Friday, June 14, 2013

Allentown Teacher Describes Real Consequences of Teacher Cuts

ASD teacher Deb Brobst with her students in DC, 2010
 Terrific Allen High School social studies teacher Deb Brobst posted a comment at this blog, and I think it deserves attention. Congratulations to Deb on her retirement, and thank you Deb for your years of service, and efforts to improve the ASD. Deb has been a tireless advocate for students, frequently speaking at school board meetings and rallies.

"ASD has closed its eyes to the destruction of the public school education that it is supposed to protect. The public does not understand the true repercussions that have been caused in the daily life of an Allentown public school student. With the cut of 25% of the teachers in ASD in the past 3 years, much of the curriculum has gone by the wayside. Students in the high schools have to take the 4 core subjects of English, Math, Science and Social Studies (only 3 years). Most of the electives are gone. No more Law Academy, No more Science and Fitness Academy and now, no Dance Academy. Without the electives, many students have no way to explore a subject that interests them more fully: the law science, physical science, artistic expression and so many other interests that could be stimulated with a complete curriculum. Instead we will have a "minimal" curriculum. One that does not stretch the imagination, call for higher thinking, asks the great questions, teaches to fix the ills of society. There is no outlet for the curiosity and creativity of the mind without the course choices previously offered in abundance. 

ASD has been "bare bones" for the last 3 years. Now, it will be at the marrow. The last 3 years have seen a 25% reduction in faculty with only a 4% decrease in student population. The District has seen no such decrease in administrators, rather an increase. I am wondering, who will teach the kids? Certainly not an administrator, since their eyes have been closed for too many years to the actual day to day life of the public school student. I am also wondering, how will students in overcrowded classrooms (do the math) be able to learn? It will certainly be harder. Harder to hear the teacher, harder to see the board, harder to ask a question, harder to have one on one time with a teacher. I am also left to wonder one last thing: how is a teacher to get through the curriculum of a course with 6 weeks taken out for Standardized Testing? Why are we paying for PSSA Tests, at all? 4-Sights and Keystones all take a toll on curriculum requirements. Will this mean that a teacher cuts into the required information for the course year, or does that mean the course gets watered down by the District in order to justify constant standardized testing? 

No matter which way you slice it, ASD is just about dead. The cuts that started 3 years ago and continued this year are not done, yet. Stick around. It will get worse!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Calling out ASD Board Directors for Crimes Against Children

Allentown School Board Directors
 I believe the ASD's "curtailment plan" to cut teachers and vital programs is a crime against children because it robs them of their right by law to a quality public education. Teachers should never be cut, no matter how dire the district's financial situation. The board and administration have ignored public outcry against the harmful plan. After attending several recent school board meetings, I have concluded that ASD is mismanaging funds, the test and data driven curriculum is a disaster, and both the administration and majority of board members are immoral and not qualified to make decisions on education. But a minority of three on the board are advocating for children- Joanne Jackson, Ce-Ce Gerlach, and Julie Ambrose. I do appreciate the efforts of these strong and intelligent women.

All board members should be focused on the big picture of making sure ASD students receive a quality education, as mandated by the constitution. Instead, divisive and arrogant board directors Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman use their positions of authority to grandstand about politics, bully teachers, parents, students and fellow board members while offering no reasonable ideas. I have written about them here and here and here. And it's very disturbing that ineffective directors Lamb, Bishop, and Zimmerman were recently re-elected to serve on the board. Allentown is headed in the same direction as Philadelphia and Chicago, where schools are being closed, resulting in destabilized neighborhoods where children's safety is at risk. The following commentary on the situation in Philadelphia is exactly how I feel about the outrageous "curtailment plan" recently approved by a majority of Allentown School Board Directors:

PHILADELPHIA: the school decimation budget through the eyes of a Temple student:
"These cuts should not be understood as a simple response to the current economic climate or lack of public funding in Philly or PA. These cuts should be understood as crimes committed against young people and workers; they should be understood as forms of structural violence in that these decisions will create incredible social harm in young people’s life choices and eliminate their access to community, recreation, mental and physical health services, mentors, creative outlets, higher education, employment and a meaningful culture of learning – in the one of the most impoverished, incarcerated, racist cities in the US – our nation’s birthplace nonetheless." Read more:

 Allentown schools have also been decimated by deep cuts to teachers, including cuts to vital programs and services for children.

Art, music, physical education, and library are mandated as core subject areas under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, and also under PA state law, and these programs should never be cut or reduced. Allentown SD plans to eliminate 132 teaching positions. Over the past 3 years nearly 400 positions have been eliminated. Related arts will be nearly eliminated. The curtailment plan will narrow the curriculum to mainly test prep, robbing children of their right to a quality education, robbing children of equal opportunities to discover their talents. It will put children in an unsafe learning environment where their needs can not be met. Classes will be over crowded. It will be less than bare bones. It will be educational malpractice, child abuse, and a violation of educational ethics. Would you want your child to be educated in this harmful environment? Parents will have no choice but to protect their children by leaving ASD. This is a quote from an ASD teacher working on the front lines of this impending disaster:

 "132 more cuts -- more than 1/4 of our staff over three years. Our school balance WILL shift away from safe. Our education program WILL become so basic that it will not be able to sustain itself.
I believe that certain board members truly do not know how devastating an impact this will have on our students and this city. I also believe those that don't should not have a voice in an education forum and must be removed. 

Out last round if cuts was absorbable to a point. This one is not."

The  school board directors who approved the harmful "curtailment" plan are Ellen Bishop, Debora Lamb, David Zimmerman, Scott Armstrong, Andrew Weiss, and even board president Robert Smith Jr. Smith voted "yes" after he got what he wanted- restoration of full day kindergarten. But related arts and full day kindergarten should go hand in hand. If you are going to restore full day K, you must also fully restore related arts! What a mess.

I believe that there is no hope for the ASD unless the six unqualified board members are removed, along with superintendent Dr. Mayo and other top administrators. Let the teachers run the district! Hold the Mayo accountable! He has no ideas, and has continued with Dr. Zahorchak's crackpot plans and failed business model. This is SHAMEFUL AND DISGRACEFUL. This is an OUTRAGE. These people are not leading, and they do not understand that their short sighted decisions will have huge negative consequences. These cuts will never heal. The cuts are a disservice to children and community, and an injustice. These people must be called out by name, and held accountable. Only the worst kind of criminals would rob children.

UPDATE 6/22:  ASD has found some money to keep 5 art teachers at the elementary schools, and 5 phys ed teachers. Hmmm, I wonder where else can they find some money? So this is good news for our kids, but we must demand FULL restoration of specialists at all grade levels. Note that Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman voted against using the money to keep teachers, calling it "irresponsible." Demand removal of these immoral cretins from our school board! There should be no debate, the money MUST be used to restore teachers! Bizarro world Allentown! Demand accountability from Mayo and school board! Our kids deserve same opportunities as kids from neighboring suburban districts.