November 12, 2007
Last week we had a MRSA scare
at Tottenville High School. It was a rumor, never confirmed and not true. A few
students, it seems, promoted the rumor. A few were probably genuinely scared.
But some only wanted to get out of school. The community forum on SI Live fed
the rumor. And an article by Doug Auer of the Staten Island Advance
added fuel to the fire. I emailed Mr. Auer about the article. The message
Dear Mr. Auer:
I believe that your
reporting on the alleged MRSA infection at Tottenville High School was
incredibly irresponsible. I used to be the staff advisor for the Tottenville
High School newspaper, The Pirateer. Reporting like yours would never have made
it into our paper. No high school journalist would be given a forum for such
irresponsible rumormongering. What you wrote is not journalism.
Teachers and other
school employees have a difficult enough time keeping adolescents focused on
schoolwork. We don't need the newspapers working against us. You should be
embarrassed and owe everyone at Tottenville High School, especially our
Principal, Mr. Tuminaro, an apology. I will never buy another copy of the
William Goldman, Teacher
September 2, 2007
produce character. Being able to keep your head up in this terribly oppressive
place of incarceration will produce indomitable character. It will serve you
well, especially if you go on to work for the government.
learning two things in high school biology. My teacher had nine children in
spite of all he knew about the reproductive system. And I learned to feel sorry
for the frogs. I still feel sorry for the frogs: pinned down, cut open, taken
apart, while the cheerful methodically and coldly discuss the workings of their
One of the chief values of
history is learning that we donít have to be as we are. There are alternatives.
And the societies that have made the most helpful contributions to human life
not only allowed but also encouraged its people to be original and express
themselves freely. In other words, ironically, these societies allowed for their
own drastic modification and possible destruction. Isnít this what the
Declaration of Independence says? We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit
of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among
Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That
whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,
laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
August 9, 2005
You Get What We Get!
An advertising campaign recently launched by the
big-three automobile corporations promises employee discounts to everyone in
America. You get what we get, an actor playing a Ford employee offers.
Iím afraid it may be true. Many more American workers will get what Ford, GM and
Chrysler workers get Ė a pink slip.
While our young people risk losing life and limb in the
lands of the stuff that makes their cars run, American corporations show very
little loyalty to our country. To escape paying good wages and health insurance
they move jobs to other countries where workers have not yet learned to demand
these things. Ford Motor Co. was built on the backs of American workers. And now
to show their appreciation and loyalty they abandon the American worker.
What are we to tell our students about these new laws of
economics? Ford makes a profit and lays off workers. And to top it off Wall St.
rewards the owners of the corporation with higher stock value.
Education offers hope. But without hope of a decent
living education loses much of its value. How can we impress our students with
the importance and value of education, if their employment opportunities seem to
be limited to McDonalds and Wal-Mart? If school does not lead to a good wage and
health care, they will not be interested in school. No tricks of the education
trade will be of much value then.
to Cut Costs by Shedding Sales Jobs
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:14 p.m. ET
DETROIT (AP) -- Ford Motor Co., hurt by flat
sales and high costs, is consolidating its Ford and Lincoln Mercury marketing
divisions and shedding sales jobs, the company said Tuesday.
The No. 2 U.S. automaker is reducing the
number of regions covered by its field offices from 17 to 11 as part of the
plan. The regional offices sell vehicles to Ford's 4,000 U.S. dealerships and
handle local marketing. Regional customer service offices also will be cut.
Ford is closing regional offices in Boston,
Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle, but will keep some
staff in those cities, Lincoln Mercury spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said.
''There will be nothing apparent to the
customer,'' Tatchio said.
Tatchio wouldn't say how many jobs will be
affected, but the Dearborn-based automaker has said it wants to cut at least
1,750 more jobs before the end of this year. Ford has 3,500 employees on its
sales, marketing and service staff.
Steve Lyons, Ford's vice president for North
American marketing and sales, said the consolidation will help dealers because
they'll learn about new tools and techniques more quickly.
But Jim Sanfilippo of Bloomfield Hills,
Mich.-based Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. said the change is troubling
because Ford set an industry standard with the well-trained staff at its
regional sales offices.
''Ford basically invented this,'' Sanfilippo
said. ''The quality of Ford field management is notorious. They're tough and
Sanfilippo said foreign brands such as
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. adopted Ford's strategy and have large
staffs to help dealers. But General Motors Corp. went through a similar
consolidation several years ago and its relationship with dealers suffered,
''I don't doubt for a second that Ford is
doing this with some trepidation,'' he said.
The move is part of a larger cost-cutting
effort at Ford, which is saddled with high labor and health-care costs at the
same time its U.S. market share is falling. Ford's U.S. market share was down in
the January-July period, from 18.5 percent in 2004 to 17.9 percent this year.
Ford's profits fell 19 percent in the second
quarter, to $946 million from $1.17 billion a year ago. Its sales were flat in
the first seven months of this year.
Ford spokesman Oscar Suris said Tuesday that
the company's goal is to reduce its salaried work force in North America by
2,750 jobs. More than 1,000 people had left the company through buyouts and
layoffs at the end of July. Ford has 35,000 salaried workers in North America.
Ford shares rose 6 cents to $10.43 in
afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
5 August 2005
Spanking players for missing foul shots
When I returned from vacation in July I learned that
a Tottenville High School basketball coach was charged with at least 23
counts of forcible touching and sexual abuse. Jeff Harrell reported in the
Staten Island Advance on 7 July 2005, Drew Sanders, 49, a basketball
coach at Tottenville High School and assistant director at the Jewish Community
Center in Greenridge, has been suspended by the JCC as he faces accusations of
spanking players with their shorts down in front of each other during drills,
sources close to the case said yesterday.
Mr. Sanders is not a Tottenville High School
teacher. But, of course it is one more scandal that casts a shadow on the entire
school. It reflects a problem, however, that is much bigger than just our
A true Tottenville High School
story illustrates the problem very well. There was once a football coach at
Tottenville High School who was very frustrated with lack of effort from his
players. (The individuals involved will be nameless to protect the innocent,
namely me.) In his anger and frustration he threw a football helmet into the
air. What goes up must come down. In this case it came down on a studentís head.
The student/player was knocked unconscious. The incident got little attention
because everyone knows football coaches have to be aggressive.
A colleague reflected on the
incident and asked what would happen if he were frustrated by lack of effort in
history class and threw a review book in the air also knocking a student
unconscious? The answer, of course, is a swift and certain termination would be
in his future.
Why do we accept behavior from
employees teaching sports that we would not accept from employees teaching
academic subjects? Arenít there positive ways to motivate teenagers to do well
in sports? Arenít teachers trained to use positive motivation to instruct their
We place too much emphasis on
the importance of winning teams in high school. It shouldnít surprise us when
coaches spank basketball players on their bare behinds because they missed foul
shots. Of course, this is an unusual incident. Most coaches donít go this far.
But they do go too far too often, and principals, assistant principals, parents
and students ignore it because everyone knows coaches have to be
aggressive to win.
3 August 2005
Reevaluation of Exam Grades
Increasingly education in New York is exam driven. Teaching revolves
around the Regents exams. Sometimes I feel like I'm working for Kaplan or some
other exam preparation service. It is unfortunate that our schools measure
success in our classrooms almost entirely by what students score on the State's
Of course, it should be no surprise that grades are being manipulated.
The Social Studies exams are particularly vulnerable to ambitious principals and
assistant principals because of the essay components. Essay grading is difficult
and often involves a degree of subjectivity. Often two teachers will give the
same essay different grades. It is easy to manipulate these grades. It has been
called scrubbing. The newest description is reevaluation.
Untenured teachers are pressured into changing essay grades and thereby improve
the passing rates. These teachers are afraid of retaliation. It is made clear to
them that their programs depend on their cooperation. And that easily lackluster
administrators are transformed into skilled reformers.
A recent article in the New York Times reported a scrubbing scandal.
Here it is in its entirety.
In Exposing a Grading Scandal, Harsh Lessons
LATE on the morning of Feb. 10, 2004, Philip Nobile convened
his class in political law at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies and
started a lesson on the Constitution's system of checks and balances. In
addition to the 24 students in the room, Mr. Nobile had another listener, the
school's assistant principal of humanities, Theresa Capra.
During Mr. Nobile's two and a half years at the high school in
Brooklyn, his relationship with the supervisor had gone from praise for his
creativity and vigor to formal reprimand about his refusal to tailor lessons
and test questions to her recommendations. Now that he was the chapter chair
of the teachers' union, they had clashed in grievance hearings as well.
But this visit by Ms. Capra, ostensibly part of a normal
process of observation and evaluation, represented a turning point. Two weeks
earlier, Mr. Nobile had written a detailed memorandum to the principal, Lennel
George, alerting him to a "highly anomalous" pattern of failing scores on
Regents tests being raised to a passing level. The specific tests he
mentioned, in global and American history, fell under Ms. Capra's oversight.
After the class that February day and a meeting the
following day, Ms. Capra rated the lesson "unsatisfactory." Over the next few
months, Mr. Nobile sent four more memos to the principal reiterating and
amplifying his concerns that Ms. Capra had "systemically directed the changing
of Regents grades." Simultaneously, he received a flurry of unsatisfactory
evaluations - three from Ms. Capra and one apiece by Mr. George and Jill
Bloomberg, an official in the regional Department of Education office. The
groundwork, it seemed, was being laid for firing the whistle-blower.
Well, things did not turn out quite that way. Late last
month, the Education Department released a 30-page, single-spaced report by a
special investigator chronicling the events and concluding that Ms. Capra
tampered with the Regents exams in June 2002 and June 2003, and that Mr.
George "engaged in a cover-up of Mr. Nobile's allegations." Those allegations,
said the report by Louis N. Scarcella, an investigator for the city school
system, "have been proven correct in every detail."
(Mr. George declined to speak for this article. Ms. Capra's
lawyer, Richard Guay, issued a blanket rebuttal, denying that she had harassed
and unfairly evaluated Mr. Nobile, or that she had cheated or told teachers to
cheat on the Regents grading.)
Ms. Capra resigned last year, during the investigation. Mr.
George was recently removed as principal. Mr. Nobile, meanwhile, received a
satisfactory rating for his teaching this year, and has also earned tenure.
Nobody should mistake this for a happy ending. The exposure of the Cobble Hill
scandal qualifies more as a cautionary tale, because Mr. Nobile's experience
offers disturbing proof of the pressures that administrators can use to
isolate, marginalize and oust internal critics. Moreover, Mr. Nobile's
personal crusade against cheating serves as a reminder that in the current
system of Regents testing, there is little self-interest in rigorous grading,
if rigor means revealing widespread failure.
"I call it 'affirmative cheating,' " Mr. Nobile said of the
grading on test scores. "It turns teachers into liars and hypocrites. They
feel a natural sympathy with students and want to help them. And there's a
desire of administrators to pump up scores to look good. And most of the
teachers - especially the young, untenured, easily intimidated - simply won't
come forward to complain without protection."
Indeed, the Cobble Hill scandal might well have gone
undetected had Mr. Nobile not arrived at the school in September 2001 as a
59-year-old teacher with an unusual rťsumť. A seminarian in his youth, he had
left religious life to become a journalist, writing for such publications as
New Times, Esquire and The Village Voice. His muckraking efforts included
reports on sexual abuse by the Rev. Bruce Ritter of Covenant House in 1990,
and plagiarism charges against the "Roots" author Alex Haley in 1993. He moved
into teaching - the profession of his daughter and former wife - only after
falling out with the co-author of a book about Abraham Lincoln's private life.
One might think the city's public schools would cherish such
a teacher. Initially, Cobble Hill did. In five evaluations during Mr. Nobile's
first year, all rating him satisfactory, supervisors including Ms. Capra
extolled his lessons as "well-prepared and very organized" and his classroom
as a "serious learning environment."
All that started to change with Regents tests in June 2002.
Even before students took the exams, Ms. Capra wrote an e-mail message to Mr.
Nobile, saying of the grading procedure, "In a pinch they can get points from
writing any old garbage down." She was referring to the essay portion of the
In practice, as the Education Department's investigation has
stated, Mr. Capra assigned teachers to reread and regrade - "scrub," in school
slang - any exams that fell slightly below the passing mark of 65. Several
dozen Cobble Hill pupils wound up with grades between 65 and 69 on the global
and American history tests, while a handful scored between 60 and 64.
"The whole thing is a sham," a fellow teacher, Elliot Cohen,
wrote to Mr. Nobile in an e-mail message. "The essays were terrible all around
and received points when they should have gotten zero." Mr. Cohen also wrote
that the "crimes" he and others "committed were obscene."
Early in 2003, Mr. Nobile said, he first brought up the
problem with Mr. George, who responded, "I don't want to hear that." When the
same pressures and the same pattern recurred in Regents tests of June 2003,
Mr. Nobile took concerns to representatives of the United Federation of
Teachers, who urged him to put the complaints in writing to the principal in
the hope the problems could be solved internally. As late as December 2003,
Mr. George rated Mr. Nobile satisfactory as a teacher.
WHICH brings this story back to Mr. Nobile's memo to the
principal in January 2004, and Mr. Capra's negative evaluation of Mr. Nobile
two weeks later. The succession of unsatisfactory reports that followed were
only part of the administration's apparent campaign against the
whistle-blower. In March 2004, Mr. George conducted brief interviews with a
number of teachers - omitting two who had shared Mr. Nobile's criticism - and
all of them denied any cheating had occurred. They issued the same denials
early in May, when Mr. Scarcella, the investigator, questioned them.
One effect of their denials was to make Mr. Nobile look like
a crank, to separate him not only from administrators but also from his
faculty colleagues. Only when Mr. Scarcella conducted a second round of
interrogations in June 2004, granting teachers immunity from disciplinary
action, did several admit that they had cheated at Ms. Capra's behest.
Even in the fall of 2004, with Ms. Capra gone and Mr. Nobile
back in satisfactory status, the apparent harassment persisted. Mr. George
took Mr. Nobile out of classes in 20th-century American history, his
specialty, and reassigned him to global and American survey courses for
When Mr. Nobile asked the reason for the reassignment, he
recalled the other day, Mr. George told him, "Your passing rates on the
Regents aren't high."
A Department of Education spokesman claimed this was an isolated
incident. It is not. Scrubbing is much too common. At one time it was done for a
deserving student who for some unknown reason failed by one or two points. Now
it is done everywhere whenever possible to make principals look good. It should be stopped. It
reduces the exams to a farce. It is unfair to students who study and get good
grades on their own. It is unfair to taxpayers who believe that they are paying
for honest assessment.
In most other organizations this would not be even possible. It is a
egregious conflict of interests. How can schools be allowed to evaluate
themselves? Either the DOE must reduce the significance of these test scores or
outsiders must grade them.