New York Sun,  August 16, 2002
By Andrew Wolf

Incoming Schools Chancellor Joel Klein made a field trip on Wednesday to San Diego, where some say the schools are improving under the leadership of Chancellor Alan Bersin and his deputy, Anthony Alvarado. I’m told that this is a pilgrimage also made by Mr. Klein’s predecessor, Harold Levy, early in his tenure, obviously to little advantage.

Mr. Alvarado is a mythical figure in New York. He was considered a miracle worker in District 4, which covers East Harlem, when he was tapped to become the city’s first minority chancellor. But he quickly became embroiled in a bizarre financial scandal that led to an early exit. For years, there has been extensive “what if” speculation regarding his tenure. The truth is, he left too soon to fail.
Mr. Alvarado later reinvented himself as the “innovative” superintendent of Community School District 2. Mr. Alvarado’s great success, as reflected in test scores, resulted not from innovative educational programs but rather from his success in luring back upper middle class parents and their high performing children to District 2’s public schools. This was done through aggressively marketed “gifted and talented” programs (which are usually anathema to so-called progressive educators), magnet schools, and some good old-fashioned spin. An examination of the San Diego schools yields similarly mixed results.

My guess is that despite the speculation, Mr. Klein is not particularly interested in what Mr. Alvarado has to say or in trying to lure him back to New York. Rather, I suspect he is interested in bonding with Mr. Bersin, who, like Mr. Klein is a former prosecutor and Clinton administration official.

At least I hope that is why Mr. Klein is in San Diego. Unlike District 2, the demographics of the city as a whole make it very difficult to “improve” the recruiting a better class of students. There is a lot of mythology around the District 2 “miracle.” But there is no miracle.

Replace the population of any school in the South Bronx with the children populating District 2 schools, and I guarantee a memorable improvement in results. Not content with simply making the most of their own resident population, high performing students from other districts are recruited by District 2 to ensure that the “miracle” continues, a disgraceful practice that Mr. Klein should end immediately.

More troublesome, District 2 has become synonymous with a rigid orthodoxy of “progressive,” “child-centered” programs micro-managed from the district office. Other districts with less fortuitous demographics slavishly copy District 2 programs. This is perfect for them, since it affords the opportunity to justify their ultimate failure by saying, “but we followed the District 2 program … “For example, in the Bronx’s District 10, with few successes to point to, both the literacy and math coordinators were recruited from District 2.

Never mind that the District 2 “fuzzy” math curriculum has made that district the epicenter of a citywide math revolt. District 2 parents like Elizabeth Carson are quick to assert that any small measure of success in math comes as a result of parents’ investments in private tutoring. Math professors are outraged over the imposition of a curriculum that they warn cannot possibly prepare most students for advanced algebra and calculus. No one in District 2 bothered to ask these mathematicians what preparation kids must have in order to succeed at the college level.

Daniel Jaye is the assistant principal for math at Stuyvesant High School, perhaps the best public high school in the country. He believes that an increase in what they consider “remedial math” is due to the increasing number of students coming to them having had “fuzzy” instruction in middle school. Many of these kids come from District 2.

Mr. Jaye’s message is clear. Using an unproven faddish math program can have negative implications for kids’ futures. Fuzzy math has been abandoned in hundreds of school districts across the country. Why are New York City superintendents still using kids as guinea pigs, years after all of California abandoned this unproven program?

Parental concern with the copy-cat fuzzy math program now being implemented in District 10 has led the Community School Board to challenge Superintendent Irma Zardoya on the math curriculum. Professor Robert Feinerman, the chair of the math department at Lehman College and a school board member, drafted a resolution to restore traditional curricula to the district. He anticipates that the resolution will pass before the beginning of the fall term.

Next year, who will protect the children of the northwest Bronx from the folly of the educrats? Currently, it is the Community School Board, slated to fade into history 10 months from now. Next year (perhaps sooner), it will be you, Mr. Klein.

You must at all costs distance yourself from the “educators.” If, for political reasons, it is necessary to hire a deputy chancellor from among the pathetic names being advanced, then do it for show and assign him or her to the ribbon cuttings and photo ops that sucked up so much of the departing Mr. Levy’s time.

Use your time to personally check out what teachers are taught at our schools of education. Check out the consultant contracts that are squeezing cash out of the classroom. Do we really need to pay $1,000 a day for the colleges to send staff developers into the schools? Look hard at the folly that is bilingual education and free Latino children from the linguistic ghettos to which the educrats have consigned them. See for yourself how the system squeezes principals and renders them powerless.

You, Mr. Klein, know as much about education as anyone else. If the educators had a magic formula, how come the kids have done so badly? Break up this monopoly and your name will stand apart from the legion of failed chancellors: Crew, Fernandez, Green, Levy, Cortines, Quinones, and, yes, even Alvarado.

© 2002 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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