Tag Archives: education reform policy

Alexander Nazaryan of the New York Daily News and His Hatred for Teaching

The following piece appeared in this Sunday’s New York Daily News. The “author” is some guy who was a teacher for 4 years and feels qualified enough to spew unadulterated hate for the profession and the children of New York City.

I have quoted chunks of the article and written responses to each chunk.

In my first year in the classroom, I was an excellent teacher. I know that because I was told so constantly. We all were, every single one of us trying to keep a then-failing (it is better now, I hear) middle school in Flatbush from collapsing into a brick-pile of juvenile chaos. Young teachers like me, fresh out of the New York City Teaching Fellows, were “superstars”; old-timers with Queens accents who wore their Fordham windbreakers to class were “real pros.”

Drivel. At best, you were rated as a “satisfactory” teacher, since there really was no such rating as “excellent”. Who was telling you that you were excellent, exactly?

No, young teachers like you were never “superstars”. Never once in my 12 years of teaching did I ever hear anyone within a school building refer to Teaching Fellows as “superstars”. Teaching Fellows were the people who quit after one, two or three years. In your case, it was four.

Nor have I ever heard the term “real pros”. What type of nonsensical, fantasy world are you painting, exactly?

We were excellent when students fought during free reading time. We were excellent when we forgot to write up lesson plans because we had been out drinking the night before. We were excellent when we shouted and threatened. When that didn’t work, we called the dean. If she was busy, we yelled some more. Throughout it all, we were excellent, even if the seventh-grade math and reading tests then used to measure schools indicated that excellence wasn’t quite the word for what we were doing. Survival, more like it. Guerrilla warfare, if you want to be ungenerous.

Who is we?

1) Did my students ever fight during reading time? No

2) Have I ever walked into a classroom without writing a lesson? No.

3) Have I ever shouted and threatened? What teacher has not?

4) Did I call the dean? I was the dean.

5) Did I yell some more? Nope.

Utter drivel. None of this resembles reality in any way. “Excellent”, “forgetting” to write lesson plans? Are you serious?

And when it came time for our evaluations, which came once or twice a year, depending on seniority, excellence was affirmed. Everyone got the “Satisfactory” rating that, in New York City’s Education Department, all but guarantees you not only keep your job, but do with that job whatever you please – show “The Outsiders” for the 17th time to your senior English class or teach your third-graders ancient Greek.

“Satisfactory” is not “excellent”. Satisfactory means you fulfilled certain minimum requirements of being a teacher. Does every teacher get an  S? No. Not even by the statistics you provide later in your article.

As far as “showing the Outsiders for the 17th time to your senior English class”, what was the context? I am pretty sure you have never seen a teacher show the Outsiders 17 straight times to their senior English class. Either you stalked a colleague’s classroom and kept track of what they were doing for at least 17 days or you are pulling anecdotes out of your aspiration to be a shill for Bloomberg.

What is wrong with teaching Greek to 3rd graders? Are you saying New York City kids are too dumb to learn Greek? I was a NYC kid, were you?

Of the dozens of teachers who taught with me, I did not know a single one who received an “Unsatisfactory” rating. Not the one who allegedly locked students in a closet, nor those who didn’t know the subject they taught. In fact, that was true for pretty much the rest of the city’s 80,000 teachers, of whom less than 3% received a U-rating last year.

So, how many teachers should get a “U” rating? 3% is obviously too low for you. Obviously, every profession needs to have a certain minimum rate of people being fired. So, what is the magic percentage? 5? 10? Is it just teachers who are subject to this arbitrary purging, or doctors, lawyers, police officers and firefighters as well?

If 3% of teachers get a “U”, what is the overall attrition rate? Around 45% of teachers in NYC leave after 4 years. Looks like you fall into that category.

Why do so many teachers leave? Mostly columns like yours that piss all over the profession.

Not to mention how you want to affect the kids. You want to take a system with a 45% attrition rate and fire MORE people? Essentially, you do not want children to keep any of their teachers. You want a complete revolving door where people have as much dedication to the children as you, which is not at all.

 Amazing that the children of New York have such wonderful stewards. Why do only 65% of them graduate from high school? Their own damn fault, it goes without saying. Or wait, maybe their parents’. Anyone’s but ours.

Amazing how 65% of them graduate when only 55% of their teachers stay.

And why are you obsessed with fault? You’re attacking some straw man teacher who is “blaming” other people. In fact, you are the one who is casting the blame.

There is no “blame”. There is a broken socioeconomic system that is an outgrowth of our history. It’s the way of the world, Pollyanna.

Despite improvements here and there around the edges, this is more or less the same system we have in place today. That’s why it’s so dispiriting to listen to the continued, predictable and outworn opposition of the United Federation of Teachers and fellow travelers to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan, announced during Thursday’s State of the City speech, which would make evaluations much more rigorous, much more tied to student achievement gains and much less dependent on the kind of solely subjective observations that made me an instant superstar. The best teachers would be rewarded with $20,000; the worst would be fired.

Bloomberg has no “plan”. He does not think teachers should be able to appeal “U” ratings. That has always been the sticking point between the UFT and DOE. They pretty much see eye-to-eye on everything else.

But what you’re really doing here is shilling for Pearson and the other deformers who stand to profit from more data and testing. You believe “performance” is measured in a test score (that is what the proposed evaluation does). You believe in merit pay that has failed everywhere, including in NYC.

Why don’t you criticize Bloomberg for recycling the same crusty ideas?

The unions, forever in love with mediocrity, fear both equally.

Mediocrity is your teaching career, not to mention this fluff piece.

If teachers union head Michael Mulgrew had his way, teacher evaluations would always look exactly like they did for me in Flatbush. The assistant principal — a fearsome old creature with a bad leg who made excellent Jamaican beef patty — would tell you days in advance that she was going to do her formal observation. You would submit a lesson plan, even if you otherwise taught off a bar napkin. She would invariably approve the plan.

What in the world does making Jamaican beef patties have to do with anything? It contributes nothing to your point. That remark is just a gratuitous jab meant to imply the nationality of the AP to which you refer. Cheap, very cheap.

How many lesson plans should be rejected? How many treatment plans should doctors have rejected or legal arguments lawyers have rejected? Why do you just assume that teachers should have their lessons rejected? Your hate for teachers is dripping from everything you say. You are obviously using your forum in a major newspaper to grind some personal axes from your old school.

On the appointed day, she would lumber into the classroom and sit at the back with her clipboard, glowering at me like a pedagogical Buddha. The kids were perfect, silent during “free read,” appropriately vocal during the “lecture,” collaborating on the subsequent assignment like dutiful worker bees.

She stayed for 10 minutes, maybe 20. Afterward, we held a “conference” during which she asked if I had accomplished my objective. I was ultimately excellent, even if about a third of my students — and I am, sadly, not exaggerating here — could not write a paragraph.

Why is she “lumbering” into your room? Are you implying that she is dumb or slow or, something much worse? If your students could not write a paragraph, is that your fault? You obviously sucked as a teacher and should have been fired, right? That could be the only possible argument that you are making here.

There were so many protections built into this system that a corpse could teach in a New York public school — and plenty do. Even the exceedingly rare “Unsatisfactory” rating doesn’t mean much, as one had to accrue several for termination proceedings to begin. This was a slow process protracted by union officials who had a kabbalistic knowledge of the rules and an uncanny ability to suffocate any action against one of their own. Our union officials were two women who could have played on the Giants front line. If they at least tolerated you, you were set.

Huh? Union “officials” (you mean Chapter Leaders? Way to make them sound all scary.) are the most targeted people in schools. They know the rules? Here is a clue: THERE ARE NO RULES. Despite your ridiculous characterization, there is literally nothing a CL can do if an administrator wants to go after a teacher. How do I know? I was a chapter leader.

So even if the assistant principal – she of the excellent Caribbean cuisine – wanted to get rid of you, she had no power to do so. She could not do a surprise observation, could not, essentially, make a criticism of my teaching that would have any meaningful impact on my career. The mere act of teaching poor black and Latino kids insulated us entirely not only from criticism, but from the kind of thoughtful feedback that could have made that very act of teaching better. I was told in my first week of teaching: As long as you have an aim on the board and aren’t in the act of actually murdering your students, you are going to be fine.

Why should she want to get rid of you?

It’s funny, never once as a young teacher did I ever say I teach “black and Latino” students, since I do not see my kids in that way. I was a city kid (were you?) and my students could have easily been my peers and neighbors growing up. Only someone totally aware of race, as you obviously are, would frame the issue in this way. You’re implying that teachers of black and Latino kids get a pass because nobody cares about black and Latino kids.

You know who does not care about black and Latino kids? People like you with no dedication to them.

It took me several years to become less than excellent in the eyes of my principal — in other words, to become a better teacher.

It took, first of all, moving from the middle school in Flatbush to the Brooklyn Latin School, a public high school in Bushwick that I am enormously proud to have helped start. I spent four years there, shedding fake excellence while learning the genuine kind.

I did not tell you the name of my assistant principal in Flatbush, for obvious reasons. And for reasons just as obvious, I will tell you the name of Brooklyn Latin’s principal, who came from a working-class family in Scranton, went to Catholic school, then to Princeton, then got the insane idea that a black kid from Brooklyn could do the same.

His name is Jason Griffiths. He worked, and still works, fully within the system, meaning that we were a public school that didn’t get any exemptions from the rules. We just did more — to be precise, more of what Bloomberg wants every school to do. We did it because otherwise our students wouldn’t have a chance.

He was in your classroom every day, sometimes more than once a day. He took notes while you taught, then emailed you the notes. Then, several times each year, you had a conference — a real conference, that is, in which you sat for about two hours somewhere outside the school building, usually in what was then the one hipster cafe on Bushwick Ave. There, you discussed the strengths and weaknesses of your teaching, going methodically through a chart of pedagogical traits on which you were graded. You know, as if you were a professional.

He was the first person who criticized my teaching. Told me I talked too much. That I favored the smart kids, got irritated by the ones who needed more help. That I was disorganized as hell. Did the truth make me uncomfortable? A little. But I needed to hear it.

So you crap all over your entire point by pointing out that a principal had held you accountable IN THE EXISTING SYSTEM. The system you spent paragraphs attacking as protecting bad teachers all of the sudden works. Why are you arguing?

Why are you comparing Brooklyn Latin, a gifted high school, to a middle school in Flatbush?

He also delved into the terrifying world of numbers. Although our data tracking system was not nearly as sophisticated as the one Bloomberg and Gov. Cuomo have proposed (and which Mulgrew and friends are treating like the bane of the teaching profession), it in many ways mirrors what they would like to do: measure how kids are doing based on test results. Not in a way that privileges the student who starts off excellent, but in a way that recognizes improvement.

And what does recognizing improvement in test scores tell you? Oh, I see, you’re shilling again for Pearson. This time, you are worshipping at the altar of “value added”? How many times must that silly idea be destroyed before the dogmatists and witch hunters like you give it up?

At Brooklyn Latin, each year, in every subject (from art history to introductory Latin), students took four midterm assessments and one final assessment – just like in college, which they were all expected to attend. The two weeks after each assessment were the most grueling of the year, spent compiling the data, analyzing the data for each student, then each department, then analyzing the present assessment against past ones, then having a conference with Jason about whether your students were improving, whether your instruction was working, whether the tests (which we wrote ourselves) were measuring what we wanted them to meas-ure, and what we could do better during the next assessment, which was just a month away.

We didn’t sleep much. Jason slept even less.

The truth is, we didn’t want to sleep. We wanted to be treated with the same respect that our banker and doctor friends basked in. The ones who are pushed to constantly be better, to constantly add value, to constantly prove their worth. Teachers say they are being maligned, that they are not being paid enough. I say to that: Go to your average South Bronx high school and tell me, really, who’s getting the short end of the stick?

It may be that union opposition will kill Bloomberg’s teacher evaluation plan. That will be a shame, not so much for proponents of one political ideology over another, but the children of New York, who finally deserve some teachers who aren’t excellent all the time.

You’re extrapolating your anecdotal experience at a gifted school in Brooklyn to the entire system. You have actually never taught the average high school kid. You haven’t done much teaching at all. But your little 4 years experience in the DOE qualifies you as some sort of expert in this day and age, just like Cathie Black was an expert in school administration.

Your article is an insult to me and every dedicated teacher in the system. It is a shame that you are allowed a forum where your misinformed hatred can infect the public discussion on public education. In truth, both public education and the education debate are too important to be entrusted to people like you.

The End of Self-Esteem

The backlash against self-esteem is afoot. Psychologists disowned the idea of self-esteem several years ago. Education scientists, always on the lookout for hand-me-downs from the psychology field, made it the hallmark of teacher training for several years. Teachers of my generation were reared to guard against anything that might destroy a student’s confidence. It is an important reminder. But studies have shown that our obsession with self-esteem has raised a generation of cocky youngsters, with very little about which to be cocky.

Such a flimsy idea as self-esteem was bound to meet its end someday. While normally its demise would be a cause for minor celebration, there is very little to celebrate in this instance. Education researchers go where the grant money is. Deformer groups like the Gates Foundation are looking for a bold new generation of education experts who push their familiar “no excuses” agenda. Chances are that the next 10 to 20 years will see teachers being trained in the latest “no excuses” research of the education field.

No excuses is a dangerous approach to education, especially when combined with standardized exams. We see this in the youth of South Korea, who commit suicide at rates far higher than their peers around the world. Their acceptance of nothing short of the best, as measured in high-stakes exams, has bred a nation of youth who constantly worry about not being good enough. Failure means dishonor. Dishonor is a bitter to pill to swallow when one believes they only have themselves to blame.

This is the type of neurosis from which the education deformers want children to suffer. Neurotic people doubt themselves. People who doubt themselves are more likely to blame themselves when something goes wrong. People who blame themselves automatically assume their station in life can be ascribed to their abilities, decisions, ambition and work ethic. They are too busy questioning themselves to be able to question the system around them. Neurotics are easy to control.

This type of neurosis is an outgrowth of the surveillance state. We are at the point where cameras record our movements, credit cards record our purchases and Google records our searches. The goal is not necessarily to track us, although that is a direct result of surveillance. Instead, the goal is to make us so neurotic that we act as if there are eyes on us all of the time. We begin to monitor ourselves with our inner cameras. Internalization is the ultimate goal of all discipline. It is important to note that discipline is not only exerted by the state (schools, prisons, etc.) but by private institutions as well (corporations, hospitals, etc.)  A battalion only marches in formation after everyone has internalized the movements.

Marching in formation is exactly what standardized exams and “no excuses” aim to accomplish. It means kids who get their exams back will find nothing but indications of what they did wrong. A kid who gets a 75 will have an exam 25% marked by the teacher (or machine). The results of these exams, as per the deformer formula, will determine the future of these kids’ schools. In that case, “no excuses” and standardized testing are really exercises in arbitrary judgment. Considering that the deformers also happen to be the major employers of tomorrow, it behooves them to produce a populace raised in this manner.

Children reared on arbitrary judgment become workers who accept arbitrary judgment. That means people who will not question their employer when their rights are stepped on or their jobs downsized. After all, maybe they did something wrong to warrant being stepped on or downsized. Just like there were a bunch of unexplained red marks next to their wrong answers when they were kids, their unexplained turn of bad fortune was due to some mistake on their parts. People who think this way are not so much human as they are proto-human. They are cavemen who believe that the dragging of their knuckles or the stoking of a fire can bring on a volcanic eruption. “No excuses” and standardized testing is a recipe to raise a generation that will be paralyzed by self-doubting neurosis.

At last, a childhood filled with judgment and self-doubt makes one insecure. Insecure people are perfect prey for advertising and consumerism. They constantly believe they are not (choose one: smart, pretty, cool, wealthy, happy) enough, therefore they need a constant stream of (choose one: online schools, makeup, designer jeans, pyramid schemes, self-help books) to fill the void. Anything that holds out the promise of making them whole will be in high demand. They will need to be made whole only after their education breaks them in half.

We should never lose focus on who the education deformers are. They are more than just a ragtag bunch of concerned billionaires. They are the people who run the economy, controlling what is to be produced and how to produce it. Their ideal system is a nation of zombies who will do any work and buy any product. Education deform is just their way of hollowing out the American spirit. There is no room for innovation or confidence. Only neurotic troglodytes who constantly doubt themselves will be allowed to thrive in the future. While self-esteem is meeting its long overdue end, what promises to replace it is much darker than we can imagine.

In Search of a Tipping Point

I was never an Obama supporter and never will be. Towards the beginning of his term, his supporters excused the sad state of the country by blaming Bush. We are now three years in, which means that Obama owns a large part of the mess that is the United States of America. Through poor leadership, cowardice and, most importantly, being bought off by the same people that buy off every other politician, Obama has allowed this country to remain in the toilet. Somewhere along the way, Obama reached a tipping point where every problem could no longer be blamed on Bush.

The education deformers have reached their tipping point as well.

For the sake of convenience, let’s take No Child Left Behind (which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary), as the seminal point where the education deformers took the driver’s seat. In certain areas of the country, the deformers had already been in charge much longer. However, NCLB was the point where no public school child could escape the standardized testing regime that became a hallmark of deformer policy.

If Obama reached his tipping point in 3 years, then the deformers have certainly reached theirs in 10.

In the same year as NCLB, the nation’s largest school system in New York City fell into the hands of the new Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He would eliminate the democratically elected Board of Education, who voted on all important matters of schooling policy for the city, and replaced it with a Panel for Educational Policy whose members were all appointed by him. They rubber stamped all of his reforms. His first war was against “social promotion”, which was the practice of moving kids to the next grade even when they had not passed. It was the first manifestation of the “no excuses” mantra the deformers would recite so much in the coming years. In his 10 years as overlord of education, 21 large public high schools have been closed while nearly 61 new charter schools were opened by 2008. He has waged a perpetual public relations war against the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, causing them to be complicit in a new contract that stripped them of many due process rights.

10 years of rampant reform in New York City, and what has become of the schools?

According to the results of the NAEP exams, which Diane Ravitch calls the “gold standard” of testing, no appreciable gains in math or reading since the reforms have taken place. By 2009, “just 24% of eighth-graders were deemed proficient or above on the reading test this year compared with 22% in 2003. In math, just 24% scored a proficient score compared with 20% in 2003.” The gutting of the large high schools also gutted the many programs only possible in large high schools: football, baseball, band, clubs and academic competitions. These were the things that brought spirit not only to the school building, but to the entire community. Walking the hallways now of the large high school buildings will take you through the several small schools that co-habitate there (or “co-locate”, if it is a charter). They jealously guard their space, competing over classrooms, laboratories, cafeterias, gyms and auditoriums. Instead of the community coming together, like they did in the large high schools, communities are ripped apart.

Teachers, owing to a contract that took away their rights to legitimately grieve unfair practices of administrators, live in fear of speaking their minds. Those who speak out are harangued out of the system on trumped up charges. The last 10 years have produced story upon story of veteran teachers being slapped with trumped up charges. Our “due process” now involves waiting forever for a termination hearing where well over 90% of teachers are found guilty. At the same time, principals like the one who sexually harassed his staff, or the one tampering with credits and dancing with strippers on facebook, go unpunished. It is a system of corruption and cronyism, harassment and intimidation, bureaucracy and dictatorship that we have been left with after 10 years of Bloomberg’s education deforms.

And yet, in his State of the City address, Bloomberg has called for ramping up  his reforms. Instead, Bloomberg should have done the honorable thing and acknowledge that he has reached the tipping point. He has been running the system for 10 years and still acts like a reformer. In reality, 10 years makes him the status quo. He is the education crisis. There is nobody else to blame.

If Obama reached his tipping point after three years, what about Michelle Rhee, who was the chancellor of Washington D.C.’s schools for three and a half? Her teacher evaluation system threw D.C. into a neo-Jim Crow era where inexperienced teachers ended up in poor neighborhoods while veterans ended up in gentrifying areas. She pulled off perhaps the darkest, most cruel irony in the history of education: bringing Jim Crow to the city in which Brown v. Board of Education was decided.

Where is the tipping point for education reform? The fact that we even use the term “reform” speaks to the utter victory of their propaganda campaign. Reformers are fresh with innovative ideas that inject new life into stale institutions. The deformers have injected poison into education, causing it to go backwards towards a musty and oppressive era of segregation. The blame is squarely on their shoulders, since they are the status quo.

In the end, there is one important overlap between Obama and the deformers besides both reaching their tipping points. Despite both of their promises of change, they brought nothing but tired ideas advocated for by a narrow elite. The reasons why CEOs can count on billions in bonuses while people get thrown out on the street are the same reasons why millionaires profit off of education deform while our schools are ravaged before our eyes. Is there any wonder why Obama and his buddy Arne are pushing Race to the Top?

The politicians and the corporate reformers have reached their tipping points. It is time we give them a little push so that they topple over.

Diary of a Traveling Basketball Coach

For 5 months of the school year I wear my hat as the coach of the boys’ basketball team. It has been the most pleasant surprise of my career. Most of my time is spent learning: about the game, about my boys and about winning and losing. I also get to learn a little bit about many other schools. We have to play every game on the road, traveling to over a dozen schools during the season. The schools are mostly in Manhattan, although we have the odd out-of-borough game from time to time. Although we are only at each school for a few hours, the little bits and pieces I have seen of each one says a whole lot about the Bloomberg system and education deform in general.

Many of the schools we visit are typical Bloomberg. They are large buildings that used to house large high schools. These high schools were institutions within their communities. When I was growing up, kids could identify themselves with the large high schools they attended. We were either Seward or Brandeis or Erasmus or Tech kids. Telling someone what high school you went to was a shorthand way of identifying your community, your lifestyle and your friends all at once. It was one of the ways New York City youth communicated with each other, part of the urban dialect that nobody but us understood.

So imagine the sadness I feel when we visit one of these schools from my youth, only to see that it has been chopped up into 5 small schools. We aren’t visiting great institutions as I knew them growing up. We are visiting husks of great institutions. Schools used to be named for great statesmen and American heroes. Now each of the five schools in these big buildings have names like “Academy of Social Peace” or “Young Women’s Writing Academy” (These are not real names. The real ones are a lot more ridiculous). They have traded in using school names to celebrate our heritage for using school names as way to market each school. The funny thing is that the “Academy of Social Peace” does not have to offer any programs on “social peace”, and it damn sure isn’t an “academy”. None of that matters in Bloomberg’s system. It is all about using the business strategy of marketing in what should be a public institution.

Then there is the way we are greeted. In the few large schools that have not been chopped up, me and the team check in with the School Safety agents who then direct us to the gym. I meet the opposing coach and he shows the boys where to change and what bench we will use during the game. The coaches in these schools tend to be veteran teachers, excellent coaches and consummate professionals. These are the rare types of schools. I can count the number of them we have visited on one hand.

The much more common type of school is the Bloomberg 5-in-1 monstrosity. We are not so much greeted in these schools as much as we are herded, questioned and interrogated. “What school are you from?” or “How many are you?” and “No spectators!” or “Wait here for an escort to the gym.” Sometimes there is the metal detector to deal with. Someone from one of the schools in the building (we never know which school or what title this person holds) might take a head count of my team and try to match it up to our roster of players to ensure the numbers match. You never know, a random hooligan might have slipped into our ranks without me noticing. On one hand, I understand that school buildings have a duty to monitor who comes and goes. On the other hand, I feel as if whatever administrator made the policy (and it could only have been an administrator) mistrusts my ability to monitor the group of boys I am with. I feel the Bloomberg hate for teachers and students in the way we are treated, not to mention the hate that many administrators have for us.

One of these buildings I am particularly familiar with. I used to teach in the neighborhood and I have coached many games there. It is a Bloomberg monster school with one of these ridiculous visitor policies. The teachers at the school are generally very young, most likely TFA “grads” with one foot out of the door. The coach of their team is one of my least favorite people. He is extremely young, wears horn-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, tight sweaters, Chuck Taylors and spiked hair. He is a model of the hipster gentrification overtaking the neighborhood in which his school is located. Unlike the more professional opposing coaches, he does not shake my hand or look me in the eye or do anything beyond gruffly unlock the locker room for my boys. During the game he yells, screams, jumps onto the court and loses his bearings to such a degree that he ends up at our bench when it puts him in closer proximity to the action of the game. He is unsportsman-like and unprofessional, in both dress and demeanor. I had been running an imaginary office pool in my head where everyone takes bets on when he will quit teaching. Recently, to my surprise, I discovered that this man was not a teacher at all, but an Assistant Principal. There is no way that he can have more than 3 years in the classroom. The fact that such an un-educator-like person can make it to AP says everything you need to know about the Bloomberg system.

The last time I was in this school, a staff member there struck up a conversation with me. He was an older gentleman who definitely had the air of someone who has earned his stripes in New York City public schools. Almost as if he knew his audience, he immediately launched into a tirade against the young, petty and incompetent administrators in the building. “They aren’t educators” he said, “they have no business running a school.” If these are the same administrators that came up with the Draconian entrance policy, then he is right. The best barometer of their incompetence is my team. Whenever we are treated like criminals, my boys get this sheepish look on their faces as if they really have done something wrong. They are all good kids and fortunately do not receive this type of treatment back at our school. They bear their treatment patiently. I could not help but wonder what it is like to be a student at one of these schools who receive this type of harassment every day. You walk into the building and immediately you are searched, questioned and barked at. If my boys could be made to feel guilty for a moment, what must a kid feel like who is treated like this as a matter of policy?   

“Academies” may sound nice but they are not welcoming communities for kids. Rather, they all reflect Bloomberg’s callous disregard for inner-city youth and their teachers.

Governor Cuomo and New Democrats

Andrew Cuomo set to catch a big wad of Wall Street money.

I met Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York State, a few weeks ago. Sidling up to him at a cash register in a Wall Street lunch hour joint, I said, “we miss you and we need you back.” He smiled and said, “they always find a way to get you, don’t they?” Spitzer became New York’s Governor after cultivating the image of a granite-jawed Attorney General who prosecuted Wall Street crimes. He was destroyed early in his Governorship after it was found that he frequently sought the services of prostitutes. The “they” to which he was referring was “Wall Street”, that amorphous shadow of financiers who own our politicians. Governor Spitzer was a threat to “them”, so he had to be destroyed. I usually don’t approach famous people but Eliot Spitzer, in my mind, symbolized a whole lot. Spitzer was what could have been. His story was the start of a long free fall of New York State politics that landed squarely in the lap of the horror show we now have for governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Andrew Cuomo ended 2011 one of the most popular governors in the country. His approval ratings are through the roof. Since becoming governor, he has successfully distanced himself from all of the flotsam and jetsam that usually defines New York State politics. He has kept his distance from the hopelessly dysfunctional New York State legislature, always seen as a den of corruption. He has publicly battled with New York City’s increasingly unpopular Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He has a last name that inspires confidence and nostalgia in New Yorkers. The Cuomo name is refreshing to New Yorkers after years of the bumbling leadership of David Patterson, who only became governor as a result of Spitzer’s disgrace. No doubt Andrew is getting pointers in political maneuvering from his father, who always tested which way the wind was blowing before spitting. More than anything else, Cuomo has benefitted from having the right name at the right time. He promised hope in a hopeless era of New York politics. Cuomo is New York State’s very own Obama.

Just like Obama, Andrew ran for executive office at a point when the sitting executive was none-too-popular. Obama promised hope and change through words. Andrew promised it with his last name. Both men ran as Democrats, leading Democratic voters to think that “change” meant fighting Democratic battles lying dormant for decades. Obama did this through fiery speeches vague on specifics. Andrew did this by reminding New York of his father, who used to fight some of those battles. Yet, both men have proven that their brand of change is more of the same. Rather than turning back the conservative gains of the past few decades, both executives have solidified and extended those gains. Obama’s work in this field is legendary: more undeclared wars, more surveillance and more handouts to corporations (including Obamacare). They have a Democratic face but, at the core, are identical to Republican policies that benefit corporations. It is the New Democratic Party, same as the Old but totally different from the Original.

And now Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, to be given this Wednesday, will be a Roman Triumph for the way of the New Democratic Party. In this speech, he will bring refreshing change by reciting a 20-year-old cant accusing schools and teachers of being unaccountable. Of course, he is talking about New York City’s failure to strike a deal with the teachers’ union (UFT) on evaluating teachers. He will appoint a commission (most likely with zero teachers) to come up with a proper evaluation process for teachers. Nothing will stop Andrew from Obama’s Race to the Top money. Here is the New Democratic Party, declaring war on public workers and public schooling in favor of pro-corporate reform. It is just like the Old and the same as the Republicans.

Andrew will also speak about a “foreclosure relief unit” which, according to the Daily News article, “will serve as an advocate to struggling homeowners.” It will “provide counseling and mediation services designed to help resolve mortgage issues and keep people in their homes.” Translation: instead of going after the corrupt foreclosure system that is stacked in favor of the banks to the point where they can intentionally lie and fudge paperwork to foreclose on people, we will make people feel better about being made homeless by pretending to be their advocate throughout the sham process.

Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech this Wednesday will be a paean to the New Democratic way. He is a fresh governor with great popularity and the right pedigree. There is no doubt that he has designs on the White House. Andrew is striking out on a new road in American politics that he believes will get him to the Presidency, the office that always eluded his father. It is the Obama juke move, one fake left and then a zip to the right. It represents the acceptance of corporate power and the reduction of all workers to peons.

I wonder if Eliot Spitzer was juking as well. Until the day I met him I imagined him as an imposing man with a Bill Cowher chin. But standing next to him I saw that he was much shorter and more frail-looking than he looked on television. He had a five o’clock shadow of grayish hair that obscured the famous jaw, making him look less steely and vigorous. Perhaps this represents the values of the Democratic Party as well. At one time it loomed large and just. Then Wall Street got its hands on it and it became a husk. I still miss Eliot Spitzer and he may have a future in politics yet. If so, it remains to be seen if he learned his lesson that only pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate politicians remain successful.