This reader echoes a frequent complaint expressed by parents in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg’s choice program gives choice to schools, not students. Sometimes one wonders if he is literally aiming to drive middle-class parents out of the school system and into charters, which will rescue their children from schools that the Tweed gang neglected.

The reader explains her frustration:

“There is No School Choice – Disenfranchising Children and Parents in District 15

School choice is a hallmark of the Department of Education under the Bloomberg/Tweed regime in New York City. But last week with the arrival of middle school placement letters in District 15, Brooklyn, it was made painfully clear to everyone, the choice is not ours, but theirs. My son, along with other boys from our high achieving elementary school was placed in a school that nobody chose. He was placed in a school where only 24% of the students read at grade level, in DOE parlance, a failing school. It is also a school without a rich curriculum of art and music. It is a school that has been forced to share space with other schools including the most recent encroachment of the Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Chain. Other students from across the district met the same fate. Boys from one successful elementary school were placed in a middle school where 17% of the children read at grade level and whose mission is to serve at risk children – exactly not the child now being sent there. Does this sound like choice by anyone’s definition?

What does the newly appointed 27-year-old Chief Operating Officer of the DOE do to earn his $202,000 salary? Are we to believe this is all the result of incompetence on the part of Tweed or is it something worse – deliberate mismanagement? One would think that they were intent on driving away families. Indeed, some families of means have already jumped ship. There are plenty of private schools if you have the money.

There is a huge disparity between schools in the district. Some are more desirable than others for good reason – some have a comprehensive curriculum of art, music, dance; others offer little in the way of arts. Some have reputations of being safe, others for violence and bullying. These are not the schools where parents want to send their children. To be clear – I believe that all children deserve to go to safe schools where there is a comprehensive arts program. And I would hope that no child in any school would be bullied or intimidated, but sadly we know that is not the case.

Children who come from crime-ridden neighborhoods and from families that suffer under the stresses of poverty, racism and discrimination, tend to need extra support, a fact that Tweed has yet to comprehend. They have yet to figure out that all this sorting and stacking of children has not improved schools, that we should not relegate low achieving students to one school and high achieving ones to another. Undoubtedly it would be better to have a mix of students with varying skills in a well-funded school with a comprehensive curriculum and a supported staff. This would go a long way towards bringing up those precious test scores. But perhaps it is a deeper problem. Are there too many children living in poverty? Too many children feeling the impact of discrimination and racism? Too many problems that the Tweed is ill-equipped to deal with and therefore chooses to ignore?

The dearth of successful schools for all children is a failure of leadership, vision and planning on the part of the men and women who run the New York City Department of Education. However, in this age of accountability, I suppose all the blame lies with the one man who has had twelve years to right all that was wrong with the system, Michael Bloomberg.

No achievement gap has been closed. No high level of proficiency for all students has been reached. How can it be that 12 years into Bloomberg’s reform agenda we still have schools in which a mere 20% of students can read at grade level? And now we know the Bloomberg administration doesn’t know how to count. In one popular middle school 1,300 students applied for 320 seats, at another smaller school, 1,000 applied for 180 seats. Clearly we need more middle school seats in the district. This situation did not develop overnight. Bloomberg and his minions at Tweed had years to develop new schools or to expand existing successful elementary schools. And no, the two new charter schools in the district are not the answer.

Parents have been left out of this process as they are left out of all decisions Tweed makes on behalf of our children. They unilaterally decided to forgo matching students with suitable placements without bothering to consult the parents. We do not even know how this arduous process for ten-year olds works. It began way back in October with middle school fairs, open houses and tours that many of us took time off from work to attend. Neighborhood middle schools no longer exist; students must apply to district schools. The application process for these choice middle schools also involves interviews and tests. Focus on fourth and fifth grade report cards is intense. Scores of 3 or 4 on the Pearson standardized tests is a pre-requisite for one of the selective schools. We fill out an application and list schools in order of preference. And then we wait months for results. This year some students got their first choice, some got their second or third and some got none of their choices. No rhyme or reason, and certainly no explanation. This should be a transparent process.

Our public school system has been mangled under the reign of Bloomberg leaving behind many children from all neighborhoods across district 15, and the rest of the city. Children and their families who did everything they are supposed to do and were kept in line with the promise of gaining entry to a “good” school were left behind. And the children who attend those “failing” schools were left behind. We need to organize and make Tweed accountable to us. But how does that happen? Walcott puts in appearances from time to time for photo ops, Polakow-Suransky attends town hall meetings and forums when forced to, but how does a parent actually get to speak to someone in charge at Tweed? I would like them to explain to me how schools under their leadership are improving the education of my child, or anyone’s child.