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.