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Principal Pulls Rank, Teacher Quits

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According to a New York Times article, Austin Lampros, a New York City math teacher, resigned from his teaching post at the High School of Arts and Technology in Manhattan this year after the school’s principal altered a student’s grade so she could graduate. Lampros told the Times that, although the student rarely attended class, failed to turn in homework assignments, and even missed the final exam, a school administrator gave her special treatment and a passing grade. When a representative from the teachers’ union complained, Lampros was permitted to fail the student. Using an override privilege granted by her contract, the principal reversed that student’s grade again. The article suggests that Lampros is one of many teachers in New York City who feels pressured by administrators to pass marginal students in order to boost declining graduation rates. “It’s almost as if you stick to your morals and your ethics, you’ll end up without a job,” he said.

41 Comments

Actually, the principal has a long record for doing this kind of thing. I should know, because I worked for her 15 years ago.

This is the society our country has chosen to live with: Poor choices and laziness. Look at who is sitting in the White House. (twice) Is it any wonder Bill Gates has implored US immigration to restructure upward work permits for the highly computer literate. We should be ashamed of public education and especially of this high school principal. When will we ever learn?

Based on reading the article, it appears the situation was not handled well by anyone involved, including Mr. Lampros. My intention is not to bury Mr. Lampros but the article did not mention what interventions he took before turning to the media. Did he communicate with the student or family regarding the attendance or academic performance of the student? Did he inform school guidance? Did he offer to tutoring students having difficulty? Also, by quiting Mr. Lampros becomes part of the problem as well. What about the majority of students who attend class, work hard and earn passing grades? They lost an award winning Math teacher. As a former certified and tenured teacher I had to find ways to pass "marginal" students at the behest of school administration several times during my career. However, quiting was not the answer in my case. Sometimes you have to play the game to change the game.

After reading my comment it appears I needed to proofread my remarks before posting them. I apologize to my fellow educators. :(

So the teacher's union complains and the principal is able to get away with it through a loophole in the contract? That's makes all the sense in the world...

It does look as though there is more to know before anyone jumps onto any bandwagons. Student is absent for exam--whether sick or not--and receives tutoring before being allowed to retake the test.

How someone feels about that depends a good deal on what they think the purposes of the test/grade/graduation are. If they are to ensure a population that can be relied upon to know certain basics, the only question should be, why aren't more students being offered one-on-one tutoring to ensure it?

If these things are some kind of a reward for toeing the line for four years, or a sorting mechanism used because the labor supply is too plentiful, then by all means stick to the rules and make them as complex and varied as individual teachers prefer.

It is very hard to look at this situation and not note that the teacher recorded 24 absences during the year--2 of them in a fit of temper because his supervisor didn't let him have his way. It is interesting to think about whether this story might look differently in another neighborhood, school and family--one with greater resources, power and influence.

I think that the child should have been allowed to fail the math class and go to summer school . The student could then earn the right to graduate.Quiting was not a solution however the teacher was probably very frustrated. The teacher principal, parents and a counselor should have had a conference to discuss the child's performance. I am sure that the teacher notified the child via a progress report that he was failing . Usually these reports are also sent home however, a list of potential failures for each senior should be compiled by the counselors and sent home with a request for a conference.

I fail to see how this principal's actions have anything to do with the president of our country. As professionals, one should not let his or her hatred toward a political figure become a part of a completely different topic.

I was really moved by, "sometimes you have to play the game to change the game." Indeed. To all of you educators in NYC, my heart goes out to you as it seems that there is always bad news coming from that area. Ineffective educators cannot be dismissed, principal's overiding a teacher's grades, etc.

However, the grade changing seems to happen in many more places than just NYC to be very fair. I can understand why this loophole was put into place, to circumvent malicious teachers, but in such an incident as being written about here, it is an abhorent abuse of power. Again, there are many facts that we do not know but on the surface, I support the teacher.

Lastly, fellow educators, whether you dislike or like the president, keep your political opinions to yourself unless you are discussing them within the proper environment.

About 20 years ago, I had a similar situation occur, an honor student who failed my Analytic Geometry class. When I was told by the department head that administration was considering passing her because children from her family, "just don't fail classes", I informed the administrator that if it were to happen, then I would be delivering all of my homework papers and tests to him to grade, since he was going to make the final determination, anyway. It didn't happen.

In March of this year, 1.4 million dollars was awarded to a teacher who stood firm on a grade in Baton Rouge, LA. The teacher filed a lawsuit after the administrators forced a grade change. Citing "academic freedom" the court ruled in favor of the teacher in determining the final grade. I don't understand how this principal's contract could give her the authority to change the grade when the courts historically have supported the teachers unless the teacher was found to be incompetent.

Our district has a policy in place that says a teacher has the final say on a grade. As a principal, I meet with teachers to discuss ways we can intervene to prevent failures, and I do expect intervention to occur, but the teacher always has the final say on the grade. Perhaps Mr. Lampros could have appealed to the board and fought for a change in policy to support teachers rather than walking away.

Just to offer a point of clarification on the President. Terry asked that political opinions be confined to the proper environment.

If one reads the tail end of the story, it is stated that pressure is being applied to pass marginal students in order to produce declining graduation rates. A school's Graduation rate is one of the criteria used to assess Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB is part of President Bush's agenda. So, this would indeed be the proper environment to speak on the President and his policies.

Sadly NY is not the only place this happens. I have had students who have had excessive absenteeism, did not make up missing assignments, refused to work in class, and I have notified the students, parents, counselors, and adminsitration of the students lack of effort. I stay after school one night a week to offer assistance to all my students, and all my students have my home telephone number so they may receive help with homework (I teach middle school math). I have had students who have failed my class, and one or two other classes, the students were recommended for summer school, did not attend summer school, but were administratively promoted to high school. It is very frustrating knowing the students are going to high school unprepared. There is only so much a teacher can do, but I continue on for the majority of students knowing I can make a difference. The students who come to me for additional help make significant improvement on their standardized test schore (FCAT), and those who like the student in the article, scores go down or stay near the same level, teachers should not be judged on this one test that with some students the results are out of their control (I had 12% of students with excessive absences and missing assignments this past year).

Why is everything in this country that goes wrong President Bush's fault? Did Bush encourage the principal to pass the student? NO! Just because the NCLB policy is his program doesn't mean that he is at fault over a principal who has no professionalism or ethics.

Every teacher hands out a syllabus explaining what will be studied, when, and what the class expectations are. Every student receives papers, quizzes, tests, and projects back to them graded, usually with comments, and many of us post grades with student ID numbers weekly. So, students are aware of how well they're doing in a class. Every student has the opportunity to come in during office hours, before and after school, and at lunch, to get feedback on grades, and tutoring when necessary. Students who choose to come to class tardy, to skip class, to blow off tests, students who fail to complete projects, and then choose not to come in for remidation, have made bad choices that will effect their ability to graduate. We call these "natural consequences." Students who get coddled and enabled by parents and educators through high school, are often shocked when college professors, or their bosses in the workplace, fail them for missing due dates, or fire them for an inability to demonstrate a proper work ethic. If we're truly interested in doing what's best for kids, then forget failure rates and how emotionally distraught the child and parents will be, and make them realize their actions have consequences. Better they learn it now, than have them flunk out of college or fail to maintain employment.

Having worked in both public and private education, I can safely say that the pressure to pass students is not limited to public education. Parents who pay upward of $30K for their child’s schooling expect their children to pass. Administrators in these institutions expect teachers to be available for extra help, contact parents regularly, etc. Teachers are often pressured to add a few points so that the student can pass. Whether in pubic or private education, teachers will face the type of students that Mr. Lampros had in his class: the student who rarely attends class or sleeps in class (the boarding school variety); the student who rarely turns in homework – even with constant friendly reminders and calls to the parents; and yes, even the student who fails to appear for the semester exam. Sometimes we discuss ways to motivate students and undiagnosed learning issues, but the bottom line is that more often than not the student’s real issues are not addressed. Instead, we pat the student’s hand and tell him that he will graduate because we are at a loss. We will make it happen for him. The student is no longer an active participant in his education. In effect, the student is powerless because we are making decisions for him. Obviously, we must think he is stupid. Obviously, he can’t do it on his own.

He is “unmotivated”? I wonder why. What has the student really learned about education at his school? I think that the student has learned that we really don’t care about him because if we really did, we would allow him to fail. We would allow him to learn from his mistakes; we would give him the tools to become more resilient; and we would allow him to take control of his own life.

After reading the comments listed thus far, I am encouraged to find so many colleagues with whom I am in concert as to the disservice we are currently doing to our students.
While I understand Mr. Lampros' frustration, I'm not sure I would have quit. That being said, I also wonder how "A Parent" came by so much personal information as to his absences.
Be that as it may, I'm not sure what it will take to create the 'wake-up call' that this country needs in terms of its public education system. I don't think the problem is lack of dedicated teachers; blogs like this prove that. I don't even think the problem is lack of concerned parents; although I would love to see more present on campus.
But, there is a prevailing lack of motivation among students, coast to coast, that no one seems to know how to resolve. We do coddle them through elementary grades, whisk them through a "social promotion" out of middle school (in CA, anyway) then slam them in high school with laws that regard them as adults, and exit tests that keep them from graduating.
Whatever happened to holding students back? If they are made accountable in elementary grades, they will understand the consequences of their actions while they still have time to remedy them.
If they don't pass in middle school, hold them back.
I completely agree with Scott/CO - we are not teaching them the responsibility they will need in college or the workplace. Maybe we don't need to, though...I recently read that now, more than ever, kids are not leaving home after high school or college. Maybe it is a new world.

The principal certainly is at fault for overstepping her authority. Yet, when faced with the reality that because of NCLB, educators can lose their jobs for situations that are beyond their control, particularly with regard to principals, schools and administrations all over the Country are making unethical decisions. When faced with such an unethical policy as NCLB, some educators sadly decide to compromise ethics for the sake of job security. Sorry, but the President does not get a free pass here when he is the one that created such a landscape.

As Mr. Lampros said, "If you stick to your morals and your ethics, you'll end up without a job." Principals are faced with that same dilemma due to NCLB. Ultimately though, the students are the ones who lose out the most.

RobK suggests several things the teacher could have done. True, but learning is the student's responsibility. He failed. With sufficient crutches he might have struggled through, but pro-student discrimination by the teacher is not far different from the principal's error.

Teachers have limited time and energy. It is wasteful to rob their focus from the total class in order to prop up those who choose to not try.

The principal should be reprimanded, in writing, and in her permanent record. The student should be failed, as he earned, and Austin Lampros merits a national recognition for integrity.

The poignant question and/or concern here is not whether it was correct to promote or fail the student, but rather what measures were taken by the school in order to assist the student with his or her diverse needs. As society, it is unfortunate that we are so quick and preoccupied with failing students when we should really be encouraging them to succeed. I am against social promotion; however, I have to question a teacher who is so adamant to fail a student when he or she did not exhaust every resource available to help that given student...

Why does it seem that many people here seem bent on blaming the teacher (what steps did the teacher take to help the student, etc.)? Isn't it possible that no matter what interventions the teacher made (or did not made)the student would have still failed? Isn't it still true that the principal overrode the failure and let the student graduate? I say, instead of blaming the teacher, fault the principal for overstepping the boundaries. Why couldn't the student take the class during summer school and graduate in August? I applaud Mr. Lampros for sticking to his principles, though others are willing to lower standards for passing.

This just proves the grades mean nothing at times to Administrators or parents. Why not just eliminate grades and have everyone Pass/Fail???

I don't understand why anyone is surprised over the issue of principals overriding teachers...it's politics as usual, and schools are no better off playing the political game than anyone else...deal with it, because it will never get any better, and I've been teaching for over 18 years, and it has only gotten worse..thankfully, the primary benefit to teaching isn't to help students anymore, it's to ensure potential retirement without dwelving into poverty...you think Congressmen/women are there to help others? think more towards guaranteed retirement pensions and medical benefits fit for a king...speaking of King George...

Gee, wouldn't it be nice if ALL colleges responded by demanding all NYC students to take a math test to certify their math competency before admission, with the student paying the testing fee.

I'd like not to see the honest students penalized, but I'll bet there would be some changes made, and quick. ... like making the principal an assistant superintendent........

After reading this article I was not surprised. This occurs everyday in Philadelphia, but the union does not help its members. It seems that principals can do whatever they want and no one can do anything about it.

Being told to pass a failing student is not unusual in California. I no longer argue about it. My conscience is clear because I know that I've done everything I can for the student. Typically the student is one who is chronically absent, does no home work, etc., etc. Of course, we all know who is to blame for the student's failure: it's the teacher, never the student or the student's family. So, I give the student a D-. I figure that anyone reading the transcript knows how wortheless that 'passing grade' is. The other reason I give in is that when the failing student is a minority student, I'm immediately accused of racism if I don't pass him or her.

How does this help the student? It doesn't, we all know that. To cope with the irresponsible principals, who are legion, I try to focus on the rewards of teaching, and sometimes give myself a pat on the back for doing a great job.

Unlike many of us, Mr. Lampros is lucky to be in a position to quit. It shows his level of commitment and integrity, and his willingness to stand up and protest a wrong. Good for him. I wonder why we teachers must constantly prove what we have done to meet students' diverse needs? Why must we constantly defend ourselves? Why are we ALWAYS to blame when a student fails? Get real! We are not miracle workers, nor should we be expected to be.

One thing I'd like to add to the many wise voices here: Diplomas and graduation are set up as all-or-nothing scenarios. This creates problems that a range of diplomas could possibly alleviate.

FL Teacher, bless you. I'm a high school math and science teacher. I'm seeing an increasing number of students promoted from middle school who lack the most basic reading, writing, and analytical skills. In my pre-algebra class, I work with 15-18 year old students on basic fourth-grade math skills, such as long division. In the vast majority of cases, their difficulties are due not to unmet special learning needs, but lack of attendance and willingness to do any work at all.

Yes, administration pressures me to pass some of these kids on for graduation. But, as Scott from Colorado has pointed out, such kids don't learn responsibility and accountabilty for themselves, skills crucial for success in the work world (never mind college). And, as several posters have pointed out, the most dedicated teachers in the world, with the most innovative and engaging teaching methods, can't do the job alone. Effective learning is a three-way triangle: student, family/home/community, and teacher/school. There are times when I feel I'm burning out because I feel I'm going it alone (without the participation of the other two parts of the triangle).

Susan, the CA teacher asked how I knew so much "personal" information as the number of the teacher's absences. Quite simple, I clicked on the link to the original article and read it. Mr. Lampros confirmed the number of absences. It is this that makes me (and others) really wonder if everything that could be done was being done with this student. Certainly a good example for attendance was not set--you can't teach what you don't know.

Holding students back has long since been discounted as a remedy for school failure--generally making things worse rather than better. But it seems as though things have to be one way or the other. If we are about teaching students to toe the line and obey authority, than we acknowledge the authority of the principal to make decisions. If we think that consequences--like bad grades or failure--help to bring about change--then let's apply them across the board and hold schools and teachers accountable as well as students. Many teachers are hardworking and do wonderful things. Some are not. They are all paid the same and receive the same protections.

Mr. Lampros’ dilemma appears to have to have sparked a healthy debate. The article was written by Samuel Freedman, who writes a weekly column focusing primarily on educational issues for the NY Times. His articles usually appear every Wednesday. As a columnist, Mr. Freedman has the latitude to write subjectively. I generally enjoy his articles. I have even had the opportunity to exchange emails with him regarding another article that we had different viewpoints on.
On the surface this article seems unbiased. He points out the student’s as well as the teacher’s attendance. However, looking at the article critically it is clearly slanted to paint Mr. Lampros in a flattering light at the expense of the student, parent and administration. “Mr. Lampros is the rare teacher willing to speak about the pressures from administrators…, “according to his meticulous records”, “his records were minutely detailed…,”. By time you read about Lampros’ shortcomings you already see the student and principal as the bad guys and Lampros as a martyr. The student missed dozens of class sessions, failed to turn in numerous assignments, and did not even show up to take the final; she did attend senior prom. The “bully” principal now enters the story, and permits the student to take the final with personal tutoring. I didn’t even mention how the AP and student’s mother appear based on the way Freedman paints the picture. Not to worry, Freedman frames the pair in way consistent with the Lampros as martyr theme.
Even when pointing out criticisms of Lampros, Freedman made sure to balance it with positives. He missed 24 school days, including two of three parent-teacher conferences, and had conflicts with an AP over teaching styles. Immediately Freedman mentions his master’s degrees, awards for teaching, and the satisfactory ratings Lampros received. Freedmen failed to provide no one else in the article with similar symmetry.
I must restate again that I am not trying to blame the teacher for the events that occurred. However, I still believe that the situation was not handled well by anyone involved, including Mr. Lampros. I’m not blaming Lampros for what happened but let’s not erect a statue in his honor yet. He has to bear some ownership in this matter.
Marvin M. stated that “Teachers have limited time and energy. It is wasteful to rob their focus from the total class in order to prop up those who choose to not try.”
I agree with that particular statement made by Marvin M., although I disagree with Marvin’s opinion about learning being the sole responsibility of students. However, Mr. Lampros’ actions appear to contradict the statement we agree on. It seems as if he quit as a result of focusing on one student instead of the total class. I understand his frustrations but, I find it difficult to make Mr. Lampros a martyr when he had the equivalent of a temper tantrum and quit. Mr. Lampros’ actions left many children behind.
On the subject of NCLB, I’m not a supporter of President Bush but the manipulation of grades and graduation rates was a problem way before “W” was selected.
I enjoyed reading many of the comments posted, and I think web based discussions on issues like this are very enlightening. I’m pleased to see a diversity of opinions expressed. If we all thought alike we wouldn’t think. With that being said, I still find it disconcerting that some in our ranks would admire and even exalt Lampros’ action. “Unlike many of us, Mr. Lampros is in a position to quit, it shows his level of commitment and integrity, and his willingness to stand up and protest a wrong. Good for him.” I believe a teacher who feels that way should reassess their commitment to the profession. Those comments reek of someone yearning to get over, not better. Marty’s comment about passing minority students to avoid being accused of racism troubled me as well. Do you have the same expectations for students regardless of ethnicity or gender?
All professions have forms of accountability. Why should education be any different? We should be willing and able to justify any grade a student earns in a class that we teach.
I know if I had quit early in my career after facing dilemmas similar to Mr. Lampros, I would have missed out on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of numerous students during my tenure in the classroom.

For those following the Florida thread regarding middle school: Florida enacted a law this year that effects all 6th and 7th grade students this coming school year (and the entire middle school the following year.) The students must have passing grades in all core subjects for all three years or they cannot be sent on to high school. Any student failing 2 or more core academic classes need summer school. Any failing 3 or more have to repeat the entire grade. The emphasis is now on middle school to make sure they are prepared for high school. Of course, this creates its own problems with a possible bottleneck occurring in 8th grade, and those students getting too old for middle and dropping out, but at least that won't be counted in the drop out rate! ;-)
Helen

We have the same problem with our principal. He passes students on to the next grade regardless of the fact teachers have failed the students for the year. SAT meetings are held all year to help determine how to best help these students become more successful, but, when the student fails the year, the principal disregards the SATS and sends the students on. He wants everyone to pass--pressure is put on teachers to modify grades to passing. You know, help the student to get that "D", so he or she can pass.

What is actually in a grade? Is grading a subjective process? Are grades the end of all? How significant are grades? Is it possible for a failing math student to succeed in life? Do we place too much faith in grades? Does an A student achiveve more in life than a D student?

Many teachers unions have contracts that contain specific language regarding grade changes by administrators.
Does NYC have that language in its teacher contract? If so, perhaps the teacher should have considered discussing this problem with union representation. Contracts are collectively bargained and if this is an issue, bargain for different language in the contract. It can be tiresome to listen to complaints filed by teachers when what they might want to do first is read their contract.

We don't have enough information on the situation described to understand all the issues. As a teacher, I have never had anyone question my grades. They are well documented and communicated. Students knew where they stood weekly and were offered extra help on a regular basis. Parents got a postcard every time a student was failing for 2 weeks in a row and they got a post card once a month with absences for the previous month. I gave more incompletes than I give Fs.

Some of you might think that I was too easy – no, I was just more concerned about “learning” than grades. I also didn’t accept less than C work. Anything less then a C was a ZERO and required make-up. I always made sure the make-up assignment was more work, than the original assignment.

However, AS A PARENT, I have forced a Principal to change a grade from an incompetent teacher. The teacher had NO grades in the grade book to back up her grade. Her grading system was based on how she “felt” the day that grades were due. The teacher reduced my child’s grade for expressing her informed and intelligent opinion in class. Of course the teacher had lots of problems and the next semester was on her way out of the classroom.

On the other hand I do understand the frustration of the teacher. I was frequently fighting with administration about lots of different issues. I ended up leaving the classroom because the administration would not let me teach the way I wanted to teach. I was expected to “conform” and be like everyone else.

It's interesting that President Bush is the person that "passed" NCLB. Yes, as president, he didn't veto NCBL. It's also interesting that the president is never given credit for the good points of NCLB, just the bad points. Is NCLB perfect? Answer - NO! Are there things that need to be changed? Answer - Yes! Kennedy, a liberal senator from Ma.

"What has the President (bush) got to do with this?" READ his (United States of Denial)comment regarding the school principle and the person in the White House - compare them. They are indeed VERY similar!

Many of you have forgotten that Ted Kennedy was the one who pushed this legislation through and a large part of it can be attributed to him and what he wanted. It was his bill.

Ted Kennedy, much of "what he wanted" did NOT get in the bill - such as better wages for teachers and more money for school districts. Yeah, he's a liberal. Too bad all of the leaders in America aren't.


Before everyone applauds Mr. Lampros for his actions perhaps you should take a look at the student ratings he has received at the school who was stupid enough to hire him after this incident. Maybe it will begin to show you what this student may have had to deal with. Then decide for yourself if you think he is the heroic teacher everyone is making him out to be.
http://www.ramratings.com/eval.phtml?profid=1189

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