Archive for May, 2003

30th May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 30, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Often, I have been critical of Mayor Bloomberg on this page, largely because I disagree with 99% and 44/100 ths of his education program. But one area that he and I are in full agreement is the issue of nonpartisan municipal elections. No reform of city government would be more meaningful and productive than this one.

Mayor La Guardia once suggested that there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the garbage. He was right.Most of what city government does has little to do with partisan concerns. But what really makes non-partisan elections so attractive to many of its supporters is that it would promote democracy in a town where our twoparty system has fallen apart.We may have elected Republicans in the last three mayoral contests, but that was due to extraordinary circumstances, not the presence of a consistently competitive system. The situation with the City Council is more indicative of the problems inherent in the current structure.

Rudolph Giuliani lost his first attempt to occupy City Hall to David Dinkins in 1989.Mr.Dinkins would have been re-elected had his administration been successful at any level.But the city was falling apart, enabling Mr. Giuliani to narrowly win his first term. Mr. Giuliani won re-election handily because he demonstrated that the ungovernable city could be governed after all. (more…)

23rd May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 23, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

This week, the city’s Department of Education released the scores on the fourthgrade and eighth-grade reading tests administered by the state, and the news is not good for Schools Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg. Scores, at least for the fourth grade,went up by a respectable amount. Put in the context of the upward movement since 1999, it seems that the strategies advanced by two former chancellors, Rudy Crew and Harold Levy, are, at least to some extent, working.

This takes some of the edge off Mr. Klein’s oft-repeated refrain that the system isn’t working. The impressive fourth-grade figures certainly raise the bar for him come next year, when he — and Mr. Bloomberg — must assume responsibility for the instructional programs that will be in place by September.
Particularly impressive this year are the fourth-grade results in the Chancellor’s District, established by Mr. Crew. The schools in this district were among the most chronically
low-performing in the city. It is clear that, at least for the fourth grade, the experiment was a success.
(more…)

16th May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 16, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Because I write frequently about education, I try to keep up with all of the latest literature in the field.The former head of General Electric, Jack Welch, has been named chairman of the board of the new, private entity established to train our next generation of New York City educational leaders. So, when I found out that he gave away copies of his book to the recently appointed local instructional supervisors, I knew I had to bring myself up to speed.

I headed right out to Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of Robert Slater’s “29 Leadership Secrets From Jack Welch,” apparently an abridged, Cliff Notes version of Mr. Welch’s book. Since Cliff Notes worked just fine for me when I was a student at the Bronx High School of Science, I figured I’d spring for this version so I could really get in the swing of things, fast. (more…)

12th May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 12, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The Bloomberg administration is desperately trying to salvage its Children First education initiative in the face of opposition from the teachers, the principals, the legislators who gave the mayor control of the schools, and, most importantly, the electorate. And it is clear that the administration will stop at nothing, even outright deception, to save its sinking ship.

Yesterday, Department of Education officials fanned out to black churches throughout the city, trying to restore support in the community for the mayor’s education initiative — the most recent Quinnipiac College poll shows that only 24% of blacks approve of the mayor’s handling of the issue. This followed an outing Friday where Schools Chancellor Klein engaged in a clumsy effort to preempt the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, who was set to attack the Children First initiative on Saturday. Mr. Klein held a press conference at Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education’s new headquarters, with a number of well-known groups such as 100 Black Men, the Urban League, and Aspira. (more…)

9th May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 9, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday revealed that only 35% of New Yorkers approve of Mayor Bloomberg’s handling of education issues, while 52% disapprove. Quite the change in mood since last year, when there was a consensus that the schools needed change, in the form of mayoral control of the system. The mayor enjoyed near-total support from the public, parents, the Legislature, and the direct stakeholders in the established system, such as the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.

But the attitude, the lack of a truly open process, and the contempt for the law exhibited by the mayor and Schools Chancellor Klein has left those supporters feeling betrayed. The Tweed Ring lives in a dream world.
As Exhibit A, take a retreat that was held last week at the IBM Palisades Conference Center for the more than 100 “local instructional supervisors.”These are the $135,000-a-year public employees whose names the Department of Education refuses to reveal. Also enjoying the overnight hospitality at the Rockland County facility were a gaggle of other bureaucrats who will soon populate the 10 new regional offices, and the halls of Tweed.
(more…)

6th May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 6, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Sol Stern’s new book is really two books in one, and each is so compelling that it could easily stand alone. Through his articles in City Journal, where he is senior editor, and frequent commentary in the daily press, Mr. Stern has emerged as this generation’s most knowledgeable observer of the nitty-gritty of life in New York’s public schools. In “My Public School Lessons,” the first part of this book, he offers a first-hand look at what really is going on from the perspective of a parent who is also a public policy-savvy journalist.

Then Mr. Stern takes his perceptive observations a step further with a strong argument for the establishment of voucher and charter programs to bring real choice to our educational system. (more…)

2nd May
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, May 2, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Why do poor children have so much trouble learning to read? One of our nation’s great educational theorists, E.D. Hirsch Jr., and a number of other researchers, writing in the current edition of American Educator, the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers, have an answer. They present a compelling argument that the primary reason these children fall behind is a huge vocabulary deficit. This deficit puts them at an increasing disadvantage as they get older and the material they must read becomes more complex. Mr. Hirsch is the author of “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them,” the book I generously purchased for the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, when he assumed his job last summer. Unfortunately, Mr. Klein seems to have lost his copy. None of the educational decisions he has made so far reflect an understanding of Mr. Hirsch’s sound ideas.

According to Mr. Hirsch, “A 12 thgrade student who scores well enough on the verbal portion of the SAT to get into a selective college knows between 60,000 and 100,000 words.” If we average this out to 80,000 words, and assume that the period of vocabulary acquisition of our high school senior is the 15 years between age 2 and 17, our student needs to learn an average of fifteen words a day. This is not going to happen in school alone. “Most vocabulary words,” Mr. Hirsch argues, result “incidentally, from massive immersion in the world of language and knowledge.” (more…)