Tag Archives: New York City Department of Education

Pyongyang in New York City

Most Glorious Leader Kim Il Sung brings the people of the DPRK much success from beyond the grave.

I think comparisons to Nazi Germany are overused. Comparisons to North Korea, however, are still fair game.

Pyongyang is North Korea’s capital. It is a city located towards the center of a country mired in famine, propaganda and gulags. Foreigners who visit North Korea are given a “guided tour” by state-employed handlers who take you around to see the most glittering parts of the city: the giant statue of Kim Il Sung, the underground rail system, the beautiful traffic ladies and the cooperative farms on the outskirts that are greener than all the other farms in the land.

Those who live in Pyongyang are the elite living a relatively privileged life due to the largesse of the “Dear Leader”, or whatever Kim Jong Un is called. Although these elites still have limited food and frequent power outages, it beats the hell out of starving in the countryside or eating rats in a forced labor camp.

Pyongyang is the showcase city. This is what happens when a dictator with absolute control runs a small, isolated nation.

And here we have Michael Bloomberg, the Kim Jong Un of New York City’s Department of Education. He abolished the democratically-elected Board of Education to replace it with his Politburo, er, I mean Panel for Educational Policy whose members only answer to him.  He has ravaged the countryside, er, I mean schools under his control through indiscriminate “restructurings” and “turnarounds”, leaving husks of institutions in their wake.

As the Daily News points out today, there is also Bloomberg’s version of Pyongyang:

New schools founded in the last three years get more money per student than schools the city began shutting down this year, a Daily News analysis finds.

Under a reform — ironically called Fair Student Funding — the city distributes the bulk of school funding based on the enrollment and demographics of each school.

The reform introduced in 2007 hasn’t been fully funded because of budget cuts in recent years, but all 30 new schools opening this year get their full share of the money to which they’re entitled while the struggling schools remain badly underfunded.

“These are the mayor’s showcase schools. He wants to show they’re doing well,” said Gregg Lundahl, a social studies teacher and teachers union chapter leader at a closing school — Manhattan’s Washington Irving High School. “It’s very unfair.”

“Showcase schools”, that says it all.

This is “Fair Student Funding”. It reminds me of the “Great Leap Forward” in China where millions died of famine.

That is exactly what it is too: famine. In order to fatten up the schools with loyal administrators and younger (see: cheaper) teachers, the schools in the countryside with more veteran staffs get nothing. They starve for resources, having to nurse a piece of chalk for days or limit the copies they make to save paper. Those who speak against his regime, or just plain make too much money, are disappeared, charged with phony crimes, hounded by his education police and put through a kangaroo show trial.

Of course, like all dictators, Bloomberg takes no credit for these disparities in funding. This despite the fact that he claimed he would have “all the accountability” for what went on in schools once he seized control of them.

See how Bloomberg holds himself accountable:

“Efforts to raise all schools to 100% of the Fair Student Funding formula continue to be implemented gradually, and have been hampered by the five successive years of budget cuts during the recession,” said Education Department spokesman Connie Pankratz.

Adding to the budgetary slight, the turnaround schools were supposed to receive an additional $31 million in federal school improvement grants. City officials said in August they would provide the schools $18 million to help offset the loss of the grant.

That is right, it is not his fault. It is the state and federal government not putting up the cash. That is Pharaoh Bloomberg’s way of being “accountable”.

When millions of people died of starvation in North Korea during the 1990s, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il never took responsibility either. It was not his bungled agricultural plan or that he failed to account for the fact that the Soviet Union was dead and would no longer be able to artificially prop up his odious regime. No way. He told his people it was because of an “embargo” by the United States and Japan. For some reason, one day, the U.S. and Japan said “you know what, we should cause the horrible death of millions of innocent people today. Let us create an embargo.”

It is an “embargo” from the state and federal governments that Bloomberg blames. If you buy that excuse, there is an isolated dictatorship in east Asia waiting for you to move there.

When the historians finally get to work on the Bloomberg regime, they will see that his policies have meant desolation for the students, teachers and parents of New York City.

What do Diane Ravitch and I Have in Common?

Both of our blogs are censored on New York City Department of Education computers.

Actually, Dr. Ravitch is not sure if it is just certain NYC schools or all of them. Time will tell. As for me, I have been blocked in all schools for months.

It is indeed a great honor to be in the same category as Diane Ravitch.

To be sure, WordPress blogs are generally accessible from DOE computers. Therefore, it is obvious someone, somewhere in the DOE’s IT department has an issue with what I write.

It is funny, since both Diane Ravitch and I (it feels good to type that) take care to use appropriate language and sentence structure at all times, even though I fall short from time to time. Is the DOE afraid that students will be exposed to big words?

Out of all the NYC teacher bloggers who have been lambasting education reform for much longer and much more articulately than me, it is I who somehow ends up on the black list.

Whatever the reason is, I take it as a badge of honor. To be in the same category as Diane Ravitch only makes it sweeter.


Fortunato Rubino: Profile of the Possible

Fortunato (Fred) Rubino

I never knew Fortunato Rubino, but I know what he represented. Unfortunately, Mr. Rubino passed away this morning, taken way too early from his family, his community and the students he faithfully served for decades.

Norm at Ed Notes posted a great celebration of Fortunato Rubino’s life’s work. Reading about the type of man he was, one word really comes to mind: mensch.

I find myself using that word a lot lately. Working in the Department of Education, one does not necessarily come into contact with many people who fit that description. It is even rarer to find at the administrative level. I have learned to value the people who can look me in the eyes and mean what they say.

As Norm said on his blog, Rubino was the type of administrator who shielded his staff and students from the ridiculous dictates of Tweed. His death seems symbolic as the death of an era. After 10 years of Bloomberg, we have gone from having an education system to having a corporatized system that does education, and does it poorly. Mr. Rubino was a man from another era, an era when teachers were respected and experience counted for everything.

Without people like Fortunato Rubino, we are left with a system of robot administrators with no other purpose but to fulfill Tweed’s every last whim. We are stuck with the principal who locks himself up in his office and sees everyone outside of it as a threat. Any union action, any independent thought, any criticism is seen as an attack on the principal itself and must be destroyed.

We are coming into the era when fear and paranoia are the rule in every school building. Cameras will be everywhere, teachers will be in competition with each other and the principal will lord above them all with the power to destroy with the swipe of a pen. There is no such thing as dialogue between staff and administration. Staff meetings are opportunities for administrators to berate teachers into doing whatever it is Tweed wants done at the moment. There is no such thing as cooperation between teachers. All laughter is laughter at the principal and must be eradicated immediately.

Mr. Rubino understood that he was running a public institution, not a business. He understood that he was an educator, not a CEO. He understood that students learn best in a community and that trust was the foundation of building that community. He understood that intimidating, harassing and isolating teachers would only turn them into frazzled human beings who doubt everything they say and do.

While Fortunato Rubino was taken from us too early, his example points the way to what is possible. Administrators can, in fact, buck the system. They can throw their bodies on the machinery and ensure that Tweed’s nonsense does not all filter down to the students. By building social capital within the community, by knowing the parents, the children, the teachers and the local institutions, by knowing their interests and concerns, an educational leader can make the best out of very limited resources. Through imagination and broad-minded tolerance, they can reconcile the competing claims of different groups and formulate actual policy that is not just a memo from Tweed.

We need 10, 20, 30 more Fortunato Rubinos if the children of New York City are to have any hope that their schools will be healthy places of learning. Perhaps teachers, the ones who know what is going on, should take the initiative to become education leaders. Maybe instead of trying to get out of the system, we should try to move up. This would be the only antidote to the small-minded and weak-willed automatons that call themselves administrators today.

The alternative is just too scary to think about.

Bloomberg’s Corporate Schools

The New York City Teaching Fellows program is similar to Teach for America. Fellows are usually drawn from other professions with offers of a subsidized master’s degree and mentoring in their first year of teaching. They are usually sent to the toughest schools. It was a program conceived in an era of teacher shortage, an era that no longer exists.

Now, the Department of Education is talking of overhauling the program. Among other things, their plan calls for starting Fellows off in the classrooms earlier, so as to give them more supervised experience.

This is a solution that does not get at the issues raised by the teachers quoted in the article. Their problem lies more with the fact that they are not supported by their administrators in their all-important first year. They may get mentors from the Fellows program, but those mentors are not doing the job.

Unfortunately, what the Fellows quoted in this article face is the norm for all first-year teachers, no matter what type of program they are a part of. The Bloomberg system revolves around the idea that school administrators are nothing more than middle-management. That is to say, they are paper pushers and bureaucrats who are expected to enforce all the written and unwritten policies coming down from Tweed.

This means that administrators are not expected to be educators.

Now, there are still some principals in the system who are true educators. My first principal was a charismatic man who hired a mentor to work with me for the first two years of my career. That experience made me the educator I am today. I will be forever grateful to that principal for dedicating scarce school resources to ensure that his younger teachers got the most out of their careers and their students.

Sadly, this principal was forced out of the system. I did not know it at the time, but the times were changing. Bloomberg had just taken office and he was determined to be the “education mayor”. Administrators who actually took an interest in quality instruction, visited classrooms and provided needed resources to their teachers were not longed for the Department of Education.

What we have now, thanks to the small schools movement, is a proliferation of administrators. The number of principals has greatly expanded while the pool of talent from which they are drawn is greatly diminished. Thanks to the revolving door that the teaching profession has become, there are very few veteran educators available to become principals. Instead, what we have is a generation of new teachers who have not been properly trained, never been properly mentored and never had true fulfillment or success in the classroom. They see administration as their way out, not to mention up, and they throw themselves solely into being good Tweedies.

This is, of course, a generalization. There are still principals around like the one that stabilized my career, but they are few and far between. The best principals shield their teachers from the most destructive dictates that come from Tweed. The vast majority of them, however, ensure that their staffs get the full brunt of what Tweed hands down. After all, this might be their ticket to even greater power and authority. They might become a superintendent or a consultant for their good works.

These are the connections that the Daily News needs to make in this article. Bloomberg has been a neutron bomb for public schools in New York City. He has killed anything of life inside of them and replaced it with a mechanical, corporate-driven atmosphere. The focus is not on education at all, but on self-preservation. Administrators largely are out to secure their jobs or get better ones. The erosion of tenure has made teachers less likely to take risks by speaking out against injustices. Everyone is atomized into their own individual spaces, afraid of rocking the boat or thinking for themselves.

That is the atmosphere that the Teaching Fellows are describing. They are thrown into a classroom and told to fend for themselves. Those that actually do not delude themselves understand that they are not able to provide a quality education to their students in such circumstances. Those that care about nothing other than preserving their jobs will live with the sub-par educations they provide and hitch their wagons to their principal’s star. These will turn out to be the Tweedies of tomorrow.

This is the true meaning of mayoral control. It is why education in New York City has become a yoke, even more so than it was before, for both teachers and students.

I would venture a guess that this is why Bloomberg loves charter schools. They are a pure form of his corporate philosophy that dominates the DOE. Teachers have no rights, students are subjected to corporal punishment and principals see themselves as nothing more than data pushers and money-managers.

No matter what overhaul the DOE has in mind for the Teaching Fellows, nothing will change until the little man at the top goes away.