In his recent book Finnish Lessons, Pasi Sahlberg talks about the spread of GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement), the devout belief in testing, accountability, competition, choice, and privatization. One reason for the contagious nature of GERM is that it is boosted by an unparalleled public relations campaign. This campaign makes dramatic claims about successes, test score gains, improvements of all kinds. If one has the opportunity to look closely at these claims, they disappear in smoke.

Such is the case with the “miracle” of New York City under Mayor Bloomberg. As New Yorkers know all too well, the mayor came into office claiming that he could fix the city school system without spending any more than the current budget. He persuaded the state legislature to give him total control of the public schools. He controls a rubber-stamp board, which compliantly does whatever he wants, regardless of the wishes of parents, teachers, students, and communities. Year after year, the city’s test scores went up and up, until 2010 when the State Education Department admitted that it had lowered the passing mark each year. The city’s gains collapsed overnight, the achievement gap went back to where it had been eight years earlier, but the Mayor never admitted that the boasting was in error. There is a bit less touting of the miracle, although now he and his employees boast about a rising graduation rate, never acknowledging that 80% of the city’s graduates who enter local community colleges require remediation in basic skills.

Oh, and the budget doubled during the mayor’s reign of total control.

The public was not fooled. Polls now show that the mayor gets negative ratings on his education record, and that most want a different arrangement under the next mayor. The public doesn’t really like authoritarian rule and, despite the PR, knows that it has not gone well. Yet the mayor continues to close school after school, 24 just days ago, never recognizing that closing schools is an admission of the failure of his policies.

This is background for the lovely email I received overnight, which was a comment in response to “Who is Reading My Blog”:

Diane I´m writing from São Paulo, Brazil. Your work is extremely useful for us because most of these bad ideas that are being used in the United States, like standardized testing and merit pay are being used in several states and cities in Brazil. There is a bizarre fetish for the educational accomplishments of Mayor Bloomberg among Brazilian journalists and policy makers, there was even a newspaper columnist that suggested that bad teachers should be replaced by Khan Academy videos(That´s seriously). The state of São Paulo even mandated that all teachers, even P.E and Arts, should have worked with basic writing, reading and math for a bimester. States are even hiring these expensive consulting firms from the United States to provide solutions. Your writing and your interviews allowed me to see things that I never noted on all these ideas about testing and merit pay, it opened a new window to me. Few Brazilian teachers can read in English, but there are lots of teachers noting your writings here. You are the best, I love you.