Tag Archives: Bloomberg

Bloomberg Supports Invasion of Greenwich Village

Bloomberg is defending New York University’s plan for a massive expansion of its facilities in Greenwich Village:

“New York University has an ambitious plan to add more than two-million-square-feet of space to its Greenwich Village campus. New classrooms, faculty offices, an athletic center and housing are all part of the proposal.

On Monday for the first time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg injected himself into the debate over the expansion plan, defending the university and displaying little patience for people who suggest that NYU scale back its vision.

“In the real world today, to have a world-class university, you’ve got to keep expanding and doing new things,” said the mayor.

He said that while there is a way to scale back, but it would come at a cost.

“I certainly think there is a way. I think you can also destroy NYU at the same time,” said Bloomberg.

Despite some strong support from the mayor, NYU’s expansion plan has generated some fierce opposition from Greenwich Village residents. Two months ago, the local community board voted unanimously against the project.

“A 20-year massive construction project in the middle of a residential area would have a devastating impact,” said Preservationist Andrew Berman.

Berman thinks NYU should be looking to grow in other city neighborhoods, like the Financial District or Downtown Brooklyn.

“An Empire State Building’s worth of space to be shoe-horned into the blocks south of Washington Square Park is just unimaginable. It would overwhelm the neighborhood,” said Berman.

Bloomberg said the university’s neighbors have nothing to complain about.

“NYU, and the area that surrounds it, people there — the value of their houses and the quality of their life is because of the proximity of NYU,” said the mayor.

Having the mayor on its side certainly helps NYU, but his support will hardly silence the heated debate about whether the school should be allowed to expand or hold back as some of its neighbors wish.”

Greenwich Village is no stranger to fighting back against supposed “development” plans. Back in the 1950s, residents of Greenwich Village defeated Robert Moses’ proposal to bisect the entire area with a highway. At that time, the residents were led by the indomitable Jane Jacobs, author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities. It is a good thing they defeated it as well, or else the village might have went the way of the South Bronx after the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Bloomberg’s statement about NYU being the reason for Greenwich Village’s quality of life says it all. Of course, he would make no mention of the village’s Bohemian tradition. The hub of so many artists, writers and activists, Greenwich Village is a historic neighborhood with heart and soul. What has made the village great is its uniqueness, freedom and character. If anything, the chain stores, cookie-cutter night clubs and pretentious Sunday brunch places have detracted from the vibe of the area.

And who frequents these stores, clubs and restaurants? That’s right, the NYU students.

Bloomberg is of course thinking in terms of property values, which are only measurable in dollars and cents. The things that make New York City actually alive mean nothing to him. Jane Jacobs must be rolling in her grave.

This is yet another example of Bloomberg’s war on community. To him, New York City is a business and he is the CEO. His school closings, church evictions and now support for NYU betray, once again, his mad quest to sterilize the city.

NYU wants to do to the village what Columbia University has done to wide swaths of Harlem. The only difference is that the residents of the village have the resources and will to fight back, while Columbia has been able to have its way.

I have nothing against NYU. Diane Ravitch teaches there and they have given me some great student teachers. But there is a certain type of student associated with NYU, namely the type who can afford to shell out close to six-figures for their college educations. In the end, I see little difference between the education provided by NYU and that provided by the better CUNY schools aside from price.

People in Greenwich Village need to keep fighting. This is just part of Bloomberg’s onslaught against anything related to community and making the city a home to its people.

Bloomberg’s Idea of Community

Bloomberg says the hungry eat enough already.

As if anyone needed any more proof that Bloomberg was bent on destroying anything related to community-building in New York City, the New York Post reports this:

So much for serving the homeless.

The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term “food police” to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city’s homeless.

In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can’t assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans.

Anyone who needs a crash course in how to sterilize communities just needs to follow the Michael Bloomberg playbook:

a) Destroy large public schools that served communities for over 100 years and replace them with small gimmick and corporate charter schools.

b) Kick out the poorest and neediest religious congregations from school buildings under the guise of protecting church-state separation.

c) Institute “stop and frisk” and use the police department as your own personal army.

d) Prevent all food donations to the homeless.

Of course, all of these policies have to be clad in a concern for the people. Shutting down “failing schools” is good.  Protecting the sanctity of church-state separation is good. “Stop and frisk” protects the city from terrorism. Those food donations are too high in sodium for the starving people of the city. Only his cronies are capable of dolling out highly nutritious slop, since independent donations might reduce the need for millionaire food contractors.

We are living in a completely authoritarian and corporatized fiefdom run by a man who sees himself as a feudal lord. And why not? Like many other lords, he bought his title fair and square.

Harvard Gives Bloomberg Award for Anti-Poverty Programs

Bloomberg loves all the people of New York City.

No, this is not a joke. The New York Daily News reports:

The city has been awarded Harvard University’s Innovations in American Government Award for its anti-poverty work, Mayor Bloomberg announced during his Sunday radio address.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government gave the award to the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity for its “pioneering approach to anti-poverty programs,” Bloomberg’s office said.

And what types of anti-poverty measures did the city put in place?

One of the programs partners with employers in the transportation and health care sectors to find out what kind of skills they need and then works with job seekers to get them the right skills.

Wow, that really is innovative policy. It is such a drastic shift away from those other programs that assume poverty is due to some sort of deficiency on the part of poor people. Just like Clinton’s welfare reform gambit in the 1990s when recipients had to attend demeaning job training courses, this is just more of the same post-Reagan era garbage. I remember my mother, who was on and off welfare throughout my childhood, being forced to attend classes on how to build resumes and sit through motivational speeches by self-absorbed business leaders who fed her the same “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” garbage that we still hear today. This was a woman with 25 years of secretarial experience who saw all of the jobs that used to pay her a living wage become automated over time, pushing us from the ranks of the poor down into the ranks of the very poor. But of course, her poverty was all her fault for being a lazy and shiftless single mother who had to work the double-duty of bringing home a paycheck while raising a son in the big city.

There was a simpler era when leaders in New York City realized that people did not have jobs because there were no jobs to be had. We once had a mayor named Fiorello LaGuardia who, because of his connection to Franklin Roosevelt, was able to funnel millions of dollars into New York City for the purpose of giving people jobs. The Depression was still felt in NYC, but the blow was somewhat cushioned.

Another one of Bloomberg’s innovative anti-poverty programs:

… helps New Yorkers put aside some of their tax refund to build a nest egg, Bloomberg said. Those savings, up to $1,000, are matched 50 cents to the dollar with private donations.

“Last year, participants who saved for the full year built an average of more than $800 in savings — which is extremely important when an unforeseen emergency arises,” Bloomberg said.

Yes, as long as that unforeseen emergency does not include having to bury a loved one, finding a new apartment or any type of major or minor surgery. That extra $800 might be real handy if you lose your monthly Metrocard or need bail money because you were arrested for breaking the city’s vagrancy ordinance (i.e. having the nerve to walk down the street without money in your pocket). God forbid there was a real emergency, you would have to wait a decade or two until you could bury Uncle Joe, move to an even smaller studio apartment or get that enlarged spleen removed.

Seriously, what planet does this man live on? Certainly not the planet of normal people who have to live in a city with an ever-increasing standard of living.

Contrary to what elitists like Bloomberg believe, not to mention their lickspittles among the 99%, poverty is not something that people can be counseled out of. Resume-building seminars, “no-excuses” charter schools and hokey adages about pennies saved being pennies earned are not the things that will end poverty in America. The proof is in the pudding. We have had programs like this for several decades, stretching all the way back into the 1980s, and poverty has gotten worse, way worse, during that same time period.

Between 2009-2010, 75, 000 New Yorkers were pushed down into the ranks of the poor. This was higher than the national average. The fact that the city has received this award is a disgraceful move on the part of Harvard University.

Bloomberg’s Destruction Of Poor Communities Continues

It is the 11th hour for churches in New York City who use public schools on Sunday. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and his sock puppets in the Department of Education, this is the last day congregations will be able to hold service in public school buildings. It is tough to find any in-depth reporting on this issue, religion not necessarily being a hot-button topic in the big city.

From the scraps of information that are out there, it seems the DOE based its decision on the separation between church and state. Being an agnostic, it is an issue that would normally elicit little reaction from me. Being a history teacher, I know the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from encouraging particular religious sects over others. However, something tells me there is more than meets the eye in the DOE’s ruling.

The first clue comes from city Councilman Fernando Cabrera who states “Minorities make up the congregations of many of the churches being evicted…They’re staples in our community and they provide a volunteer base that the city can never pay for.” Many of these churches are small congregations located in the Bronx and Washington Heights, places where the local church may be the only force for community organization. They rent spaces in schools because they are relatively cheap in a city where even the smallest space can be prohibitively expensive. In many cases, the DOE’s eviction notice is tantamount to the destruction of these congregations.

If churches are paying for these spaces, does this mean the government is encouraging the establishment of particular religious sects? If these spaces are being used on Sunday mornings, when staff and students are not in attendance, is there a danger of proselytizing or indoctrination on government property? In other words, does the use of school buildings by these religious groups really violate the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment? It seems an argument can be made that it does not.

On the other hand, if these were fundamentalist sects somewhere in the Sunbelt who were facing eviction, I would probably not bat an eyelash. Yet, those sects seem to have enough funds to rent out stadiums, organize Jesus camps and buy television time. In fact, they have been buying airtime ever since the days the airwaves were still owned by the government. How was that not a violation of non-establishment? It was the Evangelical groups of the Sunbelt that led the religious revival that peaked in the 1990s, giving birth to the era of the “culture wars” that culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton.

So perhaps the DOE is trying to unblur the lines separating church and state. The culture wars are behind us, the Conservative Revolution is in retreat and Bloomberg is doing his part to roll back the religious awakening that took place with the help of the state over the past 20 or so years. It is a politically safe thing for him to do in such a secular city as New York. He will not have to worry about thousands of angry Christians camped out in front of Gracie Mansion.

Despite all of these possible recommendations in favor of eviction, I am still not buying it. If Bloomberg has proven consistent in one area, it is in his willingness to destroy inner city communities. His DOE is poised to close down another 23 inner city schools, no doubt with the intention of replacing them with his beloved small school model featuring no enrichment activities and inexperienced teachers. He has allowed his friends like Eva Moskowitz to set up shop in public school buildings, taking millions of taxpayer dollars away from public schools in order to help pay for her nearly $400,000 yearly salary and glossy fliers advertising her Success Academies. In short, he has done everything in his power to rip the heart out of any vehicle of community-building people in the inner city might have.

And this, I believe, is the real reason for Bloomberg’s and DOE’s newfound constitutional scruples. Evicting these religious groups is a safe and effective way to continue his war on poor communities. It is part of the crescendo of a mayoral administration that has seen gentrification and displacement as suitable policies for poor neighborhoods. The tiny enclaves of community that exist for the urban poor, like schools and churches, have been ravaged by an out of touch mayor that has made screwing poor people the one consistent part of his legacy.

After all, if the mayor had any constitutional scruples at all, the New York City Police Department would have never had a “stop and frisk” policy in the first place.

Mind the Achievement Gap

The New York Times picked up on the MDRC report I had written about here. This was the report that credited Bloomberg’s small schools with higher graduation rates in New York City. Despite the fatal flaws in the report, the NY Times (as is the case with the media in general), parroted its pro-Bloomberg findings.

And yet, in the same issue, the NY Times also ran a story about the achievement gap. The studies they cite find that the racial achievement gap has been narrowing while the income achievement gap has been expanding. As it says in the article: “One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.”

Interesting, since the small schools that the Times so highly touts have fewer of these activities than the large schools they replaced. Does this mean the small schools only serve to perpetuate the achievement gap between rich and poor? I suppose this contradiction is lost on the editorial board of the NY Times.

It is high time that the media stops equating improved graduation rates with success. All they are doing is worshipping at the altar of data that has defined the Bloomberg regime from the start.

Graduation rates are up because standards are down. Replacing one large school with four small ones requires a massive shake up of the staff. The veteran teachers are fired or reassigned, then replaced with pliable youngsters from Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows. At the same time, four new schools mean four new principals and a boatload more assistant principals. There is a higher administrator-to-teacher ratio, allowing administrators more time to meddle in the affairs of the teachers in their charge.

Anybody who has worked in a small school knows what all of this adds up to. The reduced teacher load for administrators means they can have one-on-one conferences with their teachers to question them about the grades of their students. Each teacher’s passing rates are compared to the passing rates of every other teacher in the school, and then the passing rates of the system at large. The message is clear: this percentage of students must pass, no matter what. If not, expect more meetings, more observations, more nitpicking and more harassment.

So teachers pass kids who really have not learned anything. They find nonsense extra credit assignments so their struggling students can make up the points required to pass. The only students who end up failing are the truants that make their appearance a couple of times a month. For the select few that actually fail, they now are able to take online credit recovery classes, many times on subjects that have no relation to those that they failed.

Then these students get turned loose into the real world. Whether they go to college or into the workforce, they have been trained to believe that they are entitled to rewards for shoddy work. If they struggle, they have been trained to expect second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. This is a major reason why those graduates that the NY Times and the MDRC so mindlessly applaud end up dropping out of college by their second year.

But our graduates have little to fear. President Obama is on a mission to ensure that what standards are left in college go right out the window. He wants more online classes, lower-salaried professors and, ultimately, a college teaching staff with no autonomy at all. That way, professors will be too scared to fail anybody and our illustrious high school graduates can continue to get unlimited chances for another four years.

This is all as it should be in the corporate takeover of our schools and our country. The truth is that the reformers do want our graduates to have any capacity for independent thought at all. It is not as if the jobs that they intend to provide in the future will require any skill outside of punching a few buttons or reading from a script. Giving the gift of critical thinking to the low-wage functionaries of the future would just put ideas in their head that are too big for their station in life. We saw what happened when the slaves of the American south got a taste of book learning: revolts, uprisings and a rejection of subservience.

Publications of record like the NY Times are complicit in the destruction of the American mind. Do not be fooled with their apparent concern for the socioeconomic achievement gap. The policies they laud are only designed to perpetuate and widen that gap.

The Propaganda of Small Schools

Don't go beyond that blue wall. That's not your school.

I have never heard of the MDRC until few days ago. It is a think tank with the motto “Building Knowledge to Improve Social Policy.” However, it is tough to see what type of knowledge it is building by publishing a mindlessly laudatory study of New York City’s small high schools entitled “Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City’s Small Public High Schools of Choice”. The single most important sentence in the 12-page study can be found towards the bottom of page 11: “This policy brief and the study upon which it is based are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

There you go. The fix was in from the start.

Closing New York City’s large comprehensive public high schools in order to replace them with several small schools has been a cornerstone of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s brand of education reform. It states in the introductory paragraph of the study: “Between fall 2002 and fall 2008, the school district closed 23 large failing high schools (with graduation rates below 45 percent), [and] opened 216 new small high schools (with different missions, structures, and student selection criteria)…” Rather than just stating facts, the authors use language (like “large failing high schools”) to soften up the reader to accept the study’s ultimate conclusion: “In summary, the present findings provide highly credible evidence that in a relatively short period of time, with sufficient organization and resources, an existing school district can implement a complex high school reform that markedly improves graduation rates for a large population of low-income, disadvantaged students of color.”

Of course, we did not need a 12-page study printed on glossy paper to tell us that graduation rates in New York City have increased under Bloomberg. What the study does do, amazingly, is attribute these rising rates to the great education provided by the small high schools: “In a large sample, like that used for the MDRC study, lottery winners and lottery losers are the same, on average, in all ways before they enter high school. Consequently, it is valid to attribute any differences in their future academic outcomes to their access to an SSC (“Small Schools of Choice”). Because students who lose an SSC lottery attend over 200 high schools that vary widely in their size, age, structure, academic programs, and effectiveness, the MDRC report judged SSCs against the overall effectiveness of a diverse group of other high schools. The results released in 2010 indicated that, on average, the 105 SSCs studied increased student progress toward graduation during their first three years of high school and increased students’ four-year graduation rates.”

Only a bunch of policy wonks, isolated from any reality of what goes on in New York City schools, would say something like all students who apply to the small schools of choice “are the same, on average, in all ways before they enter high school.” I am sure this is news to the parents of these students, who remember giving birth to their children instead of buying them off an assembly line.

But if you can contend that all students are the same, then you can pretend that you have controlled for the human elements of different learning styles, socioeconomic background and home life. If you can pretend in good conscience that you have controlled for these factors, then you can give your flimsy findings an air of scientific respectability.

So what does it do to the validity of this study when Bloomberg’s own sock puppet school Chancellor Dennis Walcott admits that these small schools have not taken in their fair share of students with learning problems and English Language Learners? What does it do to the validity of the study when a man like Walcott, who faithfully toes Bloomberg’s corporate line, pretty much admits that the non-small high schools (i.e. the type that this study would consider “failing”) against which these small schools were compared have been weighed down by a disproportionate number of the most difficult students to educate?

I would have gladly taken the filthy money of the Gates Foundation to conduct my own study on the issue. Since they have not yet offered to avail themselves of my services, I will be the bigger man and publish my study for free. I do not even need 12 pages of glossy paper on which to write it. All I need is this little black space and white font that I pay for out of my own pocket.

Graduation rates are up because standards are down. When you chop one large high school into 5 smaller schools, you must hire 4 new principals. That means a much higher principal-to-teacher ratio than ever before. In short, they are better able to lean on their teachers. Since the careers of these principals depend on the school’s yearly report card, and that report card is heavily contingent upon graduation rates, principals around the city have made it very clear to their teachers that students better pass no matter what. A student did not show up for class all year? No problem. Give them online credit recovery, where they can take basket-weaving 101 and pretend it is a science credit. It does not matter if kids learn anything. All that matters is that the data looks good. If the MDRC was really serious about measuring student success, they would have mentioned that most NYC public high school graduates that go on to college do not make it past their sophomore year. If this is what success looks like, I would hate to see abject failure.

But are not more and more public high school students passing the state Regents exams? Sure they are. That is because of the rampant growth of grade inflation. The biggest blow to Bloomberg’s legacy as the “education mayor” has been the statement of this obvious truth by the people who administer the Regents exams statewide.

To top it all off, as I have pointed out on this blog millions of times, the small high schools are too small to provide art, music, sports, debate, clubs and whole host of enrichment activities only made possible by pooling the resources of a large number of diverse people working cooperatively under the same roof. Instead of bringing the community together, the small schools tear it asunder. Bloomberg has replaced cooperation with competition and the children have suffered because of it.

This MDRC study is just more proof that ideas are up for sale in our day and age. Instead of “Building Knowledge to Improve Social Policy”, their motto should be “Selling Social Policy to the Highest Bidder”.

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.

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.

We Hold the Keys: A Reminder

Don't ever chalk and talk, ever.

We know that most new teachers will not remain in the profession for more than 5 years. The wonder to me is how any new teachers are able to stay on at all. I am in my 12th year of teaching in large part because I received something few other teachers ever get: a solid mentor. This does not mean a cooperating teacher with whom I worked while in college. It means a mentor who was there for me in the first years of my career, passing down tools of the trade gleaned over decades of experience in actual New York City public schools. Without a mentor in these crucial years, I probably would have went the way of most other young teachers and left the profession.

My college training had left me ill prepared to teach in the small, inner-city high school in which I began my career. Instead, I had to draw upon the memories of my best history teachers. Being a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, my best history teachers tended to be the traditional type, sitting their kids in rows using little more than chalk and a blackboard. The fact that my students in my first year did not totally rebel or eat me alive told me I was onto something. The only problem was we were regularly required to attend professional development where old fossils on F status or young hipsters who wanted out of the classroom ran sessions extolling the virtues of post-it notes, bulletin boards, “accountable talk” and word walls. They warned us against “chalk and talk” and “lecturing”. It was like going to a cult initiation where they told me everything I have ever done or believed in was wrong. Unfortunately, this is as much training as most teachers get. Why would people stay in a career that they are not prepared for? More importantly, why would people stay in a career that is made to look trivial and childish?

Fortunately for me, my principal at the time understood that these training sessions were unlikely to improve the quality of his teachers. That is when he hired Sue. Sue was a retired history teacher with 35 years’ experience in New York City. For the first year and a half of my career she passed down to me the most valuable tools of the trade I have ever learned. Twice a week she would come to one of my classes to take notes on my teaching. She would be writing pretty much every minute of the entire period. She would critique my every interaction with the students, every question I asked, every last piece of information I put on the board and the content I was teaching. After class she would replay the lesson, point out the things I did well and showed me where I could have improved. The lessons I learned from her were the nuts and bolts of the art of teaching.

First, she exuded a passion for the subject. She knew so many facts and was able to draw so many connections between time periods. It was the type of knowledge she did not get from merely having a degree. It came from a lifetime of reading, researching and immersing herself in history. I learned the joy of reading history, of being conversant with historical debates and constantly expanding my database of facts and interpretations. My lessons all come from this reserve of research, allowing me to cut out what is unimportant and weave the rest into some sort of whole called a curriculum.

But after one knows the subject they have to prepare to present it. Sue taught me the importance of planning units ahead of time and writing all the homework down on sheets that could be copied and handed out to the students. (In many schools, making copies is not possible and this would entail paying out of pocket for them.) It would give the students a sense of direction as well as show that I as a teacher was prepared. Each lesson within the unit had some sort of visual like a map or chart with questions of my own design. The questions climbed the ladder of difficulty so the students could extract as much information from the visual as possible. (They now call this “differentiation”.) After 12 years of compiling materials and questions I have now a treasure trove of activities and learning aides.

But the most important thing Sue taught me was how to deal with students. There are a million little things that I do now that are a result of Sue’s mentoring: calling on kids by name, praising good answers, walking around the room, writing clear aims and notes that align with them, asking follow-up questions to build discussion and just all around being humane. I found that when I was able to implement all of these into a single lesson the kids responded better to me and wanted to learn. Today these are things I do like breathing thanks to Sue. Many of them might seem obvious to the uninitiated. But when you consider that none of these things are exactly inborn human behaviors and that classes routinely have 30 or more students, it is easy to see why teachers do not necessarily remember to do all of these things all of the time.

Sue was teaching me the art of teaching. She knew that none of these things were necessarily easy or pleasant. I often would rebel against her suggestions because I considered it micromanagement. But Sue was very adamant about me doing every single thing. There was no room for laziness or refusing to do something because it was out of my comfort zone. Her job was to guard the keys to the teaching profession and she was not going to allow me to defile it. This was something for which I will forever be grateful. She raised my consciousness of what it takes to make a classroom run and my role in it. I was not a facilitator, I was a teacher. The buck stopped with me.

But the Sues of the world are the education dinosaurs. The deformers have stepped up their efforts to trivialize teaching, boiling it down to exam scores, buzz words and fads. They want to make new teachers think that there is nothing more to teaching than getting students through a standardized exam and using post-it notes and sparkles because they look pretty to kids. They want to trivialize teaching in order to make it easier. Do not think about the art behind teaching: the passion for content, the way you lay out that content and the millions of interactions big and small involved in the delivery of that content. Instead, sit the kids in circles and have them do “accountable talk”. Write comments on neon-colored post-it notes and make sure those comments never have a negative word. Use these methods because the “research” shows that it leads to “positive outcomes”. The message is clear: do not think for yourselves as teachers, we have done the thinking for you. And of course, how much should workers who have all the thinking done for them get paid? Sue showed me that I am not a fast food worker or a young idealist teaching in an inner-city school out of liberal guilt. I am a teacher and I hold the keys to the profession.

The worst nightmare of the deformers is an empowered teaching force with confidence in their ability to teach. Teachers who know how to share their passion for knowledge with students are able to see through the education fads. They see that things like charter schools are not the answer since they do not speak to the art of teaching and, in many cases, end up destroying teaching by working their staffs to exhaustion. This is why Bloomberg did nothing but declare all-out war on veteran teachers: they were the guardians of the teaching profession that the mayor held in such disdain. Those of us who are left have a duty to rebuild what Bloomberg tried to destroy. We need a new generation of gatekeepers more aggressive than ever before. We must declare firmly that we own the teaching profession, we know what is best for our students’ learning and that people who do not teach have no clue about how to do so. Just as a layman would not tell a doctor how to treat cancer, people like Bill Gates have no place in telling us how children should be educated.

Whether it is Bill Gates or the fly-by-night teacher training programs like Teach for America, the system is awash with people with at best a passing interest in a permanent system. Their interest in teaching will pass but the art of teaching will always remain. While many of our fellow teachers have fell victim to the erosion our profession has suffered at the hands of the deformers, the rest of us are holding the shore against the tide. Time is on our side. No matter how many schools they close or how many charters they open or how many fads they support, we will always hold the keys.