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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 appears below.

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 Advance again.

William Goldman, Teacher




September 2, 2007

Educational Thoughts

Schooling can 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.


I remember 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 innards.


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.

 Ford to Cut Costs by Shedding Sales Jobs


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 they're good.''

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, Sanfilippo said.

''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 school.

  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 students?


 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 standardized exams.

  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.

July 20, 2005

In Exposing a Grading Scandal, Harsh Lessons Are Learned

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 exam.

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 freshmen.

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.

About Me


William Goldman



 Tottenville High School

100 Luten Ave., StatenIsland, NY 10312




Social Studies Teacher




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