Principal David Newman
Asst. Principal Kelly Nottingham
Executive Superintendent Karen Watts
Superintendent Janice Ross
July 1, 2020
Dear Principal Newman, Ms. Nottingham, Ms. Watts and Ms. Ross,
My son and other students at Brooklyn Tech have endured abysmal treatment and woefully inadequate education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The failings of Brooklyn Tech to meet its students’ needs are endemic of a broken system that protects teachers and administrators over students, many of whom are vulnerable.
I am a teacher in the New York City Public School System and a member of the United Teachers Federation (UFT). I am well aware of union rules governing what teachers can and cannot be made to do during the pandemic. Fortunately for teachers, we have protections. The truly important language that protects teachers can be found in the recent Memorandum of Agreement that states that teachers are to fulfill their remote teaching responsibilities “to the extent possible” given the circumstances of the pandemic. Teacher ratings have been suspended - no teacher can be given a failing rating at this time, no matter how they treat their students, or how poorly they meet their students’ needs.
Try to imagine the outrage when the public is informed that, “to the extent possible,” has been interpreted by Brooklyn Tech’s administration and staff to mean that absolutely no direct teaching of students is required. Of my son’s seven teachers, six have conducted exactly ZERO ONLINE SECONDS of synchronous instruction. As you know, the NYS Common Core Standards in virtually every academic subject require students to meet state standards in listening and speaking. But listening and speaking can not occur if teachers are not engaging their students in any synchronous learning. This means that the majority of my son’s teachers have implemented, tested and graded my son in curricula that does not allow him any opportunity to meet NYS standards. My son and others like him, have been expected to learn complex, high level science courses, advanced languages, and calculus entirely on their own, without any instruction whatsoever. If they cannot do this, they face failing grades. Meanwhile Brooklyn Tech’s teachers, the school and the public school system in general are held entirely unaccountable for their own failure to meet the educational needs of students.
There are rules governing grading policy for this school year. According to the UFT’s policy on remote learning, students were not meant to be penalized for failing to participate fully in remote learning “for reasons outside of their control.” A child who fails an ineptly taught course and must attend summer school is indeed being penalized. Administrators should have been aware of this situation and taken steps to rectify it long ago, but instead, they have allowed students to fall through the cracks through a lack of oversight.
Of course, the true test of whether Tech is adhering to a fair grading policy is whether the overall school grade point average for the final report card for this year is substantially similar to the overall school grade point average of the final report card of the previous year. I am certain that this is not the case. I am also certain that many more students are failing and are being enrolled in summer school compared with previous years and that the failure rate of minority students and their enrollment in summer school is higher than that of white students. This supposition is borne out by current studies about student achievement:
(National Survey Tracks Impact of Coronavirus on Schools: 10 Key Findings)
(COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime)
In the current sociopolitical climate, please take a moment to reflect on how the public might receive this news, especially in light of the fact that New York City’s testing schools, the gem of the New York City Public School System, is failing its students and especially its minority students at a higher rate than ever before. For many of Brooklyn Tech’s minority students high school is the gateway to higher education. Tech’s current grading policy is endangering much more than our students’ GPAs. It is also endangering their most precious opportunity: the chance to get into a top notch college and university. In lieu of a standard and fair grading policy during remote learning, I would like to suggest that grades from the report card immediately before the closure should be carried forward to the end of the year.
I have spoken with many parents who share my concerns. Our children’s grades have declined dramatically since the New York City Public School System closure. These children are not the exception, but the rule. There are other pressing issues that many of us have encountered as well: the intense workload, the conflicting policies on late work, lack of consistency in where and how homework is posted, the errors in PupilPath, inadequate communication between the staff and the families of struggling students, just to name a few. All of these are important and need to be addressed before the schools open again in the fall. Parents and students need to be informed.
Under the current circumstances, I would suggest that parents, Brooklyn Tech’s administration, and the DOE begin a new conversation about fair grading policy for this year. I would also suggest that it is not only teachers who need to be protected from failure at this difficult time - students too, need these same protections until the teachers and schools can meet their needs.
Please know that this letter has been circulated to a number of Tech families who share my concerns. It will also be made public and will be forwarded to elected officials.