Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’

A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’

NY Times, Aug. 1, 2007

Several weeks into his first year of teaching math at the High School of Arts and Technology in Manhattan, Austin Lampros received a copy of the school’s grading policy. He took particular note of the stipulation that a student who attended class even once during a semester, who did absolutely nothing else, was to be given 45 points on the 100-point scale, just 20 short of a passing mark.

Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course.

That student, Indira Fernandez, had missed dozens of class sessions and failed to turn in numerous homework assignments, according to Mr. Lampros’s meticulous records, which he provided to The New York Times. She had not even shown up to take the final exam. She did, however, attend the senior prom.

Through the intercession of Ms. Geiger, Miss Fernandez was permitted to retake the final after receiving two days of personal tutoring from another math teacher. Even though her score of 66 still left her with a failing grade for the course as a whole by Mr. Lampros’s calculations, Ms. Geiger gave the student a passing mark, which allowed her to graduate.

Ms. Geiger declined to be interviewed for this column and said that federal law forbade her to speak about a specific student’s performance. But in a written reply to questions, she characterized her actions as part of a “standard procedure” of “encouraging teachers to support students’ efforts to achieve academic success.”

The issue here is not a violation of rules or regulations. Ms. Geiger acted within the bounds of the teachers’ union’s contract with the city, by providing written notice to Mr. Lampros of her decision.

No, the issue is more what this episode may say about the Department of Education’s vaunted increase in graduation rates. It is possible, of course, that the confrontation over Miss Fernandez was an aberration. It is possible, too, that Mr. Lampros is the rare teacher willing to speak on the record about the pressures from administrators to pass marginal students, pressures that countless colleagues throughout the city privately grumble about but ultimately cave in to, fearful of losing their jobs if they object.

Mr. Lampros has resigned and returned to his home state, Michigan. The principal and officials in the Department of Education say that he missed 24 school days during the last year for illness and personal reasons. He missed two of the three sets of parent-teacher conferences. He also had conflicts with an assistant principal, Antonio Arocho, over teaching styles. Mr. Lampros said all of this was true.

Still, Mr. Lampros received a satisfactory rating five of the six times administrators formally observed him. He has master’s degrees in both statistics and math education and has won awards for his teaching at the college level..

“It’s almost as if you stick to your morals and your ethics, you’ll end up without a job,” Mr. Lampros said in an interview. “I don’t think every school is like that. But in my case, it was.”

The written record, in the form of the minutely detailed charts Mr. Lampros maintained to determine student grades, supports his account. Colleagues of his from the school — a counselor, a programmer, several fellow teachers — corroborated key elements of his version of events. They also describe a principal worried that the 2006 graduation rate of 72.5 percent would fall closer to 50 or 60 percent unless teachers came up with ways to pass more students.

After having failed to graduate with her class in June 2006, Miss Fernandez, who, through her mother, declined to be interviewed, returned to Arts and Technology last September for a fifth year. She was enrolled in Mr. Lampros’s class in intermediate algebra. Absent for more than two-thirds of the days, she failed, and that grade was left intact by administrators.

When second semester began, Miss Fernandez again took the intermediate algebra class, which fulfilled one of her graduation requirements. According to Mr. Lampros’s records, she missed one-third of the classes, arrived late for 20 sessions, turned in half the required homework assignments, failed 11 of 14 tests and quizzes, and never took the final exam.

Two days after the June 12 final, Miss Fernandez told Mr. Lampros that she had a doctor’s note excusing her from school on the day of the exam, he said. On June 18, she asked him if she had failed the class, and he told her she had.. The next day, the principal summoned Mr. Lampros to a meeting with Miss Fernandez and her mother. He was ordered, he said, to let her retake the final.

Mr. Arocho, the assistant principal, wrote in a letter to Mr. Lampros that Miss Fernandez had a doctor’s note, issued March 15, permitting her to miss school whenever necessary in the spring. Mr. Arocho did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

There is such a note, issued by Dr. Jason Faller, but it excused absences “over the last three months” — that is, the period between mid-December and mid-March. In a recent interview, Dr. Faller said he saw Miss Fernandez only once, in March, and confirmed that his excuse note covered absences only before March 15.

For whatever reason, school administrators misinterpreted the note and told Mr. Lampros that Miss Fernandez would be allowed to retake the final — and to retake it after having two days of one-on-one tutoring by another math teacher, an advantage none of Mr. Lampros’s other students had, he said.

Mr. Lampros, disgusted, did not come to school the next two days. Miss Fernandez meanwhile took the test and scored a 66, which still left her far short of a 65 average for the semester. Nonetheless, Mr. Arocho tried to enter a passing mark for her. When he had to relent after objections by the teachers’ union representative, Mr. Lampros was allowed to put in the failing grade. Ms. Geiger promptly reversed it.

Samantha Fernandez, Indira’s mother, spoke on her behalf. “My daughter earned everything she got,” she said. Of Mr. Lampros, she said, “He needs to grow up and be a man.”

From Michigan, Mr. Lampros recalled one comment that Mrs. Fernandez made during their meeting about why it was important for Indira to graduate. She couldn’t afford to pay for her to attend another senior prom in another senior year.

E-mail: sgfreedman@nytimes.com

6 comments:

knicksgrl0917 said...

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Joanthan said...

We will see more and more of this now that 55% of the school's report card "grade" is based on the number of students who accumulate credits "on-time" that is 10 credits/year.

Amber B. said...

This sort of thing happens far too often and throughout all levels of education. In my mind one of the most unfortunate aspects of this type of situation is that it diminishes the value of the degrees and/or accomplishments of all the other students when a peer is allowed to "pass" without having earned it.

Anonymous said...

Another result of this kind of act, is that the teachers authority is further diminished. Then administrators do observations and write about classroom management concerns. What authority do teachers have left? Students Know that all they have to do is go to the principal and the teacher will be called to task, NOT THE STUDENT. THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS...

Polo Colon said...

Would this surprise anybody in a system that lauds, applauds and commends inept and incompetent "administrators-gone-wild" who engage in "administrative terrorism"? (*regarding the story after these comments.)

This parent and child have obviously seen this arbitrary and capricious system at work. What would you expect from a parent who knows that the system is corrupt? That it's all about favoritism and nepotism for criminals in this monopolistic system who are running the asylum with lots of "get-out-of-jail-free" Trump cards!

After all, the mayor should have known that he could not constitutionally do away with the citizen's right to vote for five years for the way their tax money was spent on education, but he did!
And therefore, the handpicked and appointed Panel for Educational Policy are illegal, while one of their members, Joel Klein, is breaking state law by working without having a contract, as mandated by law!
(Also, have a look at the case, Kramer v Union Free School District, 1969, US Supreme Court decision of Chief Justice Earl Warren!)

(***For more information on the above, go to www.parentadvocates.org : "The Department of Education is a Sham and Michael Bloomberg is the Flim-Flam Man".)

Chaos will breed chaos, What you have here is the classic getthover policy of the micromanaged system that looks only for the bottom line, and good numbers at all cost!

The problem is: who's accountable at the DOE? And to whom do they report for observation?

Oh, they run good spin doctor's numbers to "prove" phony gains, but where is the protest and the outrage? I have gone to many a UFT and Panel for Educational Policy meetings for the past year, and I can tell you that practically the whole City of New York, with the exception of one group of very vocal parents who appeared at one PEP meeting in late winter, are all sycophants of the fraud firm of Bloomberg, Klein and Weingarten! Either they support them out of fear for losing their source of income, or they are bought off, or they are naive, ignorant or stupid to believe the fraud firm's propaganda and outright lies about the so-called success of this failed system!

(By the way, the collusion extends through these entities, just in case you didn't know: The DOE, SCI, OSI, DOI, UFT, NYSUT, CSA, most of the major newspapers and much of the Judicial System!)

On July 16th, I asked Joel Klein at the PEP's meeting: "How can you do this? How can you whitewash the abject and widespread failure of the Department of Education to the Black and Hispanic students, parents and their community?"

Joel Klein's response to me was: "There is no whitewash."
So he lies once again, but at least he didn't deny the widespread failure!

When the Nazi's took hold, most people dared not rise up to oppose them!

They're taking your/our rights!

Yes, they are!

So, where's the outrage, where's the voice in the wilderness, where's the protest, and where the heck is the solidarity?

Polo Colon

Son Of Unity said...

Seriously, does ICE even serve a real purpose other than to drive a wedge within our union? Has ICE ever accomplished anything worthy of mention? And no, a sham presidential candidate in the last election, shoddy quality YouTube films, and heckling during the Delegate Assembly doesn't count.

-Son Of Unity, the next generation
I'll be back!