During the last Democratic debate, billionaire MIchael Bloomberg boasted about his education record as mayor of New York City. None of the other candidates knew enough about the details—or the other side of the story—to challenge him.

Jan Resseger tells the other side of the story here. If you love Republican policies of high-stakes testing, school choice, and accountability (i.e., punishing students, teachers, principals, and schools for low scores), he’s your guy. If you loved No Child Left Behind, his approach is for you.

If you like Campbell’s Law, where the measure (be it test scores or graduation rates) becomes corrupted by turning it into a goal, Bloomberg’s reign proves the law. Test scores were king, and they miraculously rose (although NYC showed less progress on NAEP than most other cities); when graduation rates were the goal, the dubious practice of “credit recovery” became widespread.

Jan Resseger reviews Bloomberg’s legacy, based on her long experience as a social justice warrior.

She begins:

One of NYC’s best known public school advocates, Leonie Haimson explains, “When I heard that he was running for president, it felt like the return of a bad dream.” Haimson personally lived through the decade when Bloomberg brought technocratic, corporate style disruption and marketplace policy to the NYC schools. She watched the process from the inside. But even from far away, I will never forget learning about Bloomberg’s radical experiment: Bloomberg obliterated the city’s institutional infrastructure of regional and neighborhood high schools. Although overall the high school graduation rate rose, the high school closures, intensifying racial and economic segregation, and the school choice disruption undermined the whole endeavor. And once such an experiment is launched there is no going back.

At a Children’s Defense Fund conference eight or nine years ago, I found myself eating lunch with several NYC middle school guidance counselors, who described the impossible task of trying to help dozens of eighth graders—middle school students without any experience outside of their immediate neighborhoods—sort through a telephone book-sized high school choice guidebook to look for the best high school fit. These counselors told me that they believed NYC high school choice had been, in reality, designed to favor the children of savvy parents who knew how to get their children on the right track beginning in Kindergarten. These counselors were exhausted, overwhelmed, and worried about the effect on vulnerable thirteen-year-olds of losing a stacked school choice competition. They suspected that the new high school choice plan would prove to NYC’s poorest young people that they are losers who can’t possibly triumph…

Bloomberg broke up the comprehensive high schools across the city into small high school programs and charter schools co-located into the old high school buildings, but the new smaller schools did not all offer a comprehensive curriculum. In a 2015 report for the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, Clara Hemphill, Nicole Mader and Bruce Cory explain: “While the graduation rate has steadily increased over the past decade, the proportion of students receiving an Advanced Regents diploma—one commonly used measure of college readiness—has stagnated… Today 39 percent of the city’s high schools do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science, that is, algebra 2, physics and chemistry. More than half of the schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement course in math and about half do not offer a single Advanced Placement course in science… Roughly 21 percent of New York City high school students attend schools that don’t offer courses in both chemistry and physics. Many of these are the new small high schools that proliferated during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg… (Three years of science is a graduation requirement in all city high schools. Students at schools that don’t offer the full complement of college-prep sciences meet that requirement by taking one of these sciences, usually biology—or as it’s known in New York schools, ‘living environment’—and supplementing that with courses such as forensics or general science.) The result is an intense bifurcation of the city’s public high school system…. Looking at statistics from August 2014, the Center for New York City Affairs found that 48 percent of the New York City public high school students receiving Advanced Regents diplomas are clustered in just 25 schools. At 100 other schools, on the other hand, not a single student received an Advanced Regents diploma…”

My intense concern reflects the moral flaw in the scheme Bloomberg introduced into NYC’s public schools. The Rev. Jesse Jackson named the problem with school choice competitions: Competitions always create losers as well as winners, and the losers of school choice arrangements are almost always poor children of color. At a 2011 Schott Foundation for Public Education town hall, the Rev. Jackson declared: “There are those who make the case for a race to the top for those who can run. But ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody. ”

We need to continue improving access and opportunity in the public schools, for no set of institutions can possibly be utopian. In contrast to neoliberal, disruptive plans featuring the closure of comprehensive high schools, school choice and charter school expansion, however, a system of traditional public schools provides the best chance of balancing the needs of each particular child and family with a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children.