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“Seat Time Credit” And Other Creative Forms of the Corruption of Education

In the last few months, teachers in New York City public high schools have begun to hear a new term from the lips of school principals and assistant principals, “seat time credit.”

Here at the UFT, we first heard the idea of “seat time credit” at a meeting with Department of Education officials early in the fall. They were explaining to us why they were closing down the night schools, and replacing them with school-based extended day programs. The exchange went something like this:

DOE: Schools know their kids the best, and they can put together programs which address their kids’ real needs, rather than sending them off to night schools where no one knows them. Schools are also more creative in designing these programs to fit the needs of their students.

UFT: How so?

DOE: One of the things our small schools discovered is that students need two things to receive credit for passing a course — seat time in a class and a passing grade. When a student attends a class regularly, but fails the course because he has low grades on tests and projects, he has still completed ‘seat time.’ He doesn’t need to retake the whole class to get credit. He can now do an independent study, or some special project, and get credit for the class that way.

UFT: Are you seriously telling us that a student who couldn’t master enough of the course material to pass the class when he attended it every day and had the benefit of direct instruction from the teacher is now going to learn that material on his own in an independent study?

Let’s just say that the DOE quickly changed the topic of discussion to the less than sterling passing rates in the night schools.

These days, many New York City high school teachers are receiving memos with passages such as the one below, written by the Principal of Wings Academy in the Bronx:

Concurrent options is a concept that is not new, however, it is based on what is commonly known as seat time. This means that if a student has taken a class for a whole semester, yet has been unsuccessful in their endeavors to achieve success (credit accumulation) in that time period, the class can be extended (i.e. a college incomplete) until you (the teacher) feel the student has met the class requirements to move on. This can be done in a number of ways: projects, readings, tests, independent study, et. al.

Even if you were not aware of the educratic hanky-panky around the idea of “seat time credit,” such a convoluted, edu-babble description of a student failing a course should immediately raise one’s suspicions that something less than complete rectitude was at work. That’s the import of George Orwell’s argument that bad political writing is invariably “the defense of the indefensible.” [Politics and The English Language]

Creativity does not stop with “seat credit time.” The Principal of Bronx Aerospace Academy has an intervention ready before the failure grade is even recorded. A memorandum to her faculty includes the following passage:

Provide failing students an opportunity to make up work by completing a project over the vacation. Projects should be comprehensive enough to award students a passing grade if they complete the assignment. If students are attending your class every day, they should be given the chance to pass.

For the non-teachers, let’s be clear about what this memorandum means. Johnny Aerospace has come to my Social Studies class everyday for the past four months. With a few weeks left in the term, he has not handed in a single homework, much less the class term paper, and his highest grade on a class exam has been 40%. As his teacher, I am now supposed to devise a vacation project that will give him the same course credit as a student who has completed his homework and his term paper, and has class exams averaging 85%.

So while the Mayor and the Chancellor preach about how they have eliminated social promotion from New York City schools, the DOE has a tacit policy of giving away credit to students who have failed a course.

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4 Comments:

  • 1 xkaydet65
    · Dec 19, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    This has been de rigeur in middle schools for years. We have had the Exit Project, a convoluted concoction of written report, visual, and oral presentations.
    If a student has failed the class in an area not governed by a standardized test, e.g. Soc St and Sci, he can pass the course by submitting a successful exit project, even if he failed four quarters.

    Additionally, middle school summer sessions in Soc St and Sci make no effort to present the currriculum. A series of I Search reports and attendance allows a passing grade.

    These techniques mean that a student can do little or no work for ten months and arrive in the same place as the student who comes everyday, works and struggles to get a 70 by meeting the challenge of seven classes a day. This isn’t only bad pedagogy. It’s not only unfair. It’s actually immoral!

  • 2 Persam1197
    · Dec 19, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    We had the same garbage at my school. A student who fails a class can take a PM school make-up class that has no attendance requirement since the student has already been to class. Most of the kids that fail my class already have attendance issues, so the assumption that they already have been present is a joke. A fuzzy film class can replace a core subject with some sort of “fun” project. If I were a kid, I’d fail on purpose to avoid real work. It’s just as bad as component restesting for the Regents which is so watered-down it’s scandalous.

  • 3 Peter Goodman
    · Dec 20, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    In the Kleinberg policy of “not so benign neglect” kids are enabled to graduate middle school although they have failed to meet promotional standards.

    They enter 9th grade without the skill sets that would allow them to succeed … they “fail” subject due to poor attendance, failing tests and failing to complete homework/projects. They simply do not have the literacy and numeracy skills to complete high school level work.

    Many of the 321 Empowerment Schools are adrift – inexperienced principals and inexperienced teachers … pair this with the “new” School Progress Reports in which a key metric is the percent of 9th graders who move to the 10th grade.

    The message is clear – Mr/Ms Principal, your “grade” will depend on moving 9th grader to 10th graders, or else!

    The DOE has coined the term “credit recovery,” until students have acquired skills they will not be able to master rigorous high school work … there no magic bullet … schemes to grant kids credit in spite of their failure to master skills is immoral …

    The answer has not changed: high quality school leadership and instruction, reasonable class size, intensive and accessable guidance and clinical services and a range of City/State and Federal programs to alleviate the wrenching pathlogy of poverty.

    Kleinberg is abetting corruption and is cruelly pushing kids off the end of the pier into a lifelong abyss of dispair.

  • 4 jd2718
    · Dec 20, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    At my DR’s meeting tonight, the Chapter Leaders from these two schools added a few more details. At one of them, before entering a failing grade for a student who has earned it, a teacher is required to document in writing five interventions (I am missing details here) that the teacher has already attempted.

    Sounds like the principal is trying to make it easier to just pass the kid (and in the end, who is being cheated more than the kid who is not being educated, who is being denied a second chance to learn the material, and who is being passed into a course that is harder and in which they have a much smaller chance of success).

    Oh, and Aerospace, when they do that farcical Empowerment Rating, is one of the highest rated schools in the city. Yeah, right.

    Jonathan