NCLB Termed "Nightmare" by School Swamped by Transfers
Ohanian Comment: As always, Winerip uses telling details to convey the big picture: the sheer number of NCLB transfers can ruin the program in an accepting school. An underlying theme is the negativism about those transfers: for one thing, parents refers to them as NCLBs. The rules prevent revolt by not allowing these NCLBs into the honors classes. And more. NCLB is outrageous, disastrous, and heartbreaking.
If only, if only the corporate-politicos who pushed this legislation had to take charge of a middle school classroom of 42 students for one day. And, of course, follow the City requirement of individualized instrution. And don't forget: there aren't enough books for every student.
Modest Proposal: Let's let corporate employees whose company's wages are down move to companies with better pay, where desks and supplies must be provided by the receiving company.
IN 20 years as a public school administrator on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Lawrence Lynch, the principal of Booker T. Washington Middle School on 107th Street, has never seen such a disastrous start to a school year.
It is the third week and he still has many teachers with more than 40 children per class. He is short of books, chairs, computers, science laboratory materials and space. And despite repeated requests to his superiors in Region 10 of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's brand new, bureaucratically streamlined Education Department, the principal cannot get any relief.
Mr. Lynch spoke with Victor Rodriguez, a Region 10 official, about the crowding. "He said this always happens at the start of the year," Mr. Lynch recalled. "I said it's never happened here."
"He asked if I was a new principal," Mr. Lynch went on. "I said seven years at this school. He said, `Are you in a position to think about retiring?' "
Like many other middle schools in New York City, this one is overloaded with children who have transferred in under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The 2002 law allows students to transfer from failing schools to better ones. City officials admit that it has created severe overcrowding, and have proposed easing the problem by adding teachers and splitting large classes. But Mr. Lynch says that will not work at his school.
"I literally do not have a free room," he said. "This is so unfair, to kids, parents, teachers, and the community. N.C.L.B. is a nightmare."
Rachel Pinsen, a seventh-grade teacher, has 42 students. "I'm sorry, I know how hot you are crowded in like this," she told them on Monday. "I don't have enough books either. You have to share." She started with 32 students, and the federal transfers just kept coming. Ms. Pinsen, a 13-year veteran, has taught in some tough spots, including a group home for foster children and a special-education class for disturbed children. "This is the most crippling situation I've ever worked in," she said. "This `leave no child behind' law is leaving every child behind."
Robyn Block, a science teacher, did not have laboratory materials for 9 of her 41 students. Alex Bleecker did not have computer terminals for 12 of his 42 students. "The 12 sit out," he said. "It's like study hall for them. But it causes problems. The 12 not doing anything want to run around. They distract the rest. It's hard to get anything done."
What makes the situation at Booker T. so heartbreaking is the very children No Child Left Behind is supposedly helping, poor minority children, are the ones being hurt most by the transfers and overcrowding. And the school's gifted students — mainly white children of professional and middle-class parents — attend classes that are exempt from receiving transfers.
Like so many other New York City schools, Booker T., which has swelled to 1,130 students from 1,010 in two weeks, is divided into several smaller schools. The gifted program, known as Delta, has 570 students, (two-thirds white), with 32 to a class. While this is crowded by state standards — the average sixth-grade class outside New York City is 23 — Mr. Lynch says it is manageable. City officials exempted 20 middle school gifted programs from transfers, said Peter Kerr, a city spokesman, because the academic disparity between the gifted — who score in the top level of 4 on city tests — and federal transfers — who often score 1 — is too great.
There were 150 failing middle schools that students could transfer out of, and after exemptions, 115 considered strong enough to accept transfers. "We just don't have enough good middle schools," Mr. Kerr said.
At Booker T., there is also a program intended for minority children who are academically talented but cannot pass the screening for the gifted program. Known as the Dr. Charles Drew School, it is for neighborhood children interested in health and science. Bertha McGhee, the assistant principal, recruited motivated students from nearby elementary schools last spring. With their parents, the children came to Booker T. for an interview and tried out the new laboratory equipment. Any seen acting out were not accepted.
The two sixth-grade classes, taught by Erica Williams and Robyn Block started with 32 each (virtually all black and Hispanic), and thanks to federal transfers, ballooned to 43 and 41. Ms. Williams, who teaches literacy, has students reading on a seventh-grade level and transfers who cannot write a sentence.
"It's so hard to bridge that gap," she said. One transfer student acts out constantly. "It takes so much effort just to keep that student under control," Ms. Williams said. "Everything is taking twice as long."
Another program for mainstream children, Nova, is also overcrowded, including 42 in Ms. Pinsen's class. She is trying to teach the city's new reading curriculum, which requires regular one-on-one student conferences. The curriculum guide says, "It is a time when the teacher can provide powerful customized instruction for the student."
"How can I do this?" Ms. Pinsen said. "I'm lucky if I can get to two or three a day."
Sharon Patterson, a parent whose son Robert was accepted to the Drew science program last spring, feels cheated. "Adding all the N.C.L.B.'s — how can they teach with that many?" she asked.
One of the harshest criticisms of the federal law is that it is an underfinanced mandate. While the legislation permits up to $18 billion this year, President Bush has budgeted $12 billion. This is devastating for New York City, where the schools are the most overcrowded they have been in years and yet the mayor has had to cut the school construction budget more than 25 percent.
Mr. Lynch, the principal, says that when he seeks help from the new regional office, "you don't feel like there's a human on the other end." Mr. Rodriguez of Region 10 declined to speak to a reporter, but through a spokesman denied suggesting that Mr. Lynch should retire. After a call from a reporter, Region 10 officials visited the school yesterday.
Mr. Lynch, who is 55, is first to arrive each morning to unlock the building.
"It takes five to seven years to build a good school like this," he said. "And it can be ruined so fast. I've never felt so powerless."
New York Times
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