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Compliance by the New York City Department of Education with the Curriculum Mandates of the New York State Education Law

Kudos to a teacher who speaks out.

by Joseph Mugivan

A Presentation to the Education Committee
Of the New York City Council
September 19, 2008

Compliance by the New York City
Department of Education
With the Curriculum Mandates
Of the New York State
Education Law.
Res. No.1541

Honored Members of the Committee:

I have been a teacher in New York City for 15 years. I have worked with all grade levels of elementary and intermediate education, as well as with special education.

My experience includes being an adjunct professor at the Graduate Schools of Education at Queens College, teaching “The Psychology of the Exceptional Child”, and a Literacy Studies adjunct at Long Island University for the United Federation of Teachers.

As education in the schools changed at the beginning of the millennium, the educational system under mayoral control has become more centralized. Prior to this period, teachers developed lesson plans which were approved and monitored independently by the administration of the schools at the local level. Principals and administrators had the independence to use their own professional experience, as educators, to determine the best direction for the students of their school.

In the new millennium, under centralized mayoral control, principals are required to attend to the needs of a new bureaucracy. They responded to their new leaders who offered market-driven programs. These new leaders had little knowledge of how to raise reading and math scores, or to understand how children learn. Some had no experience in education at all.

Interesting and creative learning experiences became suspect, as administrators in schools were assessed by their seniors with visits to their schools and classrooms. The new leaders focused on “instruction” and control with less concern about learning.

Due to this deficiency, teachers were judged primarily by the arbitrary aesthetics of their bulletin boards and classroom walls. Focus was placed on new and untested programs, which usurped the time and creativity needed to meet the necessary state standards.

Prior to these new changes, teachers had the time and encouragement to conform to city and state curricula, and to deliver these mandates in ways that were effective for the students.

Projects were created which incorporated literacy development throughout the entire curriculum, using content knowledge within the resources available, such as text books, library books, field trips, audio visual systems, public presentations, etc. All of the mandated content was processed by the students through the writing process, which enabled students to learn about the various subjects within a comprehensive context and improve their reading comprehension.

With the advent of mayoral control, the teacher’s time became monopolized for many months by constant individualized reading assessment with market-force programs that interfered with classroom work. Many of the new assessments were less meaningful to the teacher than those made in the context of the curriculum, and had limited value. These time-consuming new assessments were not related to the state curriculum.

The original writing process, within the framework of the state standards, was replaced by the idea that writing is comprised of separate discreet skills. Teaching to these skills led to the creation of standard-based report cards, which were eventually cancelled when parents rebelled that these report cards did not inform them about their child’s learning. This approach to instruction and assessment created a barrier between parents, teachers and students.

All learning and literacy development is about relationship.

Education is referred to as a Social Science. The constant atomization of learning and assessment challenges the paradigm, which supports the required state curriculum.

Presently, the administration has decided to go back to the teaching of content within the curriculum after all of these years. This new content program is of great concern; if it should narrow the scope and process that teachers require to develop an enriching experience for their students in meeting the standards of the State of New York. I have come to the conclusion that disputes over learning programs are more about power and control than about education.

The current centralized structure of education encourages fear, control and anger, resulting in the loss of highly qualified and educated teachers, alienation of administrators and student violence within the schools. These are obstacles to effectively meeting the state educational curriculum and providing a nourishing and supportive learning environment.

Joseph Mugivan is a New York City teacher and advocate for School Indoor Air Quality.

New York City

— Joseph Mugivan


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