Friday, April 08, 2011

Leonie Haimson on Walcott

1.       I was asked by the NY Times blog to contribute 300 words on what Black’s brief tenure shows about whether business success is enough to run a school system.  Please take a look and leave a comment!  

I am also quoted today in the Los Angeles Times,  in Gabe Pressman’s column and DNA info.

I have mixed reactions to Cathie Black’s resignation yesterday.  Though friends and colleagues from around the country emailed and called to say that I must be celebrating, I had to respond, not exactly.   Upon her appointment, most parents realized that  she  was not fit for the job, although it took the mayor three months of sinking approval ratings for him to appreciate that fact.   When he saw the latest approval ratings,  with Black at 17% and his handling of schools at 27%, despite millions of dollars spent of ads  trying to convince New Yorkers that he actually knew what he was doing when it came to education,  he must have figured out it was time to cut bait.

2.       Clearly, Dennis Walcott has far more experience in public education that she did.  But  watching Walcott in action for the last nine years, I have no evidence to believe that he is ready to take our schools in a new direction.  Parents are fed up with this administration’s version of education “reform”: school closings, harmful charter co-locations, rampant overcrowding, frequent budget cuts,  rising class sizes,  excessive test prep, PR spin, and stagnant achievement levels.  They are furious at the mayor’s proposal to cut 6,000 additional teaching positions, rather than consider raising taxes on millionaires. They are tired of having their views ignored and disrespected by an arrogant billionaire who figures he knows better than they do about what’s right for their kids.  

About Walcott: I remember when the mayor decided to ban all cell phones from schools.  Most parents felt then and still feel that cell phones are a necessary safety device, esp. considering how many of our kids have to commute miles to school each day.  The City Council proposed legislation that would allow students to bring their cell phones to school, which then the school could choose to store for them safely, but would have to give back at the end of the day.   I watched  Dennis Walcott as Deputy Mayor testify during the hearings , in which he said it didn’t matter if the Council passed this legislation or not, since the mayor did not intend to comply with it.  Robert Jackson, chair of the Council Education  committee, pointed to a HS class watching from the gallery, and said,  “This is terrible example of democracy for these students, the fact that you would calmly say that the city does not intend to follow the law.”  Walcott replied that “No, this is democracy because we are having this discussion.”

In short,  unless Walcott (and the Mayor) change course, show that they are willing to follow the law, listen to parents and other stakeholders, and alter the policies that are damaging our kids, I do not  believe that the mayor’s abysmal approval ratings will increase substantially.  I hope that this appointment means a real shift in direction, rather than simply a PR move, but we will have to see.

3.        Today are budget hearings on the mayor’s egregious education cuts; held from 10 AM onwards, at the Emigrant Savings Bank - 49-51 Chambers Street  .  Public testimony starts after 12 PM.  Come and speak out against the proposed cuts of 6,000 teaching positions,  while millions of dollars are being wasted on consultants, no-bid contracts, online learning, more testing, and even more new schools that there is no space for.  The IBO came out with a report, suggesting that a one-year moratorium on new schools would save $15 million.  

As it is, 25% of all  elementary schools have waiting lists for Kindergarten next year, with over 3,000 children who cannot get into their zoned neighborhood schools.  Over 8,000 students, or 10% of all 8th graders , did not get into any of their ten choices for high school.  For a system that is supposedly built on “choice,”  all these new schools have not apparently led to better options for parents or  even more importantly, better outcomes for their kids.

More soon,

Leonie Haimson

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