Monday, May 21, 2007

What It Means to Teach

What It Means to Teach
by Amy Demarest & Ellen David Friedman

Daniel Moulthrop, Ninive Clements Calegari, and Dave Eggers, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers (New York: The New Press, 2006), 355 pages, hardcover, $25.95.

Although some idealize and others demean the work of teachers, few people outside the field fully understand what it really means to teach. Misconceptions about teaching influence the ways that Americans think about the profession. One of the manifestations of this enduring disconnect between the American public and the professionals who teach is the low salaries teachers receive. This is the main issue that Moulthrop, Calegari, and Eggers tackle in this thorough and valuable ethnographic study of the lives of teachers, their daily struggle to make ends meet, and what it means to teach.

The authors challenge the perception that teachers have it pretty easy and instead paint a compelling tale of the inspiration and desperation that teachers experience in their professional lives. They examine what keeps teachers in a profession where they feel undervalued, and what makes them leave. They include the voices of educational experts, policy makers, and other players involved in all aspects of the educational system.

The main premise of this book is that teachers need and deserve a decent salary, and that schools will improve when they're able to attract, support, and retain "the best and the brightest" by paying higher salaries. Well-established research is offered that attests to the relationship between teacher quality and student performance and the extent to which a teacher is the primary factor within the educational setting affecting a child's success in school.

In their introduction, the authors present three lines of reasoning that undermine the social commitment to decent salaries for teachers. These are: The view that teachers are well paid in relation to the time spent working; that teaching entails a life of sacrifice and service ("much like clergy, so high pay should not be an expectation"); and that teachers should be paid more but aren't, due only to lack of available funds.

The structure of the book reflects the authors' allegiance to the voices and experiences of the two hundred teachers interviewed, voices that directly challenge the public's strongly held biases. While significant research studies are presented alongside the stories, it is the voices of the teachers themselves that remain central and carry this book's message.

The authors begin with the powerful story of Jonathan Dearman, a brilliant and talented African-American teacher who -- two and a half years into the start of an outstanding teaching career -- reluctantly left the profession to sell real estate when he realized he could triple his salary by selling houses and still have time for his family and himself. Dearman's story -- a tragedy really -- serves as an allegory for the rest of the book and underlines the poignancy of missed opportunity for human fulfillment, both for Dearman and his students. As with others portrayed in the book, Dearman loved teaching but was forced out by the low pay, lost family time, and the constant stress of feeling unsuccessful, despite working seventy to eighty hours per week.

In the beginning of the book the authors outline seven prominent myths and assumptions that thwart the promise of public education. The balance of the book offers rich testimony and effective use of supporting data that provide a robust counterpoint to these myths.

At the top of the list of myths -- very familiar to anyone who's taught -- is that teachers get a great hourly wage in relation to the hours worked. This argument echoes in countless school board meetings and living rooms around the country and is central to the point of this book. The hourly wages argued about are the contact hours that teachers spend with students when they are "at work." This, of course, doesn't account for hours spent correcting, planning, gathering resources, talking with parents, and taking part in extra-curricular activities, meetings, and other professional development. The authors present a compelling tale of the myriad of tasks and the many hours that teachers spend keeping their classrooms functioning. Studies indicate that teachers spend an average of ten additional hours per week that are not recognized as part of their work time, while many spend a great deal more than that.

The belief that "teachers have summers off" is another popular refrain that the authors refute. They indicate that 42 percent of teachers teach summer school or have another job and all teachers are required to take part in professional development for which they don't get paid -- and for which they must often pay. Summer is also the time when many teachers do the bulk of their planning for the next school year. Due to the nature of their jobs, the time for the deep and inspired thinking that is needed to design a year of learning experiences is not possible during the school year.

Third, the authors address the myth that there is no correlation between highly paid teachers and high student achievement. While the direct correlation between pay and student performance may be disputed, commonly accepted research supports that good teachers are the single most important factor within the educational setting in a child's success in school.

The fourth popular argument is that unions are the problem because they push for tenure (protecting "incompetent" teachers), they enforce strict adherence to hours and working conditions as stipulated in a contract, and they maintain a "lockstep" salary schedule based on years of service and educational attainment (as opposed to some unspecified measure of "performance") in setting wages. Unfortunately -- and in our view, incorrectly -- the authors do not refute this myth. Instead, they highlight several instances where a given union has embraced an alternative compensation "reform" scheme. In doing so they seem to reinforce the prevailing myth that unions' adherence to principles of salary equity is a bar to performance excellence.

A fifth myth is that it is more important that working conditions be improved than salaries. The reality is that working conditions are a significant concern, but not at the expense of salaries: both are critical. Teachers are often unable to leave their room to use the bathroom, use a telephone, sit down for lunch, or get to a working photocopier. Although not clearly stated by the authors, these basic workers' rights are necessary for teachers -- not because of the noble work that they do but because all workers deserve a humane working environment and salaries commensurate with their work and responsibilities.

The sixth assumption is that teaching is mainly a second-income job filled by women supplementing family income; clearly an idea left over from the postwar era when families could survive on one income -- family wage income supposedly provided by the male "head of the household" -- and teaching was an almost exclusively female profession. Nevertheless, the antiquated idea that most teachers are comfortably part of a two-income household and can therefore be paid less remains a surprisingly commonly held opinion.

The seventh and last assumption is that the salaries of teachers are commensurate with other professions doing similar work. The authors, drawing parallels to other high-stress jobs such as emergency room workers and air-traffic controllers, accurately present the high demands of teaching. However, they don't go far enough to illustrate that prevailing wages for other professionals of comparable education are uniformly higher than teaching wages.

Why are teachers' wages and working conditions important to society? The authors ask readers to consider the reality voiced by one community member that "teachers' working conditions are also the students learning conditions" and move beyond the myths that often distort the dialogue. They address the pervasive short-sightedness of people that can only talk about "at work" hours and that ignore the craft involved in educating young minds, and they counter the common misconceptions of those who so idealize teaching that pay is not acknowledged as a vital labor issue affecting the well-being, morale, and retention of high-quality teachers.

The consequences of the public's attitudes and the resulting effects on salary and working conditions are substantial. Many who enter the profession don't stay and thousands leave after only a few years of teaching. This high turnover and resulting low morale has a debilitating effect on those who stay. The school loses not only the talent of the teachers who have left but also the momentum on school change initiatives and ongoing professional development. Training and integrating new staff also drains the energy of the remaining veteran teachers.

Beyond just the empirical evidence of low wages, the fact is that teaching has largely retained a working-class status, despite its professional standards and demands: Compensation is restrained -- new teachers, burdened with college debt, often do not even make a "livable wage" by numerous state standards and must frequently hold down second jobs to avoid sinking into the abyss of poverty. Even the "career level" incomes of teachers are often lower than the entry-level salaries of other professions (they are perhaps half of the starting pay for corporate lawyers). Status and autonomy are low; teachers work within a highly traditional hierarchy in relation both to bargaining and the power structure of schools (principals, superintendents, school boards, and state and national governments). The very fact that teachers are maligned for their "easy" work schedule reflects an attitude that they are hourly workers, and that only their time "on the clock" should be compensated.

We wished the authors had provided a deeper historical analysis of why teaching has remained a uniquely working-class profession. Such an analysis might have started with the question: Why are teachers one of the few professional groups that retain a largely working-class identity? Given the fact that teaching has often served as the entry-level profession for immigrants, that it is largely female, and that it is the only "wholly owned profession" in the United States (where all holders of the professional license work in public settings), it seems that a particular form of racism, sexism, and paternalism have combined over the decades to create an institutional barrier for teachers as a group. The many myths cited by the authors serve to hold this barrier in place, but do not reveal its true socioeconomic nature.

The most effective aspect of the book is the authors' allegiance to the stories and interviews that bring the art of teaching to vivid life, such as this quote: "There is no job like teaching . . . in which one person is responsible for not only the safety of, but the inspiration for, up to thirty-six individuals at once."

Throughout the book, the authors acknowledge the human act of teaching. It is this approach that is particularly refreshing. When they refer to the "thirty-six individuals" in a classroom they place the discussion of education as a humanistic, shared enterprise. They don't talk about "student-load" or "teacher-student ratio," as if education was an efficiency problem in a factory. They acknowledge the myriad of ways that a teacher is continually "on" and engaged with people in a room with thirty other human beings who need to know what and how to do their tasks. Tasks are devised and organized to generate learning of all kinds such as learning to read, analyze text, carry on a dialogue, listen, divide, etc. It is not so much about keeping thirty human beings occupied as keeping thirty human brains in a growth mode.

The authors rely on educational experts to affirm the data gathered in the interviews. Well-known leaders in the field such as Stanford University's Linda Darling-Hammond outline the complexity of the teacher's role and what qualifications are needed. She notes that a teacher must understand a student's thinking and group dynamics, and know how to handle a crisis as well as teach a kid to read. Technical skills and knowledge of one's subject are the focus of current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) highly qualified teacher requirements, but the artistry, moral fortitude, and vision required are seldom recognized. It should be added that increasingly these days, with the decline of many institutional supports in the wider society, teachers must also provide basic social services to students -- lining children up to get glasses or to go to the dentist, counseling, helping them obtain the food they need, etc.

The powerful testimonies of teachers in this book cannot help but move readers. We see teachers demeaned, demoralized, and deprived. We see teachers driven by economic necessity to give up on their passionate commitment to kids. We sense the authors' own passion for a reordering of social priorities that would allow higher salaries for teachers, and thereby create stronger schools. But in their series of case studies where "everybody -- teachers, union leaders, administrators and school board members agreed that salaries must be higher . . . worked together on a local level to find a solution," the authors give a somewhat inadequate response to the serious structural problems they alluded to earlier and to the critical role teachers will play in this transformation.

They offer three case studies -- in Denver, Helena, and the San Fernando Valley -- as innovative responses to the salary crisis. To the credit of all these experimenting districts and the book's authors, these are serious attempts to rectify compensation problems and are, therefore, well-chosen illustrations. However, in our opinion, the authors overreach on several grounds. First, they attempt to elevate some fairly conventional contractual practices as though they were quite innovative. For example, Helena's provision of early retirement incentives to highly paid senior teachers is a rather common practice. They describe certain salary enhancements as tied to "performance" (a linkage the authors clearly support), when they are in fact tied to additional work. This, too, is a well-known principle in traditional teacher contracts. They describe purportedly unique self- and peer-evaluation processes that -- for example in our home state of Vermont -- are actually embedded in the statutory teacher licensure requirements.

In each of these examples, we discern the authors' efforts to distinguish "reform" solutions from traditional "union" approaches, as if to criticize -- in much the way a right-wing critic might -- the stultifying effects of union salary negotiations. They fail to recognize the constantly evolving nature of teacher contracts, and tend to align with anti-union critics on weak grounds. Another weakness of these case studies is that they rely on unique funding sources (private philanthropy or extraordinary tax levies) that are not universally available.

The authors do cite the importance of teacher collaboration and democratic practice as instrumental in transforming the culture and organization (including teachers' salaries) of schools. These efforts are noted in the case studies, but not presented as a central part of the solution. There is, unfortunately, a strong tradition of school reform done to and for teachers. In our opinion, any discussion of improving schools must include teachers and students as active participants. Professional learning communities, the inclusion of student voice, increased community dialogue, and the innovative restructuring of leadership are pockets of hope in today's bleak educational landscape. Although isolated, it is this progressive movement that carries the promise for school democratization.

Both within the authors' own terms, and those we refer to above, the issue is quite simply one of supporting teachers to do their job and paying them adequately to do so. The tragic irony of the U.S. educational system is that the answer is hidden in plain view. Teachers are constrained by low salaries, and the implications of this are artfully attested to in this book. But they are also constrained by schedules, expectations, and demands issued in hierarchal patterns of decision-making. The realities and attitudes of the larger society hinder teachers and students from reaching their full potential and engaging in the critical decisions that need to be made in order to change schools. The question of teacher salary needs to be seen in this larger context.

Despite these criticisms, the importance of this book at the current historical moment should not be underestimated. The harsh imperative of privatization puts U.S. public education under dire threat, with vouchers, charter schools, spending caps, and the punitive impact of NCLB high-stakes testing only the most obvious weapons. A defense of public education must of necessity include a defense of the public profession of teaching and an expanded public understanding of what it means to teach

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Sol Stern's "take" on the radical math conference.


"At many of the 28 workshops they used classroom projects to inculcate their students in seeing social problems from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.

"travesties like the radical math conference and the proliferation of social-justice schools - and the legitimization of bringing leftist politics into the classroom."

May 12, 2007 -- MORE than 400 New York City high-school math teachers and education professors gathered in Brooklyn late last month for a three-day conference on "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice."

At many of the 28 workshops, city math teachers proudly showed how they used classroom projects to inculcate their students in seeing social problems from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.

At a plenary session, Prof. Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachussets' math-ed department proclaimed that elementary-school math teachers shouldn't use traditional math lessons where students calculate the cost of food. Instead, they should use lessons to get their students to see that in a truly "just society," food would "be as free as breathing the air."

The city's Department of Education insists nothing was inappropriate about its teachers participating in the radical conference. In fact, the DOE got the whole ball rolling with a grant to Jonathan Osler, a math teacher at El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice (a small social-justice high school in Brooklyn).

Back in 2005, Osler and two colleagues from other schools applied to the DOE's Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program for aid in "the creation of a system to bring together NYC math teachers to share, ideas, curriculum, resources, and experiences integrating issues of social justice into math classes."

Osler & Co. listed some issues to explore in math class: "Check cashing locations ripping off poor people. H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people. Foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people. Issues of joblessness, homelessness, incarceration, lack of funding for education, excessive funding for war."

DOE decided this was worth $3,000 in city funds - giving its official imprimatur for the idea of teaching for "social justice" in math class.

Conference participants got to observe model "social justice" lessons in math classes in seven city public schools. East Side Community HS, for example, showed off its "The Mathematics of Sweatshop Labor" project (taught in Algebra II), in which students calculate the degree of wage exploitation in a sneaker factory in Nicaragua and then comment on the injustice of it all.

What if you're a parent with the old-fashioned view that public education in a democracy must be politically neutral - that teachers have an ethical and professional responsibility to keep their politics (left, right or center) out of the classroom? What if you don't want your child to waste precious time on "Sweatshop Math"?

Well, you won't get much help from the city Department of Education.

A few days before the conference, I provided Schools Chancellor Joel Klein with details on the city teachers and schools participating. His response:

"This is a private conference, at which a range of views will be expressed. It seems that many of these views are hardly 'radical.' . . . In any case, the people who are speaking at this conference are participating in their personal capacity, not as representatives of the Department of Education. We are committed to making sure that all of our teachers teach math to our high standards."

Since gaining control of the city schools in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has won the plaudits of business leaders for his corporate-style reorganization of the system and for supporting market-oriented initiatives such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers. But there has been a dark side: a hands-off approach to what's actually taught.

The result has been travesties like the radical math conference and the proliferation of social-justice schools - and the legitimization of bringing leftist politics into the classroom.

It's ironic that, as Mayor Bloomberg extols the benefits of the market approach in education, his schools are becoming rife with radical teachers using the classroom to trash the American system of market capitalism.

Sol Stern is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. From the Web site of City Journal,

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Radical math" a cure for American students' low math performance

The New York Sun published a letter from Teachers Unite director Sally Lee in response to conservative attacks on social justice education. This letter was slightly edited from its original, submitted version written in support of the conference "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice" (that version is available at

Letters to the Editor
May 4, 2007

‘Where Radical Politics and Education Intersect'

In regard to "Where Radical Politics and Education Intersect" by Andrew Wolf and "Do Social Issues Belong in Math Class?" by Gary Shapiro, there are educators across the country seeking innovative methods of teaching engaging content to children in urban schools [New York, "Where Radical Politics and Education Intersect," April 17, 2007; New York, "Do Social Issues Belong in Math Class," January 24, 2007].

These teachers went into teaching because they hope that in some small way, their contribution would inspire children to be lifelong learners and leaders.

Many of these educators recognize that white supremacy, capitalism, misogyny, and imperialism are forces that permeate the globe, and they work to inform their students of both historic and current political realities that impact our lives.

These teachers want to expose their low-income, African-American, Hispanic, and immigrant students — who face systemic prejudice and oppression in innumerable ways— to the type of analytic skills that children in elite institutions are encouraged to develop.

Isn't this … good?

According to Mr. Wolf, Chancellor Klein told Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, "Giving schools ‘leadership' or ‘social justice' themes is fine with me, as long as the teachers and principals do not bring politics and ideologies into our classrooms."

I think everyone would agree with Mr. Klein if he meant that public schools should not indoctrinate students with particular ideologies.

But of course, that is exactly what they do. It is a myth to think that there is an educator on the planet who doesn't hold a system of beliefs that affects what and how they teach.

When educators declare themselves neutral or apolitical, but then proceed to teach one interpretation of history or one approach to problemsolving, the inadvertently reinforce dominant ideologies about how the world works.

At what point does a teacher's vocal commitment to justice and equity become "politics"? At what point do "politics" become controversial?

One goal of Teachers Unite is to support teachers who strive to make classes academically rigorous, culturally relevant and intellectually inspiring for New York City public school students.

These are some of the tenets of social justice teaching, and it's difficult to imagine why anyone would find something wrong with it.

Founder and executive director Teachers Unite
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Some prescribe "radical math" as the cure for American students' low math performance.

By Darise Jean-Baptiste

Understanding the mathematical definition of the number called "e" means a lot to Alex
Nunez, a senior at East Side Community High School in Manhattan. Nunez, 17, is currently taking pre-calculus and learning about limits, compound interest, "e" and graphs as a whole continuum by equation. At the end of the semester, Nunez's class will present what it learned in an exhibition in which they use the math in a real-life situation such as choosing the best
bank account or the best college loan.

Natalie Suarez, 18, takes the same math class as Nunez. Suarez likes the writing portion of the exhibition because it "makes it easier for students to reinforce what they learned," she said. Distinct from standard math class, this approach, she thinks, "is a better learning system."

Called "social justice math" by some, the technique of using math to learn about political and economic issues, and using those issues to learn math, is growing in popularity among teachers who want math literacy for all and oppose high-stakes testing. Social justice teaching has provided the foundation for a number of new schools in the city, notably those founded
under the New Century High Schools Initiative – a program of the public-school-

reform organization New Visions for Public Schools – with alternative curriculums and assessments that focus on student-centered instruction. Although the idea that math literacy is a civil right and students can learn to use math as a way of changing the conditions in their
societies through greater economic access is not new, more teachers across the nation are looking for new ways to engage their students in this essential subject in a way that seems more connected to their daily lives.

Some argue that teachers who adopt this method irresponsibly use the classroom as a means to promote their own political views. But teachers who use these methods say quality math always comes first, enabling students to make decisions about social issues based on information they derive or analyze. Pace High School Assistant Principal Taeko Onishi said social justice math "actually works better." Pace is an "empowerment school," a designation that allows for more freedom in choosing curriculum. The school was founded in 2004 with a New Visions for Public Schools grant, given in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Social justice math "is not only a good thing to do, but the best way to get students engaged," Onishi said.

Onishi was one of about 500 people who attended "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Conference on Math and Social Justice," held in late April at Long Island University in Brooklyn. Students, teachers and other education professionals from 27 states converged to discuss issues around social justice math and to provide a forum for those who wanted to learn more about the various classroom approaches. Jonathan Osler, who created, helped plan the event – the first such conference – and called it a "huge success."

Alternative approaches to teaching math, such as social justice math, are being popularized at a time when 69 percent of eighth-grade students in the nation performed at what's considered the "basic" level in math and 30 percent performed at or above the "proficient" level, according to 2005 assessment results from the Nation's Report Card, published by the National Center for Education Statistics. The report said that 61 percent of high school seniors in the nation performed at the "basic" level, while 23 percent performed at or above "proficient."

Math assessment results for the city reflect a similar struggle with the subject. According to the state Education Department's "Report on the Educational Status of the State's Schools," 59 percent of city eighth-graders performed below proficiency in the 2004-2005 school year,
compared to 45 percent of eighth-graders in New York State.

Osler teaches math at El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Brooklyn, where he has worked for six years. Although his inspiration for the Web site came from teaching at El Puente, is not directly associated with the school, he said. Osler created the web site with funding from the New York City Department of Education, which awarded him a $3,000 grant to develop a network to share resources and best teaching practices. Partly a
testament to the number of proponents of social justice math, has attracted 800,000 hits in about a year and a half, says Osler. Those who are critical of social justice teaching, however, say the approach defies the city public schools' curriculum mandates and injects radical theories into the impressionable minds of public school children.

One critic is Manhattan Institute senior fellow Sol Stern, who attended the conference. He pointed to an essay published in last summer's issue of City Journal as representative of his perspective. In "The Ed Schools Latest –and Worst – Humbug," Stern wrote, "Social justice teaching is a frivolous waste of precious school hours, grievously harmful to poor children, who start out with a disadvantage. School is the only place where they are likely to obtain the academic knowledge that could make up for the educational deprivation they suffer in their homes. The last thing they need is a wild-eyed experiment in education through social action." In this essay and other writings. Stern notes the links between some social justice teachers and Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educational theorist known for his book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."

"I'm certainly not explicitly modeled after [Friere], although I ascribe to some of his beliefs," Osler said. For example, that a person can "learn how to change the conditions in life, community and society that are making them feel oppressed," and "education should not strictly be a way that teachers control knowledge," he said. "Education should be something that should happen in both directions."

As part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, Osler's school, El Puente ("The Bridge"), is one of 28 schools that receive a waiver from the state allowing them to graduate students without a math Regents exam. Osler's current class of high school seniors is working on a semester-long project where they wrote and distributed surveys – designed to use their
comparative statistical analysis skills, and more – within their communities. The surveys focus on issues of displacement for reasons that ranged from gentrification, immigrant families who fled their countries of origin, or homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. A committee of teachers grades the students' 15-page report on their survey findings, Osler said. "They [students] love it," Osler said of the assignment. "They're proud to speak about math and using it to positively impact their communities."

Osler's sophomore class is learning how to use the mathematical concept of "inequalities" to determine the approximate amount of funding schools would need to receive maximum graduation rates – a math unit that typically demonstrates the concept of maximum profit for businesses.

In 2006, El Puente Academy bested the citywide graduation rate of 50 percent with its own 55 percent graduation rate, and shared the citywide dropout rate of 4 percent. El Puente was named one of the city's 208 Schools of Excellence, which grants the school permission to continue designing its own curriculum, Osler added.

"My students are using math to make their lives better," Osler said. "Not necessarily as activists but on a personal level."

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Mystery of Michael Bloomberg: Why does a popular but mediocre mayor think he should run for president?

Posted by Leonie Haimson on nyceducationnews listserve:

The national backlash on Bloomberg’s candidacy for presidency has begun – before he has even announced – from the conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard.

Nevertheless, lots of the criticism below is apt. Two major PR stumbles omitted:

1- the bus route fiasco; when thousands of kids were left stranded on the side of the road in the middle of winter, under the advice of DOE million-dollar consultants, and the Mayor refused to apologize but said that parents were a bunch of complainers;

2- when a private plane flew into a E. side apt. building, and questions were asked about why private aircraft was still allowed to fly over Manhattan even after 9/11 (when they have long been banned from DC). The Mayor, who likes to fly himself around in his own fleet of planes and heliocopters, responded that would be like banning cars from the streets because of traffic accidents.

Clearly, the billionaire Mayor lacks the common touch.

The Weekly Standard
The Mystery of Michael Bloomberg
: Why does a popular but mediocre mayor think he should run for president?
by Fred Siegel & Michael Goodwin
05/14/2007, Volume 012, Issue 33

New York
There is a stunning disconnect between Michael Bloomberg's modest accomplishments as mayor of New York and his elevation to a figure worthy of presidential consideration--albeit as an independent candidate. In Bloomberg's own words, "How likely is a 5
7-Jew-from-New-York billionaire who's divorced and running as an independent to become president of the United States?"

The answer is obvious, but that doesn't mean Bloomberg and his billions couldn't become a major force in national politics. Or that he doesn't have a plan that would, under the right conditions, put him in the Oval Office. His plan, he tells confidants, is to spend upwards of $500 million of his own money--about twice as much as the major party nominees--on TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts, a strategy that's worked for him twice in New York. The only catch is that he first wants to see who Democrats and Republicans nominate. If the parties put up fringe-leaning nominees, leaving the middle open, Bloomberg would use his moneybags to try to create a centrist path to victory.

Meanwhile, the outlines of his platform are clearly visible. He's been zigzagging across the country, including in some primary states, leading the charge for handgun control, public health reform, and his "reformist" educational policies. Think of a sane George Soros.

The Washington Post has featured his presidential possibilities on its front page; Slate has touted him as a great manager; the New York Times, New York magazine, and the New York Sun are enthusiastic about a Bloomberg run; Rupert Murdoch was quoted as saying the mayor "would be my choice" for president, while savvy consultants are mapping out the scenarios that would give him a chance. In a mixed omen, Al Sharpton, warm to a Bloomberg candidacy, has described him as "Ross Perot with a r
D+1sumD+1." It's quite an array.

Looming behind the disjuncture between his managerial failures as mayor and the presidential palaver is the mystery of how a mayor so emotionally detached from the lives of most New Yorkers, so aggressively aloof from the supposedly populist sentiments of New York politics, can be riding so high in the local polls. Even after a rough first quarter in this, his sixth year in office, his job approval ratings generally hit 70 percent.

True, his low-key personality was a relief to many New Yorkers after Rudy Giuliani's brawling. But his passionless, matter-of-fact approach to the job stands in stark contrast to the from-the-gut styles of the two most recent successful and popular mayors, Ed Koch and Giuliani. Indeed, Bloomberg's style is closer to that of failures Abe Beame and David Dinkins. Of Koch, who led the city out of the 1970s fiscal crisis, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "History will record [him] as having given back New York City its morale." Rudy beat down the twin scourges of crime and soaring welfare dependency. After almost a term and a half, it is still impossible to credit Bloomberg with a transformative achievement or discern any legacy.

Bloomberg's reputation is built on the idea that he's not just another politician but an apolitical manager who rises above petty interests. But this image reverses the reality. Bloomberg's failures have been managerial, while he's been a brilliant success politically by catering--via the city treasury and his own fortune--to those petty interests.

Bloomberg's greatest substantive achievement is to have successfully continued Giuliani's reforms regarding crime and welfare. He has also continued Giuliani's aggressive pro-development policies that, combined with the recent economic boom, have led to a record number of housing starts and an unemployment rate that is the lowest in 30 years. But where he has struck out on his own, it has been a different matter.

"Manager Mike," the first mayor to also be the city's wealthiest man, put education at the center of his 2001 run for mayor. Beginning with his first campaign speech, he pledged "to do for education what Giuliani did for public safety." He invited people to judge him on the issue and said he wanted to be the "education mayor." Based in part on that promise of accountability, Bloomberg was given unprecedented mayoral control of the schools, which had been in the hands of a fractious and unaccountable Board of Education.

He has done a marvelous job of selling himself as a model school reformer to the New York press, to the New York elites, and to mayors across the country. Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., have spoken of Bloomberg as their model, "the standard-bearer for educational reform."
But the "reformed" school system led by Bloomberg's chancellor, Joel Klein, a former high-ranking Justice Department lawyer, has been more notable for administrative upheaval and noncompetitive contracts than higher test scores. Over the last five years--despite $4 billion in additional spending (the annual operating budget for education is now more than $16 billion and the city has a five-year, $10 billion education capital budget) and three harrowing reorganizations of the original "reform"--student performance has been basically flat. Reading scores in many elementary schools are up, but math scores in middle schools have declined. Graduation rates have inched up, but still barely 50 percent graduate in four years.

Bloomberg and Klein have lurched from their initial strong central control of the schools to a recent attempt at decentralization, both of which have sown confusion. Things began badly when they instituted a "progressive" education curriculum that had failed everywhere it was tried. More recently there has been a school bus fiasco: Roughly 7,000 students were left stranded in the dead of winter when a new routing plan imposed by an expensive consulting firm with a no-bid contract proved unworkable. Blasted by parents and critics, Bloomberg denounced them as know-nothings "who have no experience in doing anything." The parents, he snapped, just need to call 311, the all-purpose gripe-and-information line he established.

The imperiousness was striking, and it is often more than stylistic. Mild-mannered Democrat Bill Thompson, the city comptroller and former Board of Education president who plans to run for mayor in 2009, when Bloomberg will be forced out by term limits, complains that "I can't talk to the mayor about education," because Bloomberg sees criticism as either a front for the unions or as a personal attack on Klein.

Thompson had a sometimes rocky relationship with Giuliani but notes that while "Rudy could be a pain in the ass, . . . he really understood this stuff." Added Thompson: "If you asked for more money, he wanted to know exactly how it would be spent."

Giuliani, by legal training and temperament, was hands-on, sometimes to a fault, but he almost always knew enough about a topic to evaluate the advice he was given. Bloomberg, on the other hand, has never immersed himself in the details of either city government or education. He delegates responsibility to deputies like Klein, who himself has limited interest in budgetary and programmatic intricacies. "You ask Joel," explains Thompson, "where the money is going, and he'll say something like 'to improve reading scores.'" Asked whether he sees any real gain in schools under Bloomberg, Thompson says only that "the jury is still out."

Yet the public doesn't blame Bloomberg. He gets credit for trying to fix the schools, and Klein gets the blame when things go wrong. The pattern is similar with the NYPD. Bloomberg gets credit for keeping crime low, but when cops recently killed an unarmed black man in Queens in a hail of 50 bullets, activists demanded the scalp not of Bloomberg, but of the very successful police commissioner Ray Kelly.

Both cases illustrate how Bloomberg has managed the politics by greasing the usual skids. With the police shooting case, Bloomberg abandoned the cops, three of whom were later indicted and now await trial. Shortly after the shooting, the mayor said, "It sounds to me like excessive force was used" and deemed the incident "inexplicable" even before the details were known.

On schools, Bloomberg has neatly separated himself from Klein by handing out generous raises to the very teachers' union fighting Klein's reforms. The contract that runs through the end of his term provides cumulative hikes of nearly 41 percent. And while there have been modest productivity gains--30 minutes were added to the school day, meaning teachers must be in the schools all of 6 hours and 50 minutes--time- and money-wasting work rules and perks, all part of a 204-page contract that Klein tried to reduce to 8 pages, have survived largely intact. So while the unions detest Klein and openly urge he be fired, Bloomberg skates on by.
The managerial failures don't stop with the schools. Nearly six years after 9/11, the city has only begun to make real progress on Ground Zero in large part because it was never a Bloomberg priority. Like mob bosses, he and Gov. George Pataki divided up Manhattan--Pataki got downtown and Bloomberg focused on the far West Side of Midtown. In his first term, Bloomberg tried to succeed where Giuliani failed by building a football stadium there for the New York Jets, hoping then to use the stadium as the centerpiece of his plan to lure the Olympics to Gotham.

Indeed, Bloomberg's early economic development program, aside from some sensible rezoning proposals, consisted mostly of attracting the Olympics. Money was no object. Bloomberg proposed to subsidize the well-endowed Jets ownership by giving them for a mere $200 million a West Side Manhattan property worth a billion dollars on the open market. The plan was defeated by the opposition of the Dolan family, which owns Madison Square Garden, and by State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, the entrenched Democrat who represents a district in lower Manhattan. The International Olympic Committee finally ended the wrangling by awarding the 2012 games to London.

Bloomberg's dogged pursuit of his unpopular stadium plan and his record level property tax hikes combined to give him a 24 percent approval rating, the lowest ever held by a modern mayor. It was no mean feat to be rated below the disastrous David Dinkins. Midway through his first term, it appeared that Bloomberg would have a hard time winning a second one.

But to Bloomberg's great good fortune, the former Bronx Borough president and Dinkins ally, Democrat Freddy Ferrer, again came to his rescue. Ferrer, who called himself the "un-Giuliani," working with Sharpton, had made Bloomberg mayor in 2001, when he devoted all his energies to subverting the campaign of fellow Democrat Mark Green.

In 2005, Ferrer, who campaigned on repealing the Giuliani policing reforms and raising taxes, made for such an appalling alternative that his candidacy, plus Bloomberg's ability to spend considerably more on consultants than Ferrer spent on his entire campaign, carried Bloomberg to a record level victory margin. In his two campaigns, Bloomberg has, with the aid of top notch consultants, directly spent nearly $160 million, while his opponents spent a total of $24 million.
Bloomberg can thank the hedge fund and private equity boom on Wall Street, the record high stock market, and soaring real estate values for keeping his budget in the black. But not even the good economic times would have been enough to maintain his popularity given his many gaffes if New York were the city it once was or is assumed to be.

Consider the following: The mayor was informed that a set of subway switches had burned out and couldn't be replaced for months or even years, guaranteeing massive delays. Bloomberg, an engineer, nonchalantly said fine, that's the way it will have to be. He reversed himself only after howls of public protest. And only then did transit officials acknowledge that they could do most of the job in weeks.

Or consider this: After a July 2006 blackout produced by Con Ed incompetence left more than 100,000 Queens residents without electricity for a week, Manager Mike declined even to visit the affected areas until the press began to hound him. Even then he declared, "I think [Con Ed CEO] Kevin Burke deserves a thanks from this city. He's worked as hard as he can. . . ."

It's safe to say Bloomberg will never be confused with Fiorello LaGuardia. When it comes to holding people accountable, Bloomberg seems to have taken lessons from George W. Bush.

At a time when Brooklyn is experiencing a private sector housing boom, the same businessman mayor who tried to give away valuable Manhattan property for a song has supported a half-billion dollars in direct and indirect subsidies for the Atlantic Yards apartment, office, and arena complex in Brooklyn being built by fellow fat cat and subsidy king Bruce Ratner. Homelessness is at record levels, but no one has been called on the carpet and, again, the public seems to give the mayor credit for trying, even if he fails. And then there are the civil liberties violations: During the GOP convention, hundreds of mostly nonviolent protesters were penned in by chain-link fences topped with barbed-wire for up to 44 hours.

Had homelessness reached unprecedented levels under Giuliani, the interest groups would have been marching in the streets. Had Rudy proposed a similar level of subsidy for a project like Atlantic Yards, the liberals would have howled with rage. Had Giuliani held protesters behind barbed wire, the Village Voice would have relentlessly argued that fascism had (once again) arrived in New York, and the New York Times would have run a 34-part series about the assault on civil liberties.
Why didn't this happen? It didn't occur for the same reason most Republicans have been remarkably quiet about Bloomberg's penchant for raising taxes and revenue by (1) ticketing store owners with fines for "illegal awnings" (too many letters) and (2) ticketing cars trapped in snow storms. The New York State Republican organization is more of a business, a local franchise, than it is a political party. In 2001, the year he ran for election to succeed Giuliani, Bloomberg donated $705,000 to the state GOP, the largest donation since the days of Nelson Rockefeller. In 2002, while George Pataki was running for reelection for his third and final term as governor, Bloomberg donated another half-million to the party, and he's continued to give. The money buys acquiescence if not adulation.

Similarly, in the years before he ran for mayor, Bloomberg supported worthwhile African-American, Asian, and Latino arts organizations with generous and sometimes massive contributions. Half a million dollars went to the well-respected Dance Theater of Harlem and $100,000 to Ballet Hispanico. As he geared up for reelection in 2005, he donated at least $140 million to more than 800 institutions and groups, including to Lenora Fulani, an anti-Semite who ran the local, cult-aligned Independence party.

All his generosity might not have availed Bloomberg of popularity if New York still possessed a sizable, civically engaged middle class. Instead we have a barbell social structure, with the very wealthy and a vast upper middle class on one side, a massive number of immigrant and minority poor on the other, and little in between. The middle class as such is less than 20 percent of the population here.

Most of its members live by serving the wealthy above them or the poor below. Insulated though they are, the upper middle class resent the truly wealthy who bid up the cost of real estate. But with their kids in private schools and private recreation programs, they have little need for city government outside of public safety. They like the mayor's low-key style. As long as crime remains under control, Bloomberg's failures, in so far as they are even aware of them, don't impinge on them.
The failed schools and the hourglass economy don't provide much upward mobility for workaday immigrant and nonimmigrant strivers. They leave the city anyway, draining off potential discontent. Exit makes far more sense than trying to buck the cost structure and political system beholden to organized interests. Besides, they are continually replaced by new arrivals. Still, soaring housing prices, stagnant job growth, and the highest combined state and local taxes in the country have, notes urbanist Joel Kotkin, produced a high rate of out-migration by the college-educated population.

Bloomberg's slender list of achievements will make it hard for him should he enter the national race. And although he's been running for president--despite demurrals--for some time, he's unlikely to become an open candidate unless one or both of the parties nominate unelectable duds--think Newt Gingrich versus John Edwards. If, come the super-primaries on February 5, 2008, the nominees are Rudy and Hillary, Bloomberg will keep his money in his pocket. He won election as mayor in 2001 by spending $92 a vote, but not even Michael Bloomberg can do that kind of checkbook politics on a national scale.

Fred Siegel, a professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art in New York, is the author of The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life; Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a columnist for the New York Daily News.

D"m Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Who are the real criminals?

Teachers know very well that the press is totally biased, controlled and worse, action against the best interests of the public. Fair and balanced, ha! But it isn’t often the proof is laying right out there in front of us. Here is an example of how Giuliani, Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman and Christie Todd Whitman are pretty much out an out criminals.

Posted by Leonie Haimson on nyceducationnews listserve:

Lots of NYers, including children and students, were called back to ground zero before it was safe, as a result of a concerted effort by govt. officials at both the city and federal level to minimize the potential hazards to health. The news media also participated in this coverup – with one notable exception.

Juan Gonzalez of the Daily news was on the story early, but Mort Zuckerman, publisher of the Daily news blacked out many of his later columns. The NY Times ran a series of reports on this issue – parroting the official govt. line and underestimating the concerns of legitimate environmental and health experts.

Recently the editorial staff of the News won a Pulitzer Prize– five years later – for pointing out many of the same health issues that Gonzalez had identified at the time. Yet he was never mentioned, either by the Pulitzer committee, Zuckerman, or other Daily news staff who won the prize.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Voice about how Gonzalez was treated at the time:

“City officials, trying to discredit Gonzalez's scoop, called a press conference, at which Mayor Rudy Giuliani declared that "the problems created . . . are not health-threatening." In the back channels, as Gonzalez himself later wrote in his book Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse, "one of Giuliani's deputy mayors called a top editor at the News to complain." The head of the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce fired off a letter calling Gonzalez's column "a sick Halloween prank." EPA director Christie Whitman immediately wrote Zuckerman, accusing Gonzalez of trying to "alarm" people, and her complaint ran on the op-ed page days later. Its opening could scarcely have been more patronizing: "Those of us in government and the media share an obligation to provide members of the public, in a responsible and calm manner . . . " Gonzalez's attempts to follow up his scoop were met with the "obvious displeasure of the paper's top editors," who delayed and sometimes killed his columns, he wrote in his book. What stories he did get published were relegated to the back of the paper—"behind a refrigerator ad," as his Democracy Now co-host Amy Goodman put it….

“Reached at home, where he is on book leave, Gonzalez is clearly magnanimous, congratulating his colleagues and adding: "My only concern is that, if more journalists, not just at the News but in the rest of the New York media, had had the courage to follow the story back then, maybe there wouldn't be as many people getting sick or dying now."

Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters

For more on this see,hagey,76442,15.html and El Diario editorial below.

Tarnished award at Daily News
EDITORIAL - 05/04/2007

Good journalism is built on the pillars of fairness and accuracy, a fundamental principle the New York Daily News swept under the rug when it failed to pay tribute to muckraker Juan González.

The News received a Pulitzer Prize last month for an editorial campaign seeking redress for sick and dying workers affected during the Ground Zero response. It was a critical campaign—one that had its seeds sown several years before by González.

In the weeks following the Sept. 11 attack, González raised questions about the air quality around the World Trade Center and the environmental and health impacts. Critics—from then Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani—dismissed González, who has alleged that officials knowingly downplayed health threats.

Any serious journalist knows you not only have to ask tough questions, but also get real answers. That mission was undermined when follow up columns by González were killed, according to the Village Voice.

News Publisher Mortimer Zuckerman says that González fired his volleys and that Whitman re-assured the public that it could breathe easy. And that was it. The recent series on the health consequences was a “different story.”

Zuckerman also said he called González to give him credit, although he could not recall whether it was before or after the Pulitzer was awarded.

Could the treatment of González simply be a case of bad manners? Rather, it sounds like a paper disgracefully not following its best lead: a hard-nose journalist pursuing the truth for New Yorkers – in 2001, not five years later.

The News owes González a big apology. It’s González’s investigative skills that have helped maintain an iota of respect left for the News as it chases New York Post readers.

Bloomberg builds housing without schools

Selections of Leonie Haimson post on nyceducationnews listerve:

Even though the Mayor assembled a task force on sustainability to come up w/ suggestions for how to serve a population that is expected to grow by a million by 2030, to deal w/ the increased pressure on housing, energy, sewage, transportation, parks, playgrounds, and other municipal services, the task force was explicitly instructed to leave out schools from their considerations – even though most of our schools are already overcrowded and are likely to become even more so in the future.

See the report of plaNYC 2030 at

To add insult to injury, the only actual mention of schools that I have found in the 160 pg. plan, aside from opening up school playgrounds for after school and weekend hours, is to use school buildings for more housing!

The report uses as a model of what should occur more frequently in the future PS 109 in East Harlem, and how wonderful it is that the school is being converted to artist housing: “By working with HPD and the Department of Cultural Affairs to open new affordable spaces for artists, we can not only preserve our physical city but also its essential creative spirit. “ The authors go on to describe in detail the battle of community residents who fought with tooth and nail for the school building to be landmarked and preserved rather than torn down– without mentioning that what they really wanted was for it to be a school again!

This is the mentality we are fighting in this city. While all of our elected officials, including our Mayor, always proclaim education comes first, it really comes last – that is, if it ever enters their minds at all.

And this is why we must ask our elected officials to require that schools be incorporated in all large scale developments – and not just 500 seats, when the need is more than 1,000, as the Atlantic yards project. And why we need a better capital plan -- one that provides at least twice as many seats as the one currently proposed by DOE.

More on this soon; meanwhile see comments from Deborah Glick, Assemblymember from Lower Manhattan, and her letter to Chancellor Klein on this subject.


Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters

124 Waverly Pl.

New York, NY 10011

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--- Deborah Glick <> wrote:

Dear Friend

As our city administration advances an unprecedented number of residential development projects, especially in Lower Manhattan, I have serious concerns about whether commensurate public amenities have been adequately planned for in order to accommodate such growth. Too often it seems that large scale development moves forward with little thought as to the necessary infrastructure that must be
provided for the subsequent influx of residents it attracts. This is particularly true when planning our city's school system. I believe that the City must undergo in-depth population projections for every neighborhood to ensure that class sizes are appropriate and to properly plan for new school construction.

Below is the text of a letter I wrote to Chancellor Klein on this important education issue.

Deborah J. Glick

April 20, 2007

Joel Klein, Chancellor
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers St.
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chancellor Klein:

In recent years there has been an increasing push to attract residential development to New York City. However, while much of this development is aimed specifically at families with school-aged children, it often fails to take into account the provision of commensurate public amenities such as schools, in order to match these rapidly changing demographics. This has been particularly true in Lower Manhattan.

I am particularly concerned about the Department of Education's (DOE) seeming lack of in-depth demographic planning, which is crucial to adequately identifying the necessary educational resources for specific neighborhoods. It is my understanding that beyond general projected growth figures for Regional and Community School Districts, no current projections exist for the more narrowly defined geographic catchment areas, which often bear the brunt of development projects slated for particular neighborhoods. Such a study would help identify those communities facing a disproportionate amount of residential growth and thus inform their specific needs for locally zoned schools. If such an effort has not already commenced, I would encourage DOE, in conjunction with the Department of City Planning (DCP), to undertake such a study based on these catchment areas.

As New York City faces an unprecedented amount of residential growth across the boroughs, it is critical that DOE carefully plan for and provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this growth in specific Sincerely,
Deborah J. Glick