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18th November

First Published in The New York Sun, November 18, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The chairwoman of the City Council’s education committee, Eva Moskowitz, has been holding hearings regarding the contracts of the various unions that represent the employees of the city’s public schools. The question is why. Ms. Moskowitz aggressively promoted the hearings, promising a page-by-page examination of the minutiae of the contracts of the teachers, the principals, and the custodians. But what she delivered was nothing new, a rehash of old material well known to the press, the public, and presumably even the council. 

    Is it news to Ms. Moskowitz that the teachers contract makes it difficult to remove bad teachers, or that teacher transfers are done on a seniority basis? Has Ms. Moskowitz just discovered that teachers are no longer required to do lunch duty? 
    Even education expert Sol Stern, the most knowledgeable and persistent critic of the United Federation of Teachers, is now beginning to believe that the greatest threat to the education of New York City’s public school children comes not from the union but from the Department of Education. Ms. Moskowitz has failed to address many of the radical changes Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is making to the system, mostly behind closed doors and without any true public input or participation. 

    As virtually every other big city in the country moves toward a more structured, traditional instructional approach, New York is now moving in the opposite direction. Under the nose of Ms. Moskowitz and her committee, the Department of Education has put in place what many observers feel is the most uncompromising manifestation of “progressive” education theology ever seen in a major American city. 

    Research clearly suggests that this approach doesn’t work for low-performing pupils in urban schools. This is why the federal government now mandates that reading programs be based on hard science as a condition of funding. Undeterred by the possible loss of millions of dollars in federal funds, Mr. Klein and his deputy, the progressive ideologue, Diana Lam, are pressing ahead. Where is Ms. Moskowitz on this most important of all educational issues? 

    Two weeks ago, Ms. Moskowitz’s committee did hold hearings on the city’s controversial “fuzzy” math curriculum. Rather than give a platform to critics, however, she stacked the witness list with apologists for the Department of Education’s questionable curriculum choices.

    What have the contract hearings produced? No new information, but lots of recriminations and general bad behavior. The fact that few educators were eager to trash the contracts of their colleagues and offer up testimony on these already well-known facts had Ms. Moskowitz sputtering. She went so far as to charge that this was a cover-up reminiscent of the “Blue Wall of Silence” that faced the Knapp Commission a generation ago. 

    Lighten up, Ms. Moskowitz. That was real illegality having to do with cops taking bribes from drug dealers, not teachers eating donuts during their preparation periods instead of marking papers. 

    The president of the UFT, Randi Weingarten, arrived at Thursday’s hearing with the head of the city’s Central Labor Council, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, and a Democratic power broker, Howard Wolfson, in tow. Presumably, they were there to stare down the committee members. Did you forget, Ms.Weingarten? This is the City Council, the legislative body that the former parks commissioner, Henry Stern, said is less effective than a rubber stamp — because at least a rubber stamp leaves an impression. 

    Mayor Bloomberg weighed in Friday by likening the UFT contract to “communism,” a remarkable comment from the man ultimately responsible for mandating unprecedented centralized control of what goes on in classrooms, down to the way desks must face and how much time teachers spend on each activity. What does he call the system of “coaches” in the schools, chosen not by principals but by apparatchiks higher up, put in place to enforce compliance with the diktats of his Politburo in the new Kremlin of education, the Tweed Courthouse? 

    Mr. Klein testified yesterday, adding nothing new because it’s all been said so many times before. I suspect he couldn’t be more delighted with Ms. Moskowitz’s efforts. The hearings have poisoned the little trust between the parties and made the resolution of the contract all the more distant. Just as Ms. Weingarten is thought to be “waiting for lefty” — i.e. holding out for a new, Democratic administration at City Hall with whom to negotiate — it’s clear that there’s also no reason for Mr. Klein to come to terms at this time. The UFT and their work rules make a convenient whipping boy should his education initiatives fail. 

    In the absence of an independent Board of Education,the opportunity exists for the council’s education committee to fill the oversight void. Ms. Moskowitz is a highly intelligent woman who clearly has the ability to ask the right questions to improve the future of our children. But she hasn’t, and that’s too bad. Our children need a hero right now, not just another politician with an eye on her next job.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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