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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letters to the editor: Letters from the community may be submitted to

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Editorials

School critique comes up short

To the Editor,

The article, “Giving bad schools an ‘F,’” by Alex Self (March 19, 2010) fails to consider the fundamental structural causes behind the Central Falls High School debacle. Self correctly notes that Central Falls is a city of few resources, yet he does not extend this observation to understand the failings of the school system.

Let me explain. Given that Central Falls’ perennial financial woes have only been exacerbated by the national financial crisis and that the city budget depends on tax revenue, it is clear why the city makes minimal investments in the school system. So, Self’s apparent solution that “we should provide fully funded schools for these children… we should subsidize good grades” ignores the limitations imposed by desperately small financial resources.

I commend Self’s awareness of the various circumstances of students, which impacts their school performance. Having worked with students from Central Falls High School for two summers in a college preparatory program, I can attest that these kids have the potential and motivation to exceed these circumstantial and structural obstacles more often than not. Indeed, among the several metropolitan schools of Rhode Island, Central Falls High produces some of the best students I have worked with. This observation defies Self’s generalization that, “Education is usually not their main prerogative.” Self admits that he has never even met anyone from Central Falls. What experience, then, has informed this gross generalization?

As for the teachers, I know professional educators in Rhode Island who praise the teaching quality at Central Falls High. Given the characteristics of the city and its population, these teachers are fighting the odds. Self’s claim that they are inexperienced is unfounded. The City’s decision to fire the faculty was based on contractual disputes between the union and the city, as the city threatened to impose controversial NCLB restructuring plans that would require teachers to put in extra unpaid time. The decision to fire the teachers is not due to their incompetency. It is a union-busting tactic on the part of the Superintendent. In fact, the City’s plan is not to hire all new teachers but rather to rehire 50 percent of the former faculty. Therefore, the same so-called “incompetent” teachers will be back, but only fewer of them. This is an effort to break the union. We would probably agree, however, that teacher-student ratio is an important element of a quality education.

The City’s plan has less to do with improving the school and more to do with cutting the budget in a time of crisis. Central Falls is simply the worst case scenario of something happening across the state. I agree with Self that any solution to our schools’ failings must be creatively targeted at the structural causes. Instead of Self’s suggestions, however, I would propose extensive federal and state funding grants to struggling schools with pedagogical and administrative decisions staying in the hands of the City and school community. Furthermore, before drawing his conclusions, perhaps Self should visit the community in question.

Ned Crowley

Facilities not to blame

To the Editor,

I write in response to the recent editorial piece, “Rains generous, Facilities not so much” (March 19, 2010). I was disappointed in this piece, and particularly in the remark that while students were coping with flooding issues, “you [presumably facilities workers] returned to your homes dry and safe. And even if your homes flooded, you probably had a wet vacuum to clean it up.” In the same article that calls for greater sympathy for students facing the difficulties brought on by the recent weather, the writers extend no sympathy, but rather a snide accusation to the people responsible for the hard work of dealing with overwhelmed storm water management systems, aging buildings and certainly more work orders than can be processed at once.

Did any of the writers of this article look into how many work orders were filed during the flooding, or how many people are on the facilities staff at Brandeis?

I have worked on a college grounds crew (not precisely analogous, I recognize) and have dealt with demands from facility users who assume you can be everywhere at once and that you have nothing else to do but address their particular personal concern, and immediately.

Are the problems the article refers to really a case of callous negligence or inadequate resources, (human, equipment, and infrastructure) to deal with what the piece correctly cites as a “state of emergency?” I have heard from students that there were flooding incidents in the Mods, the Shapiro dorm and the Village and have seen for myself that there was flooding in the library. Do the writers of this article imagine facilities workers were sitting around drinking coffee while all this was happening? With the extent of the flooding in the greater Boston area, extra help to deal with these problems must be in short supply. The piece does not consider the possibility that the staff was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work to do.

I hope to see better work from The Hoot in the future.

Chris Payson ’10