Arthur Goldstein is a high school teacher in New York City. He blogs at New York City Educator.
The New York State Legislature gave Mayor Bloomberg control of the New York City public schools in 2002. Here is Arthur Goldstein’s assessment of Mayor Bloomberg’s decade of near-total control:
When Michael Bloomberg came into office, there was quite a lot of talk about mayoral control. After all, as always, the schools were in crisis. Op-eds warned end of the world was imminent if we did not address this crisis immediately. Mayor Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, had attempted to procure control, but was frequently preoccupied with lawsuits (like the one demanding the right to bring his mistress into the home he shared with his wife and young children).
Bloomberg had a vision, a vision in which our Board of Education was replaced with a Panel for Educational Policy. In order to give some semblance of democracy to this vision, each borough president was allowed to select a representative. But Mayor Bloomberg would get 8 of the 13 votes, and any borough that stood in his way could go to hell. Also, any mayoral rep that voted against Bloomberg’s wishes, or contemplated doing so, would be fired. Thus, we learned much about Michael Bloomberg’s interpretation of democracy.
Also, to fix the supposed problem of educators presuming to run schools, Bloomberg would do away with the quaint notion of a master educator becoming principal, traditionally short for “principal teacher.” Instead, he’d get more business-oriented types to whip teachers into shape. I’ve only met one Leadership Academy grad, but I was amazed at his ability to speak jargon and slogans in lieu of English. Most teachers, like me, would much rather place their faith in someone who spent at least a good decade in the classroom.
To improve education, Bloomberg would close schools, and their problems were to magically disappear with their names. Large Neighborhood High School would become four schools, the International School of Niceness, the Michael Bloomberg School of Basket Weaving, or what have you. Only by the time the school opened, the Niceness principal was replaced with a Leadership Academy principal, and the basket-weaving principal would be replaced by someone who couldn’t tell a basket from a bucket.
New York City’s neediest kids, like the ESL students I serve, failed to disappear as planned and continued to pull down test scores, apparently the only thing Mayor Bloomberg cared about. No matter how many schools he closed, kids who didn’t speak English persisted in answering questions incorrectly. Being a lowly teacher, incapable of thinking out of the box, my instinct would have been to teach them English. But Mayor Bloomberg deemed it more productive to close more of their schools. As he closed schools in their neighborhoods, high-needs kids moved to nearby schools, which would soon close as well.
But Mayor Bloomberg (after getting Christine Quinn to help revoke a term-limit regulation twice affirmed by voters) had good news while purchasing term three. Miraculously, state scores had gone up! Diane Ravitch examined NY State’s NAEP scores and said it was too good to be true. And after she endured much criticism from Bloomberg and his minions, it turned out she was right.
Sadly, after having elected Mayor Bloomberg for yet another term, his much-vaunted accomplishments melted right before our eyes. Yet he was determined to stay the course, and went right on closing schools. I attended hearings at Jamaica High School where virtually the entire community got out and no one was in favor of its closing. UFT chapter leader James Eterno made a very persuasive case that the closing was based on false statistics. Yet Eterno, and indeed Jamaica’s entire community were ignored as the PEP rubber-stamped its closing (as it does for every closing).
More recently, Mayor Bloomberg tried one of President Obama’s initiatives, the turnaround model, for some schools. This, apparently, would draw funding and give kids who don’t speak English a chance to pass tests (or something). However, he was displeased when the UFT failed to agree with how to use junk science to evaluate teachers, and thus planned to close dozens of schools instead.
When the UFT finally agreed on a junk science framework, Bloomberg was horrified that 13% of poorly rated teachers could get impartial hearings, and decided to close the so-called turnarounds anyway. An arbitrator ruled against that. Though the mayor decided that the arbitration he’d agreed to was unfair, having not gone his way, he was shut down in court.
Even now, Mayor Bloomberg is still not satisfied the new junk science plan will realize his long-cherished wish of firing teachers arbitrarily and capriciously. That’s why he shot down the plan his DOE agreed upon on the last day it could’ve save $250 million, or 1% of NYC’s education budget. (Not much coverage was given to the fact that Mayor Bloomberg had already cut 14% of the budget, all by himself, since 2007.)
I have been teaching in a trailer for most of the time Mayor Bloomberg has been in office. Mayor Bloomberg promised to get rid of them by 2012. In 2007, there were about 400 trailers. Now, there are about 400 trailers.
That’s symbolic of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational progress. A less visible symbol is the disappearing neighborhood school. To me, a school anchors a neighborhood much better than, say, a department store, or even a Moskowitz charter school. Francis Lewis High School, for my money the best neighborhood high school still standing, is one of the few large high schools Bloomberg has spared. Our neighborhood, our students, and our staff are better off for that. Nonetheless, we survive despite how the mayor treats us, not because of it.
And since Mayor Bloomberg does not believe in satisfactory or unsatisfactory ratings, I’ve devised a new one just for him—completely ineffective. I’m quite sure history will vindicate that rating, if only Michael Bloomberg is not paying the salary of whoever writes the history book.