Zelinsky: An empty Promise

On Tuesday, the City of New Haven and Yale announced New Haven Promise, a joint program to provide college scholarships to New Haven high school graduates. While this plan is well-intentioned, it will actually end up hurting the very high school students it seeks to help.

New Haven Promise is a poorly disguised Band-Aid which will only allow the larger problem to continue festering: New Haven’s high schools do a bad job of preparing students for college. The true beneficiaries of the “Promise” are the political interests who have refused to enact real school reform for their own political benefit, and who can now point to this program as a claim of their intention to reform.

It is an unfortunate reality that many high school students in New Haven are getting a bad education. This trend is not unique to our city, but is a national scandal. The blame for poor educational attainment lies squarely on the teachers and their unions.

Many public school teachers do not commit the necessary time and effort needed to do their job well. Instead of staying after school to tutor or help run an extracurricular, unionized teachers typically leave as soon as the final bell rings. One-on-one time, after school activities and caring mentors can make the difference for struggling students in New Haven and across the country. These efforts help keep teenagers off the streets in a supportive environment that they may not find at home.

In New Haven, Yale students have admirably (but haphazardly) tried to fill in the gaps left behind by teachers. While specific programs have been successful, these efforts fail to address the larger systemic problem: Our public schools lack the out of classroom experiences that prepare students for college and life beyond.

Moreover, because public school teachers achieve tenure after only a few years, administrators have extreme difficulty firing those who perform poorly. The American Federation of Teachers fiercely defends the tenure status quo, claiming teachers need the “job security,” which no comparable private sector employees enjoy. The result is a school system governed by apathy, in which the teachers go through the motions, viewing their job as secure regardless of their effort and involvement. Public school students consequently suffer in the classroom.

No doubt there are many teachers who care deeply about their students. But we cannot ignore the fact that there is a definite, established trend of poorly performing teachers who are a detriment to their students. These teachers continue to teach until retirement, doing a disservice to the students they claim to help.

New Haven Promise will send students to college unprepared, without the skills they actually need to succeed. Sure, we may send more local children to two- and four-year colleges, but will they actually learn? Will they really be better off at institutions of higher learning if they cannot consistently write a five-paragraph essay or solve a basic algebraic equation?

Instead of throwing money at the problem, New Haven needs to enact real school reform. School administrators must have the ability to fire teachers who view their job as ending with the final school bell. Tenure must be abolished and a system of accountability put into place. Good teachers should be rewarded and bad teachers should be fired. Sadly, this will not happen, because the mayor and Democratic machine in New Haven (and nationally) are wedded to union votes, chief among them the teachers.

Last year, the city announced a small step toward reform. Schools were supposed to be classified into three categories, each tier a different level of success. But this scheme has yet to bring out the radical change needed for children in New Haven.

New Haven Promise whitewashes the true problem in New Haven. We should not care about how many New Haven students we send to college, but rather how many we send to college prepared. The program allows the mayor to claim that he is attempting real reform, without having to actually make the difficult decisions needed to make public schools work for inner-city students.

Let’s not waste Yale’s money on political grandstanding by the mayor to dodge a bullet and pretend to be undertaking educational reform when he is placating the teachers’ union. Instead, let’s work together to actually (and courageously) address the problems in New Haven’s schools.

Nate Zelinsky is a sophomore in Davenport College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Bashing teachers is such fun, isn’t it.

    Does the naive writer here have any idea what baggage a New Haven student carries from home and neighborhood when s/he steps over the threshold of a classroom: Poverty, drug-valorized culture, violence on the streets, single parent homes where the breadwinner is exhausted or constantly away at work; sexuality and conspicuous consumption and competition in all areas of life ritualized on the media and the Internet and bombarding students ***thousands of times a week***.

    In addition, hyperactivity is fueled by the non-nutritional foods pumped into our convenience-addicted-culture.

    I’ve seen kids drink two Jolts and eat a large bag of Nachos for breakfast and then be expected to concentrate in class.

    The culture is mad.

    PK

    PS: Full disclosure: I have taught in public schools for 25 years.

  • RexMottram08

    Public Education has been the sole domain of the Left for decades. They have been bathed in funding to enact all of their fantasies. The teachers unions are uniformly Democrats. Every Leftist ideology has received fertile soil in public education.

    What is the result? Disaster. Complete failure.

    Time to hit reset.

  • SY_2009

    “Instead of staying after school to tutor or help run an extracurricular, unionized teachers typically leave as soon as the final bell rings. ”

    really? unionized teachers typically leave as soon as the final bell rings? What are you basing this off of? Where is your data? This is the most prejudiced, one-dimensional piece I have read in a long time. The author makes blanket assertions with no evidence to back them up. Has the author ever been inside a New Haven public school?

  • y10br

    This literally was ‘kick’ the teacher. If the author actually believes this, he should be ashamed.

  • Saybrook10

    Granted, there are plenty of terrible teachers in the city, the state, and the country, who don’t devote enough time to their jobs, but if the author wants to play a game of “making empirical claims without statistics,” then I would counter that the percentage of teachers that clock purely daytime hours without a further thought to their jobs and students is significantly lower than the percentage of their working peers in other fields. For all of the homework you had to do as a student, your teachers did more, and for all of the preparation you did for class, your teachers did more. Even the sub-standard ones. This isn’t to mention the ongoing recertification and continuing education processes that teachers go through during breaks and summers, days without pay due to state budget cuts in many states, and so on, that counter all of the “teachers have it easy/work less than the rest of us” arguments. School reform is needed, yes–it is direly needed. I am in general agreement that the mayor of New Haven does most of what he does not in order to care for the population, but in order to make himself look good. You are right on those counts. You are wrong to blame the majority of teachers for the folly of a few.

  • The Anti-Yale

    A good teacher NEVER clocks off even when asleep at night : His/her mind is always assembling new configurations for lesson plans of everything s/he hears or sees. It is endless creativity; and it is invigorating.

  • RexMottram08

    Homeschoolers and Private religious schools outperform public schools every time.

  • JM

    The blame for poor educational attainment lies squarely on the teachers and their unions.
    what about the families? and the services lacking in the community?
    Instead of staying after school to tutor or help run an extracurricular, unionized teachers typically leave as soon as the final bell rings
    like hell they do. also, how do you even know? in general, most are required to stay like an hour after…
    public school teachers achieve tenure after only a few years
    three-four is not “few” years, especially on the low salary that teachers make.
    The result is a school system governed by apathy, in which the teachers go through the motions, viewing their job as secure regardless of their effort and involvement.
    … ad hominem.
    teachers who are a detriment to their students. These teachers continue to teach until retirement, doing a disservice to the students they claim to help
    a teacher>no teacher
    older teachers tend to be better at managing classrooms and teaching than younger ones; tenure keeps them there….
    is placating the teachers’ union
    how is he placating the teacher’s union?

  • jfs81887

    As a former Yalie and current public school teacher, I am extremely disappointed by this article.

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  • River Tam

    Education starts at home.

    The reason private, parochial, and charter schools outperform public schools is because parents who send their kids to these types of schools tend to care more than the average public school parent.

  • Yale12

    I rarely agree with RiverTam, but this time I must admit he’s right. I work extensively in New Haven public schools. Most teachers are amazingly dedicated and are nothing like this article characterized; the problem is in large part among parents. Most of the children in the kindergarten classroom I work in came into school not knowing the alphabet or how to write their name. No wonder they fall behind the students of parents who care enough to find their child a school that best fits them (and have the financial resources to do so).

    The mischaracterizations in this article are absolutely disgusting. While I agree, in general, that NHPS is not adequately preparing students for college, it is *not* because of the teachers. Mr. Zelinsky, have you spent any time with these teachers you so quickly, and unfairly, demonize? I strongly, strongly doubt it. For every “unionized teacher” that doesn’t do more than the bare minimum, I can find you two or three that do ten or fifteen times that while getting paid frighteningly small amounts.

  • JM

    The blame for poor educational attainment lies squarely on the teachers and their unions.
    what about the families? and the services lacking in the community?
    Instead of staying after school to tutor or help run an extracurricular, unionized teachers typically leave as soon as the final bell rings
    like hell they do. also, how do you even know? in general, most are required to stay like an hour after…
    public school teachers achieve tenure after only a few years
    three-four is not “few” years, especially on the low salary that teachers make.
    The result is a school system governed by apathy, in which the teachers go through the motions, viewing their job as secure regardless of their effort and involvement.
    … ad hominem.
    teachers who are a detriment to their students. These teachers continue to teach until retirement, doing a disservice to the students they claim to help
    a teacher>no teacher
    older teachers tend to be better at managing classrooms and teaching than younger ones; tenure keeps them there….
    is placating the teachers’ union
    how is he placating the teacher’s union?

  • The Anti-Yale

    So let’s take the lowest-paid college-educated public servants in our society and bash the intestines out of them. Does it feel gooooood? Does it make you feel POWERFUL?

    It just so happens that there is at least one state in the Union where teachers do not get tenure, at all, EVER.

    And I have worked in that state for 25 years as a teacher, with collegues of high integrity and dedication.

    The columnist and many of his posting-board respondents don’t want dedicated teachers and inspired students; they want TEST RESULTS, because our society has sold its soul to the false god of QUANTIFIABLE NUMBERS, turning the art of teaching into just another business spread-sheet.

    As William Butler Yeats said, “Education is about catching fire.”

    It is not about vomiting forth facts and formulas into the bedpans of fill-in-the-bullet digitized answer sheets.

    Zeig Heil Michele Rhee and Bill Gates.

    Theirs is a business-model-marriage, waiting to be consummated in Hades.

  • River Tam

    > The columnist and many of his posting-board respondents don’t want dedicated teachers and inspired students; they want TEST RESULTS, because our society has sold its soul to the false god of QUANTIFIABLE NUMBERS, turning the art of teaching into just another business spread-sheet.

    Test results may not tell the whole tale, but without them, how would you propose judging the ability of teachers to teach?

  • River Tam

    > I rarely agree with RiverTam, but this time I must admit he’s right.

    She. And thank you.

  • The Anti-Yale

    RT:

    Let’s see. The fad of “standardized testing” became an EPIDEMIC gleefully spread by The College Board Testing Service INC. located in American Education’s Vatican, Princeton, New Jersey, about ten years ago. For a hundred years before that, public schools managed to suiccessfully serve (that’s SERVE, not SERVICE) colleges and universities, and society’s job market itself.

    The OBSESSION with KEYBOARDED-QUANTIFIABLE EVERYTHING which computers and the internet have spread like a plague has enabled us to SELL OUR CHILDREN”S SOULS by turning them into digitized production machines.

    Your question itself betrays how mechanized, how dehumanized we have become. Why would we even think that an “art” could be “MEASURED”? Becausse it makes us feel secure to measure things.

    And make no mistake about it: OUR CHILDREN KNOW WHEN THEY ARE BEING TREATED LIKE THINGS.

    God save us from Joel Kline, Michele Rhee, Chris Christie, and Bill Gates.

    Oh, I forget. They are God.

  • River Tam

    PK –

    And the decline of the public school *preceded* the rise of standardized testing “about ten years ago”. Standardized testing and NCLB were *reactions*, not *causes* to an epidemic of poor public school performance, a problem that begins with the lack of parental involvement. It was the *it* issue of the 90s – “is our children learning?”

    > Your question itself betrays how mechanized, how dehumanized we have become. Why would we even think that an “art” could be “MEASURED”? Becausse it makes us feel secure to measure things.

    There is such a thing as objectively “good teaching” and “bad teaching”, as you yourself have stated. What metric do you use to make your own claims?

    > And make no mistake about it: OUR CHILDREN KNOW WHEN THEY ARE BEING TREATED LIKE THINGS.

    I don’t mind being treated like a “thing” as long as I learn how to read past the fourth grade level. Students in Hungary and China leave high school far more educated than students in America not because they have been coddled and told how “special” they are. Rather, they have not been taught by teachers who (like you) worship at the altar of feelings and therapy over facts and figures.

    Schools are for learning, not for finding yourself. Teachers need to stop being parents – this requires work on the part of both parents *and* teachers. Parents need to do their jobs – teachers need to do theirs. In low income schools, parents don’t parent and teachers try to parent in vain. In high income schools, parents *do* parent, but teachers still insist on trying to parent rather than teaching.

    School is not therapy. It is not an exercise in humanization or enlightenment. It is a method of empowerment – a way to give students the preparation to live the Good Life – the life they want to live. We measure teachers and we measure schools because without this measurement we are left in trusting self-serving metrics from public schools more interested in protecting their own rear ends than the interests of students. There is no job where you can be gainfully employed and NOT subjected to performance metrics. It’s the way the world works, and it’s what we need to ensure that our children don’t come out of school unable to read at the fifth grade level. I’d prefer a hyper-literate 18 year-old who hasn’t been told how special he is to an illiterate 18 year-old who feels secure in his ignorance. One of these children will be in for a rude awakening. The other will be pleasantly surprised.

    I’m glad it’s not your call.

  • The Anti-Yale

    RT:
    I spent 17 years in four colleges as a student. I would be ashamed to apply a mercantile word like “metric’ to the behavior,achievements, and dignity of human beings. ( Note:children are human beings. )Perhaps it is an old-fashioned idea but I believe that human beings are sacred. “Measuring” them is a crude violation of that sanctity. If you do not perceive that every day the competetive, mercantile culture we live in dehumanizes its children, then we really have very little to say to each other.

    PK

    PS

    I’ll be happy to buy you a ticket to DEATH OF A SALESMAN: It’s at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center this season. “A man can’t go out the way he came in. A man has got to add up to something.” Willy Loman

  • Davenport2010

    Though I strongly disagree with the broad-brush approach that Nate takes to appraising teachers in this piece, I think that he very, very indirectly raises an important point that I have not heard or read in the discussion of the New Haven Promise. This program goes a long, long way toward making college a financially realistic option for the city’s students but doesn’t directly address the college-readiness of the students who will benefit from this Yale-New Haven-Community Foundation initiative.

    Fair.

    But let’s appreciate the extent to which the Promise, by increasing the numbers of New Haven students who will advance to college, will no doubt increase all stakeholders’ investment in improving students’ college-readiness. As a first-year teacher far away from New Haven, in a struggling school district in an impoverished section of the United States where barely 15% of the adult population has a college degree and where no such tuition guarantee exists, I spend each day with eighth graders who do not see college as a realistic possibility. They demand less of themselves and of me, their teacher, than I want them to, because they don’t see what this whole learning thing is aimed at. The urgency about education isn’t there—and it can be excruciatingly difficult to build in—because so few of my students come in seeing themselves as true students. I would argue that this is much less a product of bad teaching than it is a result of the circumstances in which they have grown up and to which they return every night.

    I can just about promise you, Nate, that this initiative will not so much whitewash problems in the district but, rather, will raise the stakes of what goes on inside the New Haven Public Schools and serve as a positive motivator for all those who work in the system.

  • River Tam

    PK:

    > Perhaps it is an old-fashioned idea but I believe that human beings are sacred. “Measuring” them is a crude violation of that sanctity.

    Do we give students grades in their classes? Did you – as a teacher – grade them on an assignment? Did you ever say that a piece of art was “good” or “bad”? Has a student of yours ever ran track and been timed? Do you get your weight checked when you go to the doctors office? Do salesmen have their sales tracked? Of course. There are metrics in everything.

    Of course, there is an implicit measurement in life. Willy Loman didn’t add up to anything and it didn’t matter whether or not he took the SATs or not. Standardized tests do not replace students’ ability to freely live their lives. What it does, however, is attempt (however imperfectly) to hold accountable those charged with ensuring that these students do not become little Willy Lomans, frustrated by their lives and unable to make changes.

  • Yale12

    This is an unbelievably shortsighted article. Even the LA Times, which raised uproar among teachers’ unions for publishing analysis of students’ test scores and rating teachers as “effective” or “ineffective,” admitted that “The achievement gaps are three to four times larger than the estimated teacher effects for LAUSD.” That is, that while teachers have an effect on their students, racial and socioeconomic effects are far, far stronger. To say that teachers share the strongest–and only–blame is a vicious lie.

    Not only does Mr. Zelinsky make the outrageous claim that “The blame for poor educational attainment lies squarely on the teachers and their unions,” he said it without a single modicum of evidence–besides his own unsupported beliefs that unionized teachers do not stay after school–to support it. This article should not have been published.

  • matilde11

    Zelinsky has no idea what he’s talking about. Even if a “band aid solution,” the Promise will help students who would otherwise not be helped and provide a tremendous amount of incentive for students to work hard throughout high school. School reform is a notoriously difficult thing to get right, and would this presumptuous Yalie rather students languish with no help until authorities get it right?

    And where does this man get off saying the Promise will only send students to college to fail? The Promise will only apply to kids with at least a 3.0 average, and then only if they get into college at all. It’s not throwing the unprepared into a ruthless environment. After all, I’m a successful Yalie from L.A. public schools. Should I be considered “unprepared” and incapable of writing a five paragraph essay just because I came from a rotten school?

    Typical Yalie critiquing progressive measures by making generalizations about a population he knows nothing about. As a middle school me would’ve said, All up in the kool-aid and don’t even know the flavor. Stick to stuff you know, hombre.

  • Yale12

    Also, it’s not as if the New Haven Promise is the only school reform going on in New Haven. In fact, they’ve enacted a radical new plan of tiering schools, year-long turnarounds, rehiring staff at failing schools, etc. etc. But that’s only something Zelinsky would have known about if he had done any research whatsoever, which he clearly did not.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Willy Loman didn’t add up to anything’

    This statement is true, River Tam, ONLY if materialism is your value system, and apparently it is yours (and, tragically, Willy Loman’s).

    There are other value systems which people adopt to guide them in living their lives; aestheticism (my own); asceticism; hedonism, narcissism, machiavellianism, militarism, humanitarianism, nihilism, etc.

  • River Tam

    > This statement is true, River Tam, ONLY if materialism is your value system, and apparently it is yours (and, tragically, Willy Loman’s).

    Willy Loman cheated on his wife and lost the respect of his children. His personal failings were numerous. He did not merely fail materially, but also morally.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “I was lonely Biff, I was terribly lonely. She’s nothing to me.” Willy Loman upon being discovered by his 16-year old son, in a compromising situation with a woman.

    It is a culture which has sold itself to the God of Materialism which allows a man to utter these words about another huiman being ( aka “woman’) and expect that those words will be understood: “She’s NOTHING to me Biff’.”

    “A man can’t go out the way he came in. A man has got to ADD UP TO SOMETHING.”

    Death of a Salesman is drenched in and dripping with the language of MATERIALISM. You seem so soaked by it yourself that you do not recognize it for what it is.

    Thus goeth the culture.

    We are lost. (And Arthur Miller knew it.)

  • River Tam

    > “I was lonely Biff, I was terribly lonely. She’s nothing to me.” Willy Loman upon being discovered by his 16-year old son, in a compromising situation with a woman.

    *Lonely*, not *poor*.

    The tragedy that Miller highlights in Death of a Salesman is not that Willy Loman is obsessed with material success (that’s merely portrayed as a flaw). Willy Loman is, more importantly, *obsessed with having friends*, which he considers the root of greatness (and riches – not exclusively riches). Willy Lomans sons do not respect him, because he’s caught up in illusions of grandeur – of being and *important person* who *knows the right people*.

    Key line:

    > Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the papers. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid!

    It’s not just about the money – it’s about the fact that American society fetishizes greatness at the expense of goodness. Miller himself says that the fundamental struggle for Loman is the struggle for meaning – in a life that is not extraordinary, how can he be expected to be happy?

    The Death of a Salesman is the anti-Dead Poets Society. Life shouldn’t have to be extraordinary for us to be happy.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Miller’s great theme is the ANONYMITY OF MODERN MAN.. Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant actor’s choice in the 1987 video version of Death of a Salesman comes in the final scene. Willy is talking to the ghost/fantasy of his dead brother, the successful Africa and Alaska diamond mine and timber baron, Ben Loman.

    He is debating the “ins and outs” of committing suicide. Willy tells Ben that Biff will finally see “who I am” because the funeral will be massive, with all the “old-timers” attending. Dustin Hoffman utters these lines: “It changes all the aspects. Because he thinks I’m nothing, see, and so he spites me. But the funeral—Ben, that funweral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire –that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized —I am known! Rhode island, New York New jersey, I am known —” (Miller, p. 100)

    Hoffman uses Willy’s Brooklyn accent to make “I am known” sound like “I am knowen” which sounds very much like “I am no one.”

    It is Willy’s life insurance MONEY that will enable Biff to get “AHEAD of Bernard [ his childhood friend and now a successful lawyer] again” when “the mail comes” bringing the insurance check.

    It is Biff’s winning life’s COMPETITION, by getting MONEY, which convinces Willy’s twisted mind to equate suicide with an act of sacrifice and love.

    Yes Willy’s credo is “Be liked and you will never want.” ( p. 21) But the emphasis is on “want” which equates to money, which equates to being “known” (and ironically. with Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant actor’s choice of a Brooklyn pronunciation) being “no one” .

    Salesman is about how competetion, and its surrogate “money,” rots the human soul.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “School is not therapy. It is not an exercise in humanization or enlightenment.’

    May these words sear your soul if you become the parent of a child with “challenges”.

    Let’s turn childhood into a workhouse, where getting ahead and being on top are lauded, and all those who remain behind and below our exalted “Numbers One, Two and Three” are scorned.

    Let’s squeeze every last drop of joy and fun and silliness out childhood so that we dour adults can be satisfied that our tax dollars are moving our children along on the assembly-line of life, to be defecated out into the world as competent competitors after being shaped and moulded by the Peristaltic Educational Testing Service at Princeton.

    Ugh.

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS:
    This entire posting series is really a debate about CP Snow’s “Two Cultures”. At the moment, Science is in the ascendancy, and the Gradgrinds (Dickens’s “Hard Times”) and their Utililitarian unctuosuness have entranced the public, and Ms. River Tam. After the Gates-Rhee-Kline-Chritie Quartet passes from the scene, and we are left with a nation of soulless children clacking their boots in unison to the zeig heil of Princeton’s Standardized pontifications, we may yearn for the gleeful chaos of joyful childhoods, sculpted by the artists we call teachers.

    Rest in Discomfort, Lord Snow.

  • chips

    Naturally, if you didn’t attend Choate Rosemary Hall and your one or two parents haven’t been telling you how gifted you are since birth, then you must not be worth a Yale education. If a Yale education makes you anything like Little Lord Zelinsky, then it’s a dubious honor indeed. I went to public schools my whole life. My teachers were required to stay after class for at least 1 hour, and most took hours afterward to run newspapers, student council (incidentally, as the former vice-president of mine, I recall that they were at school nearly every weekend as well), help students, and the like. Many of my classmates went on to top-tier universities (though scrupulously avoiding Yale), even if they were the first American-born family members or the first to go to college. Teachers are generally not paid handsomely, contrary to Mr. Zelinsky’s opinions, and while their vacation time is enviable, the task of educating and getting to know dozens of students annually is not. If a town spends its education budget wisely, it’s not the number of zeros behind the dollar sign that matter.
    Also, Mr. Zelinsky? Students in my public-school system started writing 5-paragraph essays in elementary school. Algebra by sixth grade. Regional math-league championships and national poetry competition award-winners by 10th. Not every diverse and middle-to-working class public-school system turns out slack-jawed yokels.