7 April 2012
In “Banned words in New York City schools? ‘I’m with the banned,’ Part II,” we looked at five more of the 50 words that were to be banned from New York City school standardized tests. (Here’s the first group, from Part I.)
Well, apparently, a reaction (read “uproar”) among parents has gotten the list revoked:
The department on Monday released a statement saying it will “continue to advise companies to be sensitive to student backgrounds.” It says the decision to drop the list of words was made after “the reaction from parents.”
That’s good because the next word group was:
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
I was beginning to wonder whether there was any part of life the tests would be allowed to feature. Probably not. After all, popcorn? No, bad for some people. Flowers? No, some people are allergic. Butterflies? No, someone might mistake them for cockroaches.
What’s really behind this madness is that many school systems are not about teaching any more, and New York City’s is front and center in that area. In Special Interest (Brookings Institution Press, 2011; free chapter here), Terry Moe outlines the way in which schools have largely been converted into institutions serving the interests of teachers and administrators, not students.
One of the most extraordinary examples of schools-are-for-teachers occurred in New York City: the maintenance of “rubber rooms” for incompetent teachers. In Moe’s words:
And these were public school teachers passing a typical day in one of the city’s Rubber Rooms—Temporary Reassignment Centers—where teachers were housed when they were considered so unsuited to teaching that they needed to be kept out of the classroom, away from the city’s children.
There were more than 700 teachers in New York City’s Rubber Rooms that year. Each school day they went to “work.” They arrived in the morning at exactly the same hour as other city teachers, and they left at exactly the same hour in the afternoon. They got paid a full salary. They received full benefits, as well as all the usual vacation days, and they had their summers off. Just like real teachers. Except they didn’t teach.
All of this cost the city between $35 million and $65 million a year for salary and benefits alone, depending on who was doing the estimating. And the total costs were even greater, for the district hired substitutes to teach their classes, rented space for the Rubber Rooms, and forked out half a million dollars annually for security guards to keep the teachers safe (mainly from one another, as tensions ran high in these places). At a time when New York City was desperate for money to fund its schools, it was spending a fortune every year for 700-plus teachers to stare at the walls
In 2010, the rubber rooms were shut down, and the teachers were reassigned to administration, still on full salary.
Because the mindset has not changed, neither the “rubber room” abuse nor the “standardized test of nothing” abuse is at all likely to simply disappear. These types of abuses will simply reemerge in another form. Given that it took decades for the system to become this dysfunctional, reformers face a decades-long struggle to reform it.
The rest of the (for now) defunct list:
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Occult topics (e.g., fortune-telling)
Religious holidays and festivals (including, but not limited to, Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.