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9th May

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.

You will be glad to know that the educrats were able to enjoy the facility’s health and fitness center, which “offers aerobics, a wide variety of exercise equipment, four racquetball courts, a 75-foot, five-lap swimming pool, two saunas, a fully equipped workout room, four lighted outdoor tennis courts, teambuilding events, wallyball, basketball and nearby 18-hole golf courses.” Fortunately, the $100,000 tab for this event was picked up by IBM, or else you would be reading about this on the front page rather than on the opinion page.

The host and master of ceremonies of the event was “Neutron” Jack Welch, the former General Electric CEO whose take-no-prisoners corporate management style is now being implemented in our school system.
Rather than discuss un
comfortable topics like how these educators would pull up test scores, the session was devoted to team-building. The purpose of the team is to obliterate the “enemies that are trying to destroy our mission,” presumably principals and teachers. “We cannot be defeated as a team,” they were told.

Unfortunately for our children, the school system is not G.E. When Mr. Welch ran G.E., he was not constrained by New York State education law.The mayor and chancellor are, but that little problem has not deterred them from engaging in their totally and completely illegal restructuring scheme. Assemblyman Steven Sanders, who authored the new education law, charges that the mayor has far exceeded his authority. He has joined a lawsuit filed by State Senator Carl Kruger to stop the plan.

The issue is simple if you think of it this way. Earlier this week, the Legislature voted to give the city the authority to impose a 0.125% increase in the sales tax. If the mayor were to unilaterally double or triple this, he would be exceeding his authority under the law. That is exactly what he did by creating 10 regions from the mandated 32 school districts. The lawsuit, designed to overturn the Bloomberg-Klein plan, also has been joined by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council and by the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten is poised to withdraw the United Federation of Teachers’ support for all aspects of the Children First initiative.

The focus of the message at the retreat was that the success of the system as a complete entity must take precedence over the good of the regions, networks, or individual schools. “The whole is greater than the parts.”

The cult-like zeal exhibited by this kind of thinking has become a source of derision among principals, teachers, and parents — the real heart and soul of our schools. They know what Mr. Klein will learn, that Mr. Welch and his corporate model are simply unsuited for reform of the schools. The goal of the management of G.E. is to maximize profits and increase share price of G.E. stock. And this can be measured by the performance of the corporation as a whole. But the success of schools is measured one child at a time.

In order to make the system work for the individual child, we have to return focus back to the classroom. Mr. Klein is creating a top-heavy new bureaucracy, which is exactly the opposite of what the mayor initially promised.

I suggest that the next retreat be held back here on planet Earth. Perhaps it could take place in the lunchroom of M.S. 399 in the Bronx, the lowest-scoring middle school in the city in last year’s reading test. This school is still last in the city despite having been restructured twice by the same superintendent whom Mr. Klein is now giving a third chance by promoting her as a regional superintendent.

Maybe an honest discussion of the failure of the same programs that are now being imposed citywide might be somewhat more productive than playing “wallyball” at the IBM Palisades Conference Center in suburban Rockland.

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


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