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The Civic Scene: Pupils, teachers must benefit from education improvements

The battle over learning in our schools rages on. As this column has said in the past, about 30 percent to 40 percent of the total number of students do not graduate yet our society must have educated students who know facts and can critically think.

Federal math tests have shown no improvement in scores in the past two years in spite of the city Department of Education pushing extra time for math and reading. I have noticed over the years that students used to do better on math tests than on reading tests because now city math tests have word problems and require students to know how to read well.

Based on various test scores and other subjective evaluations, the DOE wants to close more schools this year. But several of the schools being considered are fighting back.

One school fighting for survival is Columbus High School in the Bronx. The parents, students and staff claim the DOE caused the poor statistics, but when nearby Adlai Stevenson and Evander Childs high schools were closed, non-English speaking, disabled and special-needs students and students from correctional institutions were sent to Columbus HS, causing its statistics to fall since it did not receive any additional DOE support.

Jamaica HS is also rallying against a proposed closing, but is fighting back with the help of alumni. The claims are that 100 students who were supposed to attend Jamaica HS but never did are being counted as failures along with discharged students. It seems staff members who could help the students in the school are being pulled away and another small school located in the building is being provided with equipment, giving it an unfair advantage over the Jamaica HS students.

Two other Queens schools designated as scheduled for closing are Beach Channel HS in Far Rockaway and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship HS in the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights. City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) have expressed concern over the closings.

What is happening to these schools makes one think of the comments made that when new schools are created, whether regular or charter, they take the better students and leave behind those with problems and who need special help, which makes other local schools look bad.

It is hard to help failing students because they have problems caused by different reasons. Some causes of failure are physical, developmental and mental problems. Many of these students will never graduate because of their problems but are counted against a school’s statistics. Some children live in such abysmal conditions that they have a hard time learning. Some move every year or so. Some children live in shelters for months at a time and have no stability. Some children are abused by family members or fellow students.

Gangs can cause students to skip school or be forced to join and then cut school. Bullying is another reason why children cut school. Many students use drugs, including alcohol, and are not able to come to school to learn. Socialization and being accepted by peers is more important to some children than going to class on time, getting passing grades or doing homework.

The system often judges the average teacher by the few hero teachers one sees in movies, but many people have families and cannot spend all their time, energy and money these hero teachers spend. Also, if one looks at teachers who were lauded when they retired, one may discover they taught the honors- or college-level class for most of their careers.

Some families have one or more parents in jail, which is a terrible strain on the children. Some children come from broken homes. Often when these children make the required visit to the incarcerated parent, the teacher has to spend two or three days getting the child back to normal to the detriment of the class. Two or three children in a class who have any of the problems mentioned above can ruin the class.

If learning is not good, then the teacher is bad and does not get a bonus — or, according to the DOE leadership, should be fired. Naturally, a teacher teaching an honors class, which usually does not have problem children, is great and deserves a bonus.

Innovations should be introduced in schools, but closing schools and creating new ones without providing help for children who are left behind does not help everyone — especially since our society needs educated adults.

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