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Ron Isaac on Large High Schools Being Turned Into "Personal Touch" Ignorance-Bearing Academies
"Fixing schools by dissolving them into tinier cells of infamy" is what Ron Isaac calls Chancellor Klein's reform of New York City's high schools.
High School Head Game
by Ron Isaac, EducationNews.org, November 25, 2004
"Less is more" and "Size doesn't matter." Whether architectural credo or as a subliminal, salacious message, people get stuck on mythical truisms. These maxims are glue traps to the New York City Department of Education, whose Chancellor Klein has embarked on a frenzy of fixing schools by dissolving them into tinier cells of infamy.
Large high schools are being split into four "personal touch" ignorance-bearing academies. This revolutionary ruse has been pulled before. The late Andrew Jackson High School, whose halls were bloodier than the alleys of Medellin, was reduced to four quaint nurturing learning hothouses. No longer a player on the police blotters, that high school has literally disappeared from the map and public consciousness. Some beat reporters, in quest of an expose', no doubt credit the Klein garrison state with cleaning up that particular academic toilet.
Fragmenting a huge failing institution into puny satellites and spinoffs will give the DOE cover to patch the recent revelation that applicants to its high schools have identified themselves as repulsed by eighty-six percent of their choices. Because of the baby boom of mini high schools, each with its own handsomely paid administration, that percentage will dramatically drop, just in time for the tabloids to pass on verbatim the Chancellor's inevitable self-congratulatory press release.
The release of the New York City High School Directory is awaited with breath more baited than that for the 9/11 Commission Report or the Academy Awards. Every school is glowingly spotlighted. Each is depicted as a fountainhead of specialized learning. There are more "unique focuses" than there are masterpieces at the Louvre.
No doubt someone was hired to thumb through an encyclopedia, identify every wide and narrow area of human endeavor, and forge a name for a new high school consecrated to its pursuit. From aviation to zoology, with perhaps some horticulture as an academic antipasto, there is a Gothic edifice to hoodwink the undiscerning, much as the slapped on paint over facades of incinerated South Bronx structures for tourists coasting from Boston to see en route here during the glory days of the Dinkins Administration.
An Oxford University professor, so worldly that from tinkering in his attic he devised a jamming device to thwart the signal of all boomboxes within a hundred yard radius of his beach cabana, was wildly impressed that these schools each sounded unique in more ways than there are fishes in the sea or lovers in Don Juan's black book. That High School Directory is such a state-of-the-art whitewash that not even he could believe that scarcely one-percent of the seniors in one of these urban temples knows how to outline an essay or diagram a sentence. I would bet my tax-deferred annuity that not one-half of them knows what alphabetical order means.
In answer to its own question, "What is special about small schools?", the Guide to NYC Small High Schools exclaims: "You will be safe. Everybody will know your name. You will learn fewer subjects well." Perhaps they should fine tune that last disclaimer.
These schools' concentrations are evident from their titles. Most are along the lines of "Expeditionary Learning," "Global Citizenship," "Urban Planning," and my odds-on-favorite, the "Peace and Diversity Academy." There are two schools for "social justice." Perhaps they will be varsity rivals.
Other schools run the gamut, or the gauntlet, from "Aerospace" to "Hospitality Management" to "Ballet Tech." Selected supervisors might just as well rotate alma maters every other day for all the expertise they will possess, or know or care which is which.
Instead of high-handed initiatives and grandstands, Chancellor Klein should reconcile his policies to proven traditional working models, and endear himself just a little to the real educators whom he has estranged.