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Do Not Apply: The Bronx High School of Science

December 22, 2008 am31 12:50 am

There are good schools, bad schools, mediocre schools. But in New York City we have a handful of schools that are so poorly run, so out of control, with administrations that are so incompetent, mean, arbitrary, or vindictive, that getting a job in these schools often means ending your career before it starts. These schools are DNA: Do Not Apply.

tests worth 100 points were banned

And, today, Bronx Science is not as nice a place to work as it once was. But, more than that, and this is why I am writing, it is a place that new teachers should avoid coming to.

insisted that anytime we had to use the bathroom facilities, we had to make a announcement to the secretarial staff

Once…

The Bronx High School of Science was one of the best places to work in the entire Board of Education. It, along with Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, are New York City’s original three specialized high schools (there are now several additional small specialized high schools). It has graduated an enormous number of Westinghouse (now Intel) winners, students who have gone on to impressive careers in science, medicine, etc, Nobel laureates…

How did Bronx Science end up on this list?

A few events/conditions/changes/chain of events came together over the last few years. Taken alone, they don’t seem like much. But their total/cumulative effect was great:

  • New principal, immediately unpopular, reflexively autocratic
  • Staff, student body unafraid of showing contempt
  • Tradition of extra-contractual temporary hiring
  • Slightly elevated turn-over rates
  • Department chairs who mediated between administration and teachers were replaced

The short story is that the administration, frustrated by teachers who feel free to question that which should be questioned, and not having much leverage over senior teachers, has crashed down on newer teachers, in often unpredictable and erratic ways, making job security an issue.

Let’s try a slightly longer version of the story. (below the fold)

When Stanley Blumenstein retired in 2000, William Stark, the AP Social Studies became the interim principal. He applied for the permanent job, and the school supported him (I’m assuming through the usual pre-reform C-30). But the Board of Education delayed. They wanted a Nobel Laureate. And they delayed. And delayed. And Stark, tired of waiting, getting the message loud and clear, took a job on Long Island. To cover their asses, the Bd of Ed (or the Bronx Superintendant) pretended to offer Stark the job. They faked a fax timed two hours before he accepted the suburban job. And, as it turned out, Nobel laureates were not knocking down the door, lining up to apply. The Superintendent appointed instead the current principal, who had been the AP of Biology.

Bronx Science was not happy. The relationship was tense. The new principal was autocratic, arbitrary. It only got worse when, having been awarded an honorary PhD, the new principal insisted on using “Dr” in front of her name. What kind of doctor, with an honorary doctorate? A chemistry teacher, Bob Drake (no longer at BxHSS) had the answer: “Quack” In short order Quack buttons could be found all over the school. It was a revolt of disrespect, embarrassing, effective. A student from around that time tells the story nicely.

Let’s jump to another issue: hiring. Bronx Science gamed the official hiring system to create a special probationary category. One year and “sorry, you’ll need to go somewhere else” was more common here than at any other school in the City. How did this work?

Bronx Science was part of the SBO (School Based Option) hiring system. Theoretically a school in the SBO created criteria for every opening they had, the Board of Ed advertised the openings, and people applied for them. The school ran interviews, and of the people who met the qualifications, they hired the most senior. Notice, that’s not the most qualified. That’s not the best-connected. That’s not the senior candidate. It is, of those who meet the criteria established by the school, the most senior.

At Bronx Science, it was different. It often worked this way: post the position after the SBO interview period had ended, hire someone (often quite new) out of process, then put them through the SBO interview process the following Spring, using the intervening year, extra-contractually, as a probationary period. Most of those hired this way only lasted a year. In addition, Bronx Science often wrote its criteria in a way to favor a candidate they already had in mind.

How do I know these details? I am chapter leader in another school, where we used SBO hiring. I consulted the results of arbitrations to find out what was and was not considered ok to do. And Bronx Science accounted for more than half the decisions I needed to consult. No other school had its hiring appealed as often; no other school had its hiring overturned by arbitrators as often. It came to the point that the DoE was threatening to remove BxSci from the SBO process.

So, they hired in a way that increased turnover, and there was a smoldering war between everyone, teachers included, and an autocratic principal. Turnover, no surprise, rose. From the NY State report cards we learn that their turnover rate was about 15% as of a couple of years ago — a bit higher than that of Stuyvesant, a comparable school, but with double the proportion of brand new teachers. And it got worse. This posting from Parent Advocates discusses at length a rising turnover rate in Chemistry and English, and staff demoralization.

[private correspondence inadvertently found its way here. I’ve deleted it]

Change next hit the math department. Through the new principal’s tenure, math chairmen at Bronx Science mediated between administration and the interests of the department and the school. But a new AP was appointed last year, without a history at Science and without a very strong math background. The English stories were repeated. Teachers were screamed at. Observations of clearly fine lessons were rated unsatisfactory. Letters were written to file about picayune nonesense. And the nonesense! All tests would be collected in advance. Observations were surprise, without pre-observation conferences. In an interesting twist, tests worth 100 points were banned. Insecure in her lack of knowledge, and dependant completely on the (no longer new) principal, the AP’s autocratic style mirrored that from the top. Unable to effectively terrorize senior teachers, she went after new ones, driving them to leave the school (several moved to the suburbs), U’ing two obviously good math teachers.

But now the teachers fought back. They filed harassment charges last Spring, under Article 23 of our contract (Special Complaints). 20 of the 22 math teachers signed the complaint. But the AP fears only the principal, and the principal’s fortress mentality sees only winning and losing. This Fall they have continued harrassing the teachers who signed the complaint, giving U observations and writing ridiculous letters to file.

And so it goes. The turnover rate is approaching 20%, concentrated among newer teachers. One day the Bronx High School of Science will be returned to its proper condition. But today, please, do not apply.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2008 am31 5:00 am 5:00 am

    In an interesting twist, tests worth 100 points were banned.

    Could you explain this one in more detail?

  2. December 22, 2008 am31 6:48 am 6:48 am

    Here’s one of the early articles, May 2005, by Andy Wolf in the (now defunct) NY Sun.

  3. December 22, 2008 am31 6:50 am 6:50 am

    Actually, I started a “NO QUACK” campaign against Reidy by distributing a document (and buttons) to PARENTS that defined “quack” in the traditional way — someone who claims to have credentials but doesn’t, as “Dr” Reidy did. This came after she removed me from being a College Mentor, supposedly for shirking my duty and hurting students, and after she gave me a spate of U classroom ratings. This year senior students who appreciated my teaching as freshmen resurrected the No Quack campaign, culminating with the epoxying of thousands of yellow rubber duckies in the courtyard as a senior prank. I still live near Bronx Science but drive to CT every day where they appreciate what I do, both in the classroom and in my paycheck.

  4. December 22, 2008 am31 7:23 am 7:23 am

    Jason, I don’t know if I can explain it. I think math teachers got letters in their files for writing tests where the total available points were exactly 100.

    The AP has a theory, well, maybe that’s too positive a word. She’s convinced herself that tests worth 58 or 41 or 73 points are valid, but those worth 100 are not.

    I don’t know what they use, 75% of the grade is based on tests. So now we have, say 168 points possible, and a kid has earned (let’s make it easy) 144. Normal response: Kid has 144/168ths of the possible points, times 75%, means the kid has earned 64 points towards the grades (the other 25% coming from homework, participation, whatever)

    No, no, no, says the AP. Divide 168 by .75 to get a new denominator! Doesn’t matter who explains it to her (and it seems that she has her pick of at least 22 people who could clarify the arithmetic), she does not get that .75 \times \frac{144}{168} = \frac{144}{168 \div .75}

    This is as bad as the Verizon .01¢ ≠ $.01 embarrassment

  5. Anonymous permalink
    December 22, 2008 am31 10:47 am 10:47 am

    The Math AP is horrific. She has no class. She called one teacher ” a disgusting person” and never apologized. The math teachers are grieving cuts to the math program, schedules that make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn and tons of unneeded paperwork. 20 of 22 teachers signing a complaint says a lot. The Bx Sci faculty had a resolution supporting them against working in a hostile work environment. The math teachers are always upset. I know many of them and talk to them. Reidy couldn’t care less.

  6. December 22, 2008 am31 11:03 am 11:03 am

    Bob,

    thanks for the correction.

    Not knowing, today I left a duck-related comment on this blog. Lewis Carrol proving that none of his poultry are officers, or something like that.

    Were you longterm at Science? And do you agree that things have gotten worse for teachers, even in the last 2-3 years?

    Jonathan

  7. December 26, 2008 pm31 10:21 pm 10:21 pm

    I stumbled upon this site to see what has been happening with my old high school and its sad to see what a mess that idiot woman has created. I was a student there from Fall ’99 and graduated in June ’02.

    I can remember the times when she started to make these ridiculous stupid rules. One of them I remembered was, no tank tops.

    Bronx Science lost a lot of great teachers. My sister ended having one of my teachers in Stuy.

    … The woman is nuts. No one liked her as a principal in 2002, and since then no one did.

  8. December 27, 2008 pm31 8:40 pm 8:40 pm

    Wow, that math AP, Rosemarie Jahoda, sounds like a really insensitive person—just read this article about an incident that happened when she was a teacher at stuy:
    http://stuyspectator.com/spectator/display.cgi?id=1224
    Doesn’t seem fitting that someone like that should lead the math department at a school like Bx. Science.

  9. Cut the Griping permalink
    January 10, 2009 am31 12:13 am 12:13 am

    JD2718, you blew it…

    Here it goes on the explanation of test grading. It’s inaccurate to say that tests worth 100 points were BANNED…It’s just a matter of being FAIR TO STUDENTS to make sure that one bad question doesn’t kill a grade.

    It’s that teachers should write a test, and then weight the questions, and then the points values for each question would reflect how many steps were in the question and not NECESSARILY add up to 100.

    Here’s a simple example…I give an algebra exam with 10 questions. Now, I have to give partial credit. If five of the equations had two steps and another five had three steps, I could say that the first five questions were worth 10 points each and the last five worth 15 points each. The test would be worth 125 points. I would record in my gradebook the total number of points earned and the total number of possible points (125). At the END OF THE SEMESTER, to compute a grade, divide the total number of earned points by the total number of possible points. That final number becomes the “test” portion of the grade.

    The math adds up…And if it adds up to 100 points, that would be perfectly acceptable.

  10. Jen permalink
    January 10, 2009 pm31 11:25 pm 11:25 pm

    But if you compute it that way, the tests are weighted differently. You could have a 45 point test and a 90 point test and the 90 pt test is worth twice as much. This doesn’t seem fair. Shouldn’t each full period test have the same weight? Also, I assume the students wouldn’t know in advance how many points the future exams would be, so if I do better on the later exams and they happen to be worth less points, then it would be harder for me to bring up my grade. It sounds like this math AP doesn’t really understand percent!

  11. January 10, 2009 pm31 11:43 pm 11:43 pm

    Also, there is a fairly mechanical approach here: 1 step is worth X points.

    Getting point values right is a pain in the ass. I work hard at it. And I think about it. A lot.

    In some cases I intentionally overvalue a few “gimme” questions up front, to help raise the grades to (40, 50?) before the tougher questions separating the students kick in.

    I often think about what the minimum acceptable amount of skill is. The pass point should represent something, shouldn’t it?

    And I often ‘overvalue’ tests, that is, I make them harder than one would expect elsewhere, but recognize that by making the total number of points available exceed, by a bit, 100 (universal denominator)

    Finally, I also give quizzes worth somewhere between 10 and 30 points. They take less than a full period (and this confirms that I use Jen’s approach, as well, in thinking about point values)

  12. Cut the Griping permalink
    January 12, 2009 am31 5:41 am 5:41 am

    Wait…So we’re agreeing that we THINK about point values and value questions appropriately. Perhaps my example was “mechanical”, but in effect all that Ms. Jahoda has asked teachers to do is think about point values, assign logical point values, and then compute a total numerator (points earned) and denominator (point available) at the end of the semester.

    It might not be the way you would prefer to do it, and people who would rather run venomous blogs than construct tests and lessons probably consider it a pain in the ass….but she’s the boss

  13. January 12, 2009 am31 6:37 am 6:37 am

    1. I don’t work there.
    2. She banned 100 point tests. That’s not what you’ve said. Twice.

    100 point tests are most easily understood by parents, students, and yes, teachers. We carefully assign points to each question, preserving both the 100 and the overall fairness.

    Sounds thoughtful to me. And smart. Not like the nonsense you are defending.

  14. nick permalink
    January 13, 2009 pm31 6:09 pm 6:09 pm

    bronx science sucks ass, the administrator’s are a bunch of idiot’s

  15. Another "disgruntled" employee permalink
    January 14, 2009 am31 1:37 am 1:37 am

    jd,

    I don’t know any of these people but I can find some logic in not giving tests worth 100 pts. Too often, we as teachers, try to simplify matters by designing tests out of 100–just so that everyone understands the results. You have pointed this out already.

    Sometimes when we do this, we end up giving too many points (or too little points) for particular questions. The point values for each question should be based on degree of difficulty, but sometimes in the interests of making things easier to grade, it doesn’t always work out that way. I have been guilty of this.

    I also don’t think you should necessarily ban 100 point tests unless it can be shown that teachers aren’t assigning point values carefully–which I would bet most aren’t doing. This is especially true if you use a test generator.

    I doubt very seriously that administrators are going to look at every question on every test given by every teacher (even if they were qualified to do so) so the easy way out is to simply ban 100 point tests. In a way, this forces teachers to look at each question closely and assign point values carefully.

    • January 14, 2009 am31 3:58 am 3:58 am

      These people make their own tests and are thoughtful. But if you had a lazy teacher, and you banned 100? You’d get lots of 16 question tests, 6 points each. Anything gained?

      On the last three tests I gave, three different courses (comp time, I’m supposed to pick up stray preps):

      15 questions, 7 points each, 3 bonus questions worth up to 3 points each

      5 questions worth 6, followed by 1 worth 12 (3 parts, two details per part), 2 worth 10 each, finally 6 worth 8 each. One very hard bonus.

      5 sections, 20 points each. The sections had different numbers of questions, ranging from the first section with 5 short questions, to the last section, with 1 big question. And of course, some bonus…

      And I think that many math teachers treat their stuff similarly, and this is especially likely at Bronx Science.

      But more than that, you have to look at the point nonsense in the overall context of the harassement these teachers have been facing.

  16. October 23, 2009 am31 9:16 am 9:16 am

    I think that was floating in and out of my reading as well. ,

  17. January 19, 2010 pm31 9:45 pm 9:45 pm

    Sorry, none of that this week. The non-abusive stuff might eventually show up. Bye.

  18. Richard--Class of '68 permalink
    March 12, 2010 am31 11:31 am 11:31 am

    Holy smoke!
    A lot different from when Dr. Taffel was principal.
    The respect he commanded (and deserved) one might have thought him royalty.

  19. August 8, 2011 pm31 5:54 pm 5:54 pm

    An impressive share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing a little similar analysis on this. He actually purchased me breakfast because I discovered it for him.. smile.

  20. Harvey permalink
    September 15, 2011 pm30 1:38 pm 1:38 pm

    I did not attend Bronx Science, but rather another (then) excellent NYC HS. Schools are not the source of excellence in education. The source of excellence in education are a nexus of great, dedicated, empowered and motivated teachers and the wonderful and talented students they educate, inspire and motivate.

    In the now worldwide competition for scientists and innovative engineers and technologists, the premiere science High School from America’s premiere City should not be handicapped by incompetent administration; it should exist where the administration of the school and every parent, voter, administrator and business in the city should be doing all it can to facilitate that learning experience.

    What’s wrong with education in America – Not the teachers here, not the students – it seems to be everyone else.

  21. September 15, 2011 pm30 1:56 pm 1:56 pm

    Still ongoing, this time with Social Studies as a flashpoint: http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2011/09/15/bronx-science-sees-exodus-of-social-studies-teachers/

    • Anonymous permalink
      September 16, 2011 pm30 5:52 pm 5:52 pm

      The Bronx Science Social Studies Department situation deserves a separate thread. It speaks to an ongoing conversation on this site.

  22. Anonymous permalink
    December 7, 2011 pm31 5:38 pm 5:38 pm

    I graduate from Bronx Science in 1996. There -were- excellent teachers there and no doubt still are, but my stomach turns every time I think back on that place. The school is up to its forehead in politics and fights over what amount to nothing.

    Certainly you need to be challenged in that kind of program, but it was made 100 times more difficult for me than it needed to. I was one of the students who was middle of the road – I was not an ARISTA, nor was I failing. I was an average pupil by the school’s standards and when I did need a small amount of help from teachers or administration, whether academically or bureaucratically, they showed no interest. I wasn’t ARISTA or winning prizes for them at Westinghouse, so I didn’t mean shit. Just another face to take up space.

    Is there currently a Blumenstein cult amongst grads from that period? I had that conceited little prick for chemistry in my sophomore year. He embarrassed me twice during lab sessions, without good reason (I’ve never been embarrassed like that before or since). I wish I’d punched the dirty bastard.

  23. March 17, 2014 pm31 2:39 pm 2:39 pm

    Bronx science ap guidance wears fur scarfs and is a ego maniac who is incompetent and most educators have said that this woman is a neophyte on egg shells who is hated by staff, students and other educators. Do not go to this school which is despised by new yorkers and the only reason they teachers and staff do well is that they have the best students in nyc its not that they have “great”administrators….actually,their ap guidance is a complete joke and deserves to be deported back to either china, korea or japan wherever she came from and brought over her ill fated piece of shit mentality.

Trackbacks

  1. More about Bronx Science: Special Complaint « JD2718
  2. Bronx Science Math Department woes in Daily News « JD2718
  3. Bronx Science math teachers finally get their day « JD2718
  4. Scores rise at “Do Not Apply” school – your reaction? « JD2718
  5. Bronx Science and the Storm Within « Another Note in the Cacophony

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