Monday, November 17, 2008

David Cantor Gets Email

David Cantor, from the Tweed PR Department, responded on the NYC Education News listserve to some of the critical comments on Joel Klein and got an earful. Or a basket full of email. Below is his post and responses from parents Steve Koss and Leonie Haimson.

David Cantor, Tweed PR:

Hey folks. I continue to admire the passion of contributors to this list. I entirely stand by my comments to the Times, referred to below, but they shouldn't be interpreted to suggest that anyone critical of this administration is an ideologue or benighted. That said, what I find weird and troubling about a lot of the commentary here and on other sites is how decontextualized it is. You'd have to work hard--at least this is my impression--to find any reference to the fact that public education in New York City and across the country has been a disaster for poor and minority kids for decades and mediocre at best for most middle class kids. The philosophical and political baseline of nyceducationnews is that public education in New York City plummeted with the advent of mayoral control in 2002. Plummeted from where? Small classrooms, successful citywide instruction, rich art programs in every school, responsible management of taxpayer funds? These never existed, not in the last forty years. If its mission is to best serve kids, we all are striving to improve a system that has for a very long time been deranged. And if the best we have to offer--our only program for action--is proposing $40 billion capital plans during an economic crisis or opposing improved use of data for teaching and learning, then we're not serious people. Even if we're serious about our own kids.

David Cantor
Department of Education

Steve Koss, NYC parent:

Dear Mr. Cantor,

Having read your posting to nyceducationnews a second time, I now find myself even more outraged than after my first reading. At the closing of your message, you wrote:

And if the best we have to offer--our only program for action--is proposing $40 billion capital plans during an economic crisis or opposing improved use of data for teaching and learning, then we're not serious people.

Leaving aside the condescension dripping acid-like from this statement (how can it be helped after spending so much time around bosses who model that same behavior toward the unwashed masses?), the implication that everyone other than yourselves is not serious is simply Palinesque, either willful blindness or utter disregard for the very people who pay your not insubstantial salary and who happen to disagree.

Whom shall we say is "not serious?" Do you honestly believe that public education experts and advocates and parent leaders volunteer their time and efforts because they are not serious? Do you honestly believe that those of us who speak out are not concerned about the educational welfare of children, not just our own but ALL children? Do you honestly believe that the countless hours we spend in our schools or in digging through the DOE data you deign to release to find the truth behind the P.R. are not spent out of genuine concern for our public school system?

How dare you even suggest that these parents and advocates are "not serious!" Unlike you, they are not only passionate about public education, but they do so out of concern, not for a paycheck. They see the fraud that has become "progress" in their children's schools, they see its subversion of their children's education in the name of measurability and accountability, and they respond out of heartfelt concern whose seriousness certainly transcends yours as a well-paid DOE functionary.

To reduce these people to caricatures, to cranks who want $40 billion and no use of data, is beyond inappropriate. It's demeaning, it's dismissive, and it's a clear signal that this educational administration from the Mayor on down through Tweed has ZERO interest in public input and ZERO intention of giving public school parents a voice in the policies that affect their own children's education.

I lived in Pelham, in Westchester County, for nineteen years before returning to NYC back in 1999, and before that, five years in Mount Kisco, also in Westchester County. What I know with absolute certainty from my years in the suburbs is this: were Chancellor Klein and his staff (including you) in the same positions in any town in Westchester, you would have been ridden out on the rails of Metro North years ago. The citizens of Westchester's towns and cities, like those in Long Island and New Jersey, actually have a voice and have rights. Most significantly, they have the power of the vote, and they most definitely would have exercised it. Only in NYC's (intentionally) fragmented and broken political system can the citizenry be so marginalized and treated as so irrelevant. You should be thanking your lucky stars every day that you are not working in the Pelham public school system. They would never tolerate your attitude and your obvious contempt for rational (and, I might add, wholly serious) dissenting views, and they would have happily escorted you out of town so you could find a place like NYC where you could act out as you wished without fear of the consequences.

Steve Koss
A public school parent who is quite serious

Leonie Haimson, NYC Parent

Dear David:

I want to add my two cents now, even though it’s probably not needed.

Many of us on this list serv have been fighting for the rights of NYC children to receive a quality education long before Joel Klein moved to NYC, long before Michael Bloomberg ever thought of running for office, and long before you were hired from whatever job you held previously. The first line of defense of those at Tweed against their critics over most of their reign has been that we somehow represented the interests of the status quo, though this was never true. But guess what? After six years in power, the status quo is you.

Now you’ve picked up on Michelle Rhee’s demeaning line that you somehow represent the interests of children, vs. the entrenched interests of adults, which is even more insulting. We parents don’t want any million dollar no-bid contracts, we don’t want your high salaries, we don’t want to go to cocktail parties where we would have to fawn all over Bloomberg and Klein like the hedge-fund managers do, or the other Wall St. crowd that have gotten us into the current financial mess.

Even more frustrating to the administration is that we cannot be bought and sold by the private and public dollars that they commonly use to silence their critics and force the complicity of others. All we want is a decent education for our kids and not to be insulted on a daily basis by people who clearly know nothing about education and cannot manage their way out of a paper hat.

As to class size – yes, NYC children have long suffered from the largest class sizes in the state. But previous Chancellors did put more of an effort, despite much leaner budgets, to address this problem honestly. Under Rudy Crew, the city used the state funds that were supposed to go to class size reduction to hire additional teachers and form additional classes to reduce class, and class sizes dropped significantly in the early grades. Now we have fewer classes in those grades than before Bloomberg came into office. Crew also founded the Chancellor’s district, which provided smaller classes and longer days to students in previously failing schools, and these children experienced significant improvements as a result – a system that Klein immediately discarded. Harold Levy went on to fund smaller classes in 9th grade English and Math to improve outcomes for HS students, a program that Klein also got rid of.

This administration has squandered all its opportunities – including falling enrollment, millions of dollars in additional state aid, and several years of billions in city surpluses -- to do anything systematic to reduce class size, while lying and breaking the law at every opportunity. You want to talk about priorities? How about this – a lower percentage of city capital spending going to our schools than probably ever in our city’s history – with more seats created in sports stadiums than in schools?

Yes, right now we are facing financial difficulties, but that hasn’t stopped this Mayor from spending even more millions of dollars in scarce tax payer dollars over the last few days to acquire contaminated land in Willets point at ten times its assessed value, to push through a huge development scheme that will likely cost the city billions more. This administration has rezoned over 80 neighborhoods to further encourage residential development without a thought of where any of these kids will go to school, and has pursued policies that have made overcrowding worse – like insisting on giving their billionaire buddies precious space inside existing public school buildings, when they could clearly have afforded to find their own space for their charter schools.

Indeed, the guys at SCA told us that there would be fewer seats in the capital plan even before the financial crisis began – and I suspect that the economic downturn just serves as a convenient excuse to defund our schools, just like it did the Mayor’s successful attempt to extend term limits. I believe in data too – far more than the DOE, which continually puts out worthless garbage data, created by a system that no one believes in.

The worst thing about this administration is its continual inability to tell the truth. Where is the objective, honest needs assessment in the capital plan? If our analysis of the number of seats needed is wrong, where is yours? It is your responsibility to provide this information to the public and yet, you simply refuses to do your job, and instead, deride the attempt of others forced to do this in your place.

Come up with some real numbers, and then let’s work together to find the resources. Instead of the Mayor’s concerted efforts to convince the IRS into giving bigger tax breaks to Yankee stadium, he or Klein might have considered asking the feds for more funds to build more schools.

Oh yes, but then first they’d have to admit that there was actually an overcrowding problem and a need for more schools, and this they completely refuse to do. In the end it is the complete dishonesty of this administration that is most contemptible.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

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