Tuesday, December 29, 2009
FRIDAY JANUARY 8 4 PM
School closings and the upcoming UFT elections will be among the topics of discussion. Help change our union and save our jobs. We will meet in room 313 at the High School of Art and Design, 1075 Second Avenue, near East57 Street. Closest subway stop is 59 Street/Lexington Avenue on the 4, 5, 6, N and R. Also nearby, Lexington Avenue stop on the E and V trains. For an agenda, and for any materials that will be discussed there, reply to this email. We hope you will be there.
HELP DUMP MULGREW & UNITY THIS WINTER
UFT elections are this winter. We need your help to replace the Unity losers who have gotten us into this mess. Here's how you can help.
• Send money. Make a check out to Teachers for a Just Contract and mail it to TJC, Post Office Box 545, New York, NY 10028
• Collect signatures on our nominating positions. Reply to this email with a street mailing address and we will send you petition forms to collect signatures at your school.
• Run with us. We especially need candidates from Middle Schools and active member Functional Chapters. If you are interested in running, reply to this email.
SAVE THE DATE! TUESDAY, JANUARY 26
The January Public Education Panel meeting will be voting on school closings. Pressured by angry UFT members, the union leadership has had no choice but to call for a protest at the meeting site, moved to Brooklyn Technical High School. While other actions, both earlier and after that date, are being planned by rank and file organizations, TJC urges all UFT members to come to this protest, and raise the demand, "No More School Closings!"
Notes from the December Delegate Assembly
The D.O.E. is coming at us like a ton of bricks, closing schools like there's no tomorrow. How is the Unity-UFT leadership responding? Why and how did they get the Public Education Panel meeting moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn? How can Unity-UFT consider a rally at the PEP meeting a great idea, while the idea of a rally at City Hall would be "walking into a trap"? And, finally, has Michael Mulgrew read too much Harry Potter and started to believe in spells and magic words, like "Mismanagement"? To get Marian Swerdlow's notes, reply to this email.
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Auctions, raffles would be banned; Dept. of Education employees forbidden to hold offices
By AMISHA PADNANI
Staten Island Advance
December 28, 2009
Call it a 50-50, Chinese auction or penny social.
If it involves raffle tickets, no numbers will be called after next month, if
city officials approve proposed changes to how PTAs function.
The new policy, to be voted on at a meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School on
Jan. 26, could cause schools to lose tens of thousands of dollars in funds that
have paid for classroom supplies, smartboards and even a music teacher.
"It's our biggest fundraiser and parents love them," said Louise DeMeo, who
serves as the PTA co-president at Totten Intermediate School and the
corresponding secretary at PS 1, Tottenville. "You're talking about some
teachers getting around $2,000 gifts from the PTA, all for use for the kids."
The ban comes on the heels of a regulation that effectively prohibits bake
sales, another key fundraising tool for schools.
Previously, raffle tickets could not be sold to children, however, the new rule,
outlined in the proposed Chancellors Regulation A-660, says raffle tickets
cannot be sold at all.
The new regulation comes with a slew of other changes in the way PTAs would be
structured, potentially causing upheaval across the city.
PTAs will be required to give some of their extra earnings back to the parents
or the school, rather than using the funds for future events.
Also, no longer will Department of Education employees be allowed to serve as
PTA presidents, corresponding secretaries or treasurers. Instead, they will have
to resign mid-year, with elections held immediately to find replacements.
"Basically, that's taking away my rights as a parent," said Ms. DeMeo, who is a
public school teacher at a school her children do not attend. "I would have to
leave my position and I don't want to do that. The principal does not want me to
do that. He said this is the best PTA he has ever worked with."
"It seems like what they [the DOE] don't want is somebody who's knowledgeable
and passionate," she added. "They want to limit parent involvement and it's
going to create a very adversarial relationship between the teachers and the
Chinese auctions are the most lucrative fundraisers, generating as much as
$20,000 each time an event is held, parents said. At the auction, parents pay
for dinner and a set of raffle tickets when they walk in the door. Numbers are
called and the winner takes home a prize. Organizing an auction can take months,
between writing hundreds of letters to organizations to collect donations of
items, putting together baskets and renting a space.
But parents said it's worth the effort. PS 1 used $5,000 from a Chinese auction
to prevent their music program from being slashed due to budget cuts. Many
schools also use the funds for cultural activities and carnival days. The
principal at PS 50, Oakwood, was able to purchase air conditioners for some of
"It was phenomenal," said Michele Faljean, the co-president of the Staten Island
Federation of PTAs. "It's so hot in there, the kids can get heat stroke. They
can't even function because they're sweating to death. All the PTA wants to do
is make the school better and help the kids do better."
According to the DOE, all concerns will be heard before the proposal is voted on
by the Panel for Educational Policy.
"We are still accepting public comment on the proposed regulation and we will
consider all parent and public comments before finalizing the proposed
regulation for a panel vote," said Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE.
In the past several weeks, the Lower East Side has become a main battleground in the struggle for New York City's public schools. Parents have staged protests, called news conferences and come out in force for public meetings to speak out about the expansion plans of the Girls Prep Charter School. In the middle of the debate is Lisa Donlan, the president of District 1's Community Education Council. I sat down with her recently for a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the neighborhood's schools. From her perspective, the Girls Prep controversy has exposed (but not for the first time) the perils of centralized control of the city's schools in the hands of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
There are 32 Community Education Councils (CEC's) in New York City, each aligned with a school district overseeing a neighborhood's public elementary and middle schools. According to the Department of Education's web site, the CEC's "responsibilities include: approving school zoning lines, holding hearings on the capital plan, evaluating community superintendents, and providing input on other important policy issues." But, as a practical matter, Donlan says, the councils were made impotent by the 2002 state law transferring control of the schools from the Board of Education to Bloomberg:
(CEC's are) granted very few rights and responsibilities compared with, say, a school board, which any non-urban, non mayoral-controlled district would have. You pay your taxes, you elect people who make decisions about the schools. That's direct representation. One of my biggest issues is that this is, to me, a very racist and classist setup for urban school districts. In Scarsdale, this is not happening. This is not what's happening in most of the country. There's this shock doctrine that says, 'failing urban schools are the fault of local control and we need to centralize it and put it into the hands of the mayor, who can make these tough decisions.' I think there's something implicitly racist and classist in that, and colonial, in that thought process.
Earlier this month, the CEC passed a resolution calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to deny the Girls Prep request to expand its middle school in District 1. They argued the DOE had badly underestimated the impact of three proposed expansion scenarios on other neighborhood schools. But Donlan is not optimistic the council's opinion will matter very much. Like many parent advocates, she contends the local superintendents have almost no influence with the decision-makers at the DOE. State legislators have insisted this year's law renewing mayoral control guaranteed parents a stronger voice. But Donlan says:
The mayor and Chancellor (Joel Klein) have made it very clear that they don't think parents have any role in this level of decision-making, so they've done everything they can to thwart the law... Not only do we have no levers of power but we don't even have the ability to get information to empower ourselves. There is no transparency. The rhetoric of transparency and accountability is absolutely Orwellian.
Back in 2005, Bloomberg boasted he had "boldly and systematically overhauled and streamlined the management structure of the schools," eliminating "the patronage-infested community school boards." But Donlan rejects the notion that District 1 schools needed "saving."
To say that schools were a mess is inaccurate. Schools are a mess today. To say there's been progress? I really don't see the progress that he's been pointing to. Show me the progress you're talking about. Is it in the over-inflated, dumbed-down test scores that have become the whole carrot and stick of an entire system? Have the least performing schools improved incrementally? That may be true. I'm not completely sure. By closing all kinds of schools and pushing the most at-risk kids and the least prepared kids into these mega-schools that you then close one by one - I'm not sure that's progress. I think this is the illusion of progress. I certainly think we've lowered the bar. I think District 1 is a wonderful response to the mythologizing or demonizing of the past. I can tell you that every time you can find examples of corruption or inefficiency in government anywhere, you don't close the system down. You work on improving it. You just don't demolish everything and say we're starting over and then call that progress.
Donlan and other opponents of mayoral control have a new ally. Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate-elect, is calling on the mayor to take parental concerns more seriously. More pointedly, in an interview with WNBC, de Blasio said he was " suspicious of the math and reading tests that City Hall cites as proof that schools are getting better." Donlan is equally skeptical. But what concerns her most is the dismantling of programs and policies in District 1 schools that were beginning to bear fruit.
We had this incredible admissions policy that was very forward thinking. I think that had it been allowed to continue it would have continued to bring about more progress. When the parents took over the school board 20 years ago with a particular vision, the District 1 schools were 31st out of 32 test scores published in the New York Times. When it was dismantled in 2003 they were in the top half, clearly making their way up. Were there plenty of schools that were still struggling? Yes. Would time have continued to bring about progress in those schools? Possibly.
Donlan also points to the district's commitment to universal Pre-K, which has made a tremendous difference to poor, working families. Small classes and an emphasis on art and music programs, were also major factors in the district's improving fortunes, as well, she said. This past October, a state report found District 1 was the "most improved" school district in all of New York City.
During the summer, explaining his determination to increase the number of charter schools in New York City, Bloomberg said, "you give me competition, I'll show you progress." His comments were detailed in the New York Times:
It is the charter schools that will get the public to demand that the rest of them come up,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s the charter schools that let parents vote with their feet and tell us what the parents think about the quality of the education, of the schools. And I can tell you, one of the reasons that the public schools in the city have gotten better is because the charter schools exist and give parents an alternative and let parents see that you can do something better.
Donlan says the notion of parental choice has always been an important principle in District 1. All parents can choose which school to send their children, a policy that has encouraged innovation and diversity in teaching approaches and educational programs. So, in theory, she's not opposed to the mayor's ideas about competition in the city's schools. The problem, she told me, is that the deck is stacked against traditional public schools:
Philosophically we believe in choice. So philosophically I believe that the charter model makes sense in this district of choice where we've always aligned with the same goals that the New York Charter Law delineates: innovation, creating capacity in the teaching staff, providing increased education for at-risk students and choice... Where the rubber hits the road is in the implementation... and whether or not those schools are meeting (expectations) and how that is measured. I would maintain that the charter schools are not carrying their share of the burden in terms of ELL's (English Language Learners).
Charter schools are publicly financed but privately operated. Donlan believes this decreases transparency and accountability. And she shares the concerns, expressed by some parents, that charter schools could one day destroy the public school system.
Private management, which is disconnected from any sort of democratic input is very problematic. And I see a fine line between private management that is today not for profit in New York City, but in New York state is allowed to be for profit, so I do buy into the doomsday scenario of the dismantling of the public schools for a private management system, and then we no longer have the public service. If that is indeed the end game or the consequence or even the unintended consequence of having management that is disconnected from a larger community than I'm philosophically opposed.
In October, we visited Girls Prep and spoke with the school's founder, Miriam Raccah. She told us Girls Prep is "relentlessly focused on achievement," and in recent weeks she has repeatedly argued that charter schools deserve the same resources as traditional public schools. In followup stories (here and here), it became clear Donlan and Raccah disagree on almost everything. On one issue, however, they are aligned. Like the downtown political establishment, and parents across the neighborhood, they're convinced the DOE has failed to accommodate the space requirements of all schools. Girls Prep, for example, shares a building on Houston Street with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94. Many critics of the Education Department are convinced it's not a lack of money or incompetent management causing the space crunch - but a deliberate strategy.
At a recent Education Council meeting, DOE official Ross Holden seemed to suggest charter schools could grow by pushing out "failing neighborhood schools." And he made it clear a $200 million charter school construction fund was no magic bullet. While Holden denied making the argument that charter schools could grow at the expense of existing neighborhood schools in a later conversation with Donlan, the remarks played into many parents' worst fears. Donlan says more than 80-percent of the schools in District 1 share a building with another school. If the State Legislature raises the charter cap, as Bloomberg hopes they'll do, the space crunch will become even more acute. Donlan told me the Girls Prep dilemma is not the only illustration of the problem - only the most recent example:
Is there some space in our schools that could be used more efficiently? Yes. Is there enough room to sustain another middle school - three sections of four grades? - no. What would have to be given up to create that is something that's already quite rare... It's about who gives up what to whom. It's not just 'oh there's space let's use it better.' It's about giving up occupational therapy rooms, giving up rooms to do speech or guidance counseling. It's rooms for art, music, dance, after school.
Donlan says she's been begging for more schools for five years. The Lower East Side makes up the fastest growing district in the city. Young families are moving into certain sections of District 1 (the Grand Street co-ops, for example) in large numbers. Alluding to the school overcrowding crisis that has enveloped the West Side, Donlan warns, "don't make us the next Tribeca." Making that case, she says, has been made far more difficult by the renewal of mayoral control:
There is nothing that replaces democracy. Having levers of power around decision making that affects our community is essential.... Mayoral control is the opposite of democracy. It's politicized, it's not transparent and it's not accountable.
Monday, December 28, 2009
The New York City public school system has always been led by teachers. Until the chancellorship of Joel I. Klein.
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg was elected, he vowed to improve the city’s
schools, initiating far-reaching overhauls that began with mayoral control: The
demolition of the independent and often mayor-opposing Board of Education, the
creation of a Department of Education, and the formation of the mayor-vetted
Panel for Educational Policy. Critical to Bloomberg's vision was his appointment
of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, the former head of publishing giant
Bertelsmann and U.S. Department of Justice antitrust attorney who sued Microsoft
– and won.
Historically, educators lead departments of education. But of the 16 individuals
on Klein’s leadership team, only two are educators. In the Bloomberg era,
lawyers and MBAs dominate: not only did Klein have a career in law, James
Liebman, the Chief Accountability Officer who developed the school progress
reports that now drive school survival and principals' job security, is a law
professor at Columbia. Stephanie Dua, who heads the Office of Strategic
Partnerships – and is CEO of the DOE-linked Fund for Public Schools – worked as
a management consultant at the global business consultancy McKinsey & Company.
Garth Harries, former Chief Executive of Portfolio now charged with reviewing
special education services, came to the department via Stanford Law and
McKinsey. Deputy Chancellor Christopher D. Cerf trained as a lawyer and worked
with the Edison Learning Company, in 2006 the world’s largest for-profit schools
Others come from the political sphere: Micah Lasher, the department’s chief
lobbyist, founded the KnickerbockerSKD political communications firm, with
clients including Caroline Kennedy, Andrew Cuomo and the Fund for Public
Schools. Brian Ellner was a Bloomberg campaign staffer and one-time Manhattan
Borough President hopeful who now serves as Klein’s director of Public and
“I was elected largely on the basis of my business background. I think New
Yorkers expect me to run city government in much the same way I ran my company,"
said Bloomberg in his 2003 State of the City speech, with “the incentive and
desire to do more, do it better, and do it with less.”
Under his leadership, the art and practice of education has shifted perceptibly
to the business of education – market-driven, "incentivized" and data-steeped.
Enter the Microsoft slayer
“It’s not an accident that the mayor selected the country’s leading antitrust
litigator and not a teacher” to lead the DOE, says Eric Nadelstern, who holds
the title of Chief Schools Officer. “What the mayor understood [is that] when
you have a system with so much vested interest, somehow, you have to break
Klein’s nomination as chancellor required special state waivers, to permit him
to assume the post without advanced academic credentials in education or
experience in education leadership. “You can make the argument that the head of
the schools should be an experienced pedagogue,” Klein said at an education
journalists' roundtable last fall. But fixing the schools posed “a massive
management challenge," he said, and the mayor needed “to try outside
So Bloomberg “hired the Microsoft guy,” is how a former member of the DOE
cabinet under Klein summed it up. “He’s a guy who breaks up monopolies. The
problem was the problem of monopolies – the lack of competition, market failure.
The whole thing had to be blown up.”
Klein doesn’t disagree: “The DOE was fundamentally a monopoly,” he explained at
the roundtable. “The mayor wanted someone who was not a career educator, not a
captive to the organization.” The mayor got what he wanted – Klein's seven-year
tenure is the longest chancellorship in memory.
Product over process
It's not as though the city's public schools were perfect when teachers rose to
the highest levels of leadership. School quality and safety varied wildly by
neighborhood. Local political clubs controlled school boards. Bureaucracy was
impenetrable to all but the most crafty or connected. Teachers were grossly
underpaid; their professional growth was hobbled. And most critically, students
were failing by the tens of thousands: dropping out, or being neglected by
Bloomberg spelled out the first phase of his school reform agenda in a major
education address on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2003. “Woefully inadequate”
public schools that failed too many students presented “the opportunity to
rewrite that bleak scenario and chart a new course of success,” the mayor said.
Primary among his goals was “ending the bureaucratic sclerosis” with “one
unified, focused, streamlined chain of command ... freed from the dead hand of
The chancellor sits at the top of that chain, Bloomberg said, and “will dictate
the curriculum and pedagogical methods” for the city’s schools. He dismissed
Klein’s inexperience in education, touting instead his legal prowess: “No one is
better qualified to navigate the legal labyrinth that constantly frustrates
“Bloomberg came from Wall Street and the business community,” said the former
DOE cabinet member, who, like many current or former educators interviewed, did
not want to be named for fear of professional or personal retribution. “They
think entirely differently about organizational structure and dynamics. They
needed the market approach to shake things up. In that respect, Joel delivered
exactly what he promised.”
Yet the wholesale restructuring in 2003 that eliminated the city’s 32 districts,
substituting 10 regions in their place, gutted existing structures for
communication and professional development, say school leaders and education
advocates. Reforms were needed, but went too far, spearheaded initially by
consultants from McKinsey and later by Ron Beller, a former Goldman Sachs
partner who was considered “their hit guy,” said the former DOE cabinet member,
who worked with Beller during the reorganization. “There’s nothing like a trader
at an investment bank for the sharp, bright edge of the marketplace – a brutal
clarity, applied to the school system.”
CEOs and investment bankers allied forces with Klein, as did business titan Jack
Welch and high-profile management consultants like Noel Tichy, who with Welch
created the GE corporate training center that later served as a model for the
NYC Leadership Academy for school principals. Sir Michael Barber, former advisor
to Tony Blair, also joined the effort, as did activist philanthropists like Eli
Broad and later, Bill Gates. More than a dozen private-sector business leaders
participated in the Klein-Bloomberg reform efforts, in a kind of “patrician
liberalism,” according to United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo
Casey, citing a long American tradition “of elite reform from above” by
individuals sincerely motivated to serve the greater good, but with little
personal stake in the system, in the form of their own children in the public
schools, for example.
“Their theory of change is one that distrusts educators,” says Casey. “You don’t
work with people in schools but impose various frameworks upon them and
experiment. It’s a system designed for noneducators to be able to manage that
system.” The new system focuses more on the "product" of greater efficiency,
better graduation rates and higher test scores, than the process of teaching and
“For the longest time, the people who ran the education department were
educators,” Casey says. “These folks aren’t educators. They don’t know how to
have education conversations. They’re lawyers and MBAs who never spent a day in
the classroom or running a school.”
“When you have folks who don’t know or understand education, they think the
union is trying to trick them,” says Casey. “What was a common language, and a
common ground for conversation between the union and civic leaders, is not
Teaching and learning downgraded
The 2003 restructuring centralized processes at the DOE, only to be undone in a
second wave of reorganization in 2006.
“Phase I involved depoliticizing the system, building coherence, and building
capacity,” Klein said in September. Dissolving districts to create far larger
regions shattered previous structures. Imposing a universal curriculum
standardized content and teaching practices citywide. And developing like-minded
teachers, principals and leadership expanded the DOE’s ability to bring its
vision to the schools. “We built a system we knew would migrate to a very
different state,” he added, which led to the second wave of reorganization at
the DOE, in 2006, which decentralized power (in particular, the power of the
principal’s pocketbook) out of DOE and to the individual schools, creating the
empowered “principal as CEO” model that is the norm in schools today.
“It’s a social-Darwinistic view of schools,” says UFT VP Casey. “They talk about
'empowerment.' A more accurate characterization is the devolution of
responsibilities onto a school – if a school’s not functioning, it has to be the
responsibility of the people in the school” and not the DOE.
The position of Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, long a premier post
in the education universe, has lost its luster and its strength in the
Bloomberg-Klein reforms, critics say. “That position is the one that keeps
turning over,” says Pedro Noguera, Professor of Teaching and Learning at NYU’s
school of education, who also chaired a city task force on middle school
performance. “That position doesn’t have a lot of power. It’s almost
Turnover in the role has been steady under Klein. His first pick for Deputy
Chancellor, Diana Lam, was forced to resign following an investigation for
nepotism. His second nominee, Michele Cahill, was thwarted when the state denied
her the same waiver of educational credentials that it had granted Klein.
Finally the post went to Carmen Fariña, a respected longtime educator who rose
through the leadership ranks. With nearly four decades of service in the city’s
schools, Fariña brought enormous credibility to the position, and helped to
advance and defend reforms like the universal curriculum and the DOE’s plan to
end social promotion.
Yet she did not participate in planning meetings, or help to develop the
"blueprint" reforms she was asked to execute and present to the public. And she
was discouraged from going out to spend time in the schools. Instead, Fariña was
expected to manage Teaching and Learning from her desk at Tweed Courthouse. (As
a local superintendent, Fariña routinely visited four schools a week.)
“To me, the only thing I can judge is what you can see in the classroom,” said
Fariña, who retired in 2006. “Schools doing excellent work in class instruction
don’t always see it reflected in their Report Card.”
Her successor, Marcia Lyles, recently accepted a position as head of a small
school district in Delaware, leading Klein to appoint his fifth Deputy
Chancellor in seven years: Santiago Taveras, who is considered "interim."
(Leaders at a Manhattan high school where Taveras once worked have spoken of his
shortfalls in curriculum planning, even with “a great deal of support.”)
'Contempt for the profession'
The DOE’s increasing focus on data management as an instructional tool, and as a
tool to motivate and reward leadership, in the form of $25,000 bonuses for
principals at the schools making the greatest gains on state standardized tests,
means that teachers have become technicians, according to the founding principal
of a highly regarded and high-performing elementary school in Manhattan.
“Education is a communal effort – it’s a people business, it’s all about
relationships. Data is one small piece of it,” said the principal.
“The brightest college graduates” – the same students sought by Klein-favored
teacher-training programs Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows –
“don’t want to become teachers because it’s so scripted, so formulaic,” she
added. “There’s too much structure; they’re expected to become technicians.
Teachers want to be decision-makers, find the teachable moments, explore the big
ideas. If you’re driven to follow someone else’s agenda, you’re not honoring the
child. Eyes only on test scores means no eyes on the children.”
“There’s not enough focus on access to good teaching,” said NYU’s Noguera.
“Higher-order thinking, the ability to write well, the ability to read and
analyze complex text. The real issue is how to make sure kids are getting good
instruction. With pay pegged to [test] scores, the drive is to test prep.
Assessment is a tool, not the solution.”
The extent of the reforms, many say, is a direct reflection of the diminished
role of educators in the upper echelons of the DOE. Consider the department’s
endorsement of unconventional educator-training programs, for example, which one
veteran high school principal says shows "contempt for the profession." Teach
for America and the city's Teaching Fellows program both recruit top grads and
career-changers and thrust them into the classroom while earning their Masters
degrees in education. Many of these unorthodox recruits end up teaching only
briefly, studies show, before going on to other career options. “The idea that
teaching is charity work, where young people parachute in for two or three years
– what does that do for children?” the principal asked.
“They have no idea of the human relationships and of the community educators
need,” said the Manhattan principal. “That’s not a business model. Business is
about selling things, not about people.”
“Klein’s vision of the public schools is not one of a lifetime career, where you
work with children all your professional life,” says UFT Vice President Leo
Casey. “It’s a Peace Corps mentality – you spend two years teaching, then you’re
off to your ‘real’ career.”
In fact, Klein himself did a brief stint as a math teacher, during a break from
law school in 1969. He also has spoken out often on teaching reform – and
recently shared with the New York Times his desire to “slowly, over time,”
reduce the numbers of teachers by 30 percent, while raising teacher salary by 30
percent as well. (The teachers' contract will expire in October.)
Klein recognized teachers as "welcome assets" to learning, but envisions an
education world where students will “basically work it out on their own,” and
where, in two or three decades, schools will be “a hybrid model where there is a
physical school, a place where they go and have clubs and sports activities and
drama, but then, for their academic course work, they might take most of it
“He is so enraptured with accountability, Report Cards, and driving the test
scores up that he’s forgotten that the primal scene for all education reform is
in the classroom,” said Manhattan Institute senior fellow Sol Stern, who writes
frequently on local education. “It matters what you do in a classroom. Teacher
quality and a curriculum stressing strong content knowledge are the keys to
Fewer teachers earning more may personify the business-efficiency model, but
“teachers are not like lawyers or MBAs,” says Casey. “They’re not motivated by
money or power. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids.”
“Teachers are viewed by the chancellor as the problem, not the solution,” said a
former Klein cabinet member. “He’s always been averse to having people with
education experience around him. You don’t need teachers at the table to fix the
But businesses have gone bust
Mayor Bloomberg first took office in the city’s boom years, when business
culture dominated. Now, as financial edifices topple daily, many ask whether the
paradigm of competition, incentives, and free-market reform still pertains. “The
Mayor’s alliances cross political lines, from corporate leaders, through the
financial and publishing industries, real estate, insurance, technology. He
relies on, and rewards, corporate leaders for education initiatives,” says one
prominent scholar. “Why should we have such respect for the business model,
given the chaos it’s created in the country at large?”
“Bloomberg and Klein are geniuses at marketing their products,” says Stern, of
the Manhattan Institute. “But then, so was Enron. If all these investment banks
were cooking the books, it's becoming clearer to me that this is also happening
in the education world.”
“It is absolutely bizarre that the head of the DOE has no education background
or experience,” said State Assembly Member Rory Lancman of Queens, sponsor of a
bill to make the DOE a city agency subject to local laws, which do not now
pertain to the mayorally-controlled entity. “No one would accept a police
department head without a background in law enforcement. The Chancellorship
should not be someone’s first job in education.”
Klein’s long-term goal is a financial one, according to one veteran
administrator: "Half the number of public schools, double the number of charter
schools – there will be less people in pension plans, and less money spent per
capita each time a charter school opens."
“There is no other agency that’s so out of whack, in terms of who runs it and
what the agency is for,” says State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem, whose
district has experienced conflict over the number of charter schools versus
traditional public schools. “People with no credentials whatsoever regarding
education are in charge of the system and telling people how it should be run.”
- Helen Zelon
Editor's Note: In preparing this article, City Limits spoke with former and
current DOE staffers and cabinet members, former and current school principals,
academics, and critics on the left and right of the political spectrum, nearly
all of whom requested anonymity out of concern for possible detrimental
consequences for speaking candidly on the record on a sensitive issue. “The
incredible concentration of political and financial power leaves no room for
dissent or difference,” said one person.
Many expressed worry that their schools might suffer or their programs might be
jeopardized, given the depth and reach of Bloomberg-funded civic and
philanthropic projects citywide. The mayor’s broad and deep connections across
political, financial, social and philanthropic networks limit comments to those
kept off the record – and, critics say, strongly influence largely favorable
coverage in the mainstream media.
The DOE, despite prior verbal agreement to review and consider questions related
to this article, declined comment, and would not address the near-universal
desire for anonymity.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Here's a brief outline of what your contribution (or the contribution of a friend with extra means) to Still Waters in a Storm (www.stillwatersinastorm.org/support) makes possible:
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Published Online: Education Week, December 22, 2009
Charter Schools: Education's Fox in the Henhouse?
By Burt Saxon
Successful urban charter schools are showing that high demand, high support education works for all students—not just Jewish and Asian and upper-class kids, but all kids who commit to academic success. Some of these schools’ achievement gains are very impressive.
So why am I, a retired public school teacher of 34 years, cautious and suspicious?
Perhaps there’s a hidden agenda, one that may be revealed by the following questions:
1. Are charter schools “culling”? Are they taking in lots of low-income youngsters, keeping the high-achievers, and sending the rest back to the regular public schools?
2. Are high-performing charters spending huge amounts of money per student, thereby getting the large achievement gains one might expect from one-to-one tutoring and after-school and summer support? Although many charters receive less public funding per pupil than their public school counterparts, these schools can supplement their budgets with grants—and with private money.
3. Do charter schools create disinformation campaigns against the public schools, so that urban districts will turn over their schools to what appears to be an idealistic crop of young administrators with proven results?
4. Are these idealistic young administrators working hand in hand with the Wall Street investors who already have brought this nation to financial disaster? As The New York Times reported earlier this month, hedge-fund managers play a significant role in New York City’s charter movement.
5. Is the ultimate goal privatization? Have the financiers realized that voucher plans are politically dead, leading them to implement their privatization strategy through charter schools?
I doubt that privatization would improve the nation’s schools. It certainly would result in the destruction of the public school teaching profession, the last secure, middle-class occupation in America.
My own take on effective education reform is based on two seemingly contradictory assumptions: Education is a public good, and competition is a good thing. Perhaps public education should become something more akin to what the U.S. Postal Service now is: a quasi-governmental institution that allows for limited competition. Private companies compete with the post office in overnight, package, and other special deliveries, but regular mail service is left intact. A system like this forces the government-supported component to improve or lose resources.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not a shill for the public schools and the teachers’ unions. Teachers in public schools have few incentives to excel. Their pay is fixed, based on experience and degrees. The system in which I worked for over three decades took good care of me, but it did not lead me to work as hard as I could have. Could merit pay be a solution?
Michelle Rhee, the controversial chancellor of public schools in the District of Columbia, has offered teachers there the possibility of high salaries in return for their giving up tenure protections for one year. Of course, hedge-fund managers would laugh at my calling the proposed salaries of up to $130,000 high ones, but let’s simply ask whether the potential of more pay would attract good teachers. Finding talented math and science teachers is especially difficult; maybe an incentive system would bring in candidates with better math and science skills.
But who might be willing to give up the benefits of tenure? How about those Teach For America recruits, who are only going to teach for a couple of years anyway? Even TFA’s most well-known critic, Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond, admits that the students of certified TFA teachers do better in math. This makes me wonder if a lot of these folks—the successful charter schools, the hedge-fund managers, Chancellor Rhee—are on the same team. If they are, let’s ask another question: Is this a better team than the one that’s in charge now? The one in which teachers make political contributions to become administrators, while their former colleagues who stay in the classroom have to work second and third jobs to send their children to college?
Maybe we do need some sort of incentive system for professional educators. I prefer one based less on standardized tests and more on “customer satisfaction.” And I do believe that charter schools should be allowed to compete on an equal playing field.
But I absolutely do not believe that any school district should turn over all its schools to a corporation. Special education services would be slashed immediately. Unregulated monopolies—public or private—are not good for the consumer. Privatization does offer the hope of some helpful efficiencies, but a form of public-private competition would be the better answer.
Of course there are those who would argue that I am overreacting. I have no proof that the hidden agenda of the charter school movement is to privatize American public education. Some sources (including The New York Times) say the hedge-fund managers see their involvement in charter schools as community service, rather than profit-generating. Only time will tell if this is true or not. I love community service, but I also believe that capitalists are geniuses at finding new markets and ways to put the screws on the working class.
I am among the few lucky Americans to have a decent pension and good health care, and I want others to have the same. Privatizing the public schools would not help any of us educated, middle- and working-class folks. It would just move more of us, and our children, into the ranks of the working poor.
One of my great professors in college believed that the public schools were nothing less than the foundation of American democracy. Lawrence A. Cremin of Teachers College, Columbia University, knew full well that this nation’s education system was imperfect. But he also understood that we have continually tried to reform public schools precisely because we believe in them.
Are we ready to give up on an institution that, throughout our history, has promoted and sustained our democracy? Should we not recognize the fact that our poorest students are failing to achieve at high levels largely because we have allowed wealth and income gaps that are morally intolerable to exist in this country?
The arguments for privatization sound good at first, but once you give the fox the key to the henhouse, it’s virtually impossible to get it back.
Vol. 29, Issue 16
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Science Skills Center HS for Science Technology and Creative Arts; International Arts Business School; School for Legal Studies; Boys and Girls; Maxwell; FDA IV; Metropolitan Corporate Academy HS; Secondary School for Law; Robeson; FDNY HS; HS for Civil Rights
Peace and Diversity; Columbus; Monroe Academy for Business Law; Grace Dodge; New Day; Gompers; Clinton; Smith; JFK; Jane Addams; Global Enterprise; Community Research and Learning
Norman Thomas; Murray Bertraum; Choir Academy of Harlem; Academy of Environmental Science; University Neighborhood HS; Legacy School for Integrated Studies; Washington Irving; Chelsea Career and Tech; Coalition School for Social Change; Graphics; Leadership and Public Service
Beach Channel; Business Computer Applications and Entrepeneurship; Jamaica; John Adams; Grover Cleveland; Math Science Research Magnet; Richmond Hill
1. The side agreement that the UFT reached with the DOE in June regarding our pension benefits was only recently enacted into law by the NYS Legislature. Benefit changes for members hired after Dec. 9, the change in the rate of return for the fixed TDA plan, and other questions are answered at Q&A at this link.