CEO takes aim at NYC schools
and , teachers in New York City, look at the new boss of the New York City public schools, and the anti-union legacy she inherits.
IT'S A typical story out of the business press: A controversial CEO known for downsizing, streamlining and forcing concessions from workers leaves a major organization for a position at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. He'll be replaced by a "world-class manager," the former president of Hearst magazines, who "earned a reputation in publishing as a tough-minded chief executive who never left her employees guessing what she wanted."
But this isn't a report on a changeover in the executive suites at Fortune 500 companies--it's about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial choice of who will preside over the education of 1 million students in New York City.
Joel Klein, who served as New York City schools chancellor from 2002 to the present, is set to be replaced by Cathleen Black, a longtime corporate insider and publishing mogul. Black's claim to educational experience entails "serving" with Michelle Obama on tutor day at a Detroit public school and being "principal for a day" in a South Bronx school, the only two known instances in which she's entered a public school.
According to Bloomberg, Black "understands that we have to make sure that our kids have the skill sets to partake in the great American dream...there is no one who knows more about the skills our children will need to succeed in the 21st century economy."
This is like saying you can be the coach of the New York Giants because you know the players should be big, strong and fast.
Or, as retired teacher Norm Scott puts it in a satire at his Education Notes blog, perhaps the New York Mets were looking at Cathie Black as their new general manager before she was pegged by Klein, since the Mets "endorsed Bloomberg's vision of a corporate manager not needing to know anything about the area they are managing."
Since she lacks any education credentials, Black requires a waiver from New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner. Facing a public outcry, an advisory panel, stacked with Bloomberg favorites, voted four against, two in favor and two "not at this time" for Black's nomination. It was a startling rebuke of the mayor, who is used to dictating educational policy without dissent.
However, after some horse-trading between Steiner and Bloomberg, a deal appears to have been worked out to allow Black to serve--as long as a reliable number-two with experience in the education field is at her side. Under an agreement leaked to the media November 29, New York City Department of Education official Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as second-in-command to Black.
Polakow-Suransky has played a key role in the implementation of the Bloomberg agenda, including opening small schools and charter schools. As deputy chancellor of performance and accountability, he has overseen a punitive evaluation system that resulted in a rash of school closures. Thus, all signs point to a continuation of the major policies of the Klein years.
Most New Yorkers are deeply suspicious of Bloomberg's choice of Black to head the schools. A Quinnipiac University poll showed residents believed by a 2-1 margin that Black was not qualified for the job.
Opponents of Black's nomination started a petition calling for the denial of Black's waiver that gathered more than 10,000 signatures. Prominent opponents of Bloomberg in the City Council, such as Charles Barron, have also been outspoken in calling for a denial of Black's waiver.
And yet, in spite of the widespread distrust of Bloomberg's crony-capitalist approach to the education system and the grassroots opposition to the nomination, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), said in a statement, "We've worked well with Mr. Polakow-Suransky in the past, and we look forward to working with him and Ms. Black in the future on the critical issues the school system faces."
This shows the continued lack of will among union leaders like Mulgrew to resist the corporate agenda for education, even when the majority of the public is on our side.
SINCE IT appears that we are in for more of the same under the new administration, it is worth reviewing the legacy of her predecessor, Joel Klein.
According to education historian Diane Ravitch, under Klein, "New York City became the testing ground for market-based reforms." Corporate education "reformers" pointed to New York as a major success.
Klein introduced a report-card grading system for schools, closed 91 of them, initiated a system of Teacher Data Reports that ranks teachers based on controversial "value-added" models, and opened up New York school buildings to privately run charter schools.
As a reward for this frontal assault on the school system, New York won the 2007 Broad Prize for Urban Education--named for Eli Broad, the billionaire real estate mogul who has bankrolled corporate school "reform" in cities across the U.S.
The results? Bloomberg has long touted the city's improvements in state test scores in Math and English Language Arts (ELA) for grades 3-8. However, these were mostly the result of a rescaling of the scores to lower standards for proficiency. For example, a student who scored "proficient" on a 2006 test ranked in the 45th percentile nationally (meaning that 55 percent of students scored higher), while in 2009, a student who scored "proficient" scored in the 20th percentile nationally.
As a result of this test-score inflation, the number of proficient students on the grade 3-8 math exam jumped from 57 percent in 2006 to 81.8 percent in 2009. In short, Bloomberg and Klein, like their good friends on Wall Street, created a bubble.
When an equally dramatic drop in test scores resulted from the rescaling of the 2010 tests for grade 3-8 Math and English Language Arts state tests, the bubble popped, and Klein and Bloomberg's house of cards began to tumble. In fact, according to the New York Daily News, Klein's resignation came on the heels of growing tensions between Klein and Bloomberg over the test score fiasco and other setbacks.
Klein will be remembered by many as a tone-deaf bureaucrat who treated teachers, parents and students with contempt. Last year, the city pushed to close 19 schools despite a wave of protests from those school communities. When the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), a fake school board controlled by the mayor, called a hearing, hundreds turned out to testify and protest.
As Klein called the meeting to order, he was unable to speak for several minutes because of chants and booing from within the room. Once the meeting finally began, students, parents and teachers testified, pointing to the racism underlying the school closings and the broader agenda to undermine public schools and grant space to selective charter schools. At three in the morning, after nine hours of angry testimony, the panel voted, one by one, to close the schools. The school closings were later reversed in a court decision.
While Klein refused to listen to the parents, students and teachers about when it came to educational policy, he kept an open-BlackBerry policy with people who were trying to undermine public education. In February, Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez uncovered 125 private e-mails between Klein and Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Harlem Success Academy, which runs a group of charter schools, mostly in Harlem.
Moskowitz has targeted several Harlem school buildings, pushing out and undermining public schools to gain access to rent-free classrooms--often in the face of vociferous protests from parents and teachers. And all along, Klein has been a big supporter. Besides speaking at numerous charter school events and helping to publicize Moskowitz's venture, Klein also attended poker-night fundraisers teeming with hedge fund managers to help Moscowitz.
According to the e-mails uncovered by Gonzalez, Moskowitz suggested schools that could be closed and buildings that were "underutilized" so she could poach them--and she repeatedly complained to Klein about DOE officials when they weren't moving quickly enough for her.
Contrast his close relationship with Moskowitz to Klein's notorious practice of spending time on his BlackBerry during PEP hearings or walking out of the room when outraged parents and community members opposed his policies, and the essence of Klein's legacy is laid bare.
NOW KLEIN is moving on, and stands to make big money. News Corp. officials told the New York Times that Klein would be working on "developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace."
In fact, on November 22, News Corp. purchased 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a provider of educational evaluation services, for $360 million. Wireless Generation runs the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) that runs periodic assessments in New York City schools and compiles the results into an online database.
Perhaps News Corp. executives had their eye on the purchase of Wireless Generation for some time. But the timing of the purchase so close to Klein's hiring raises more than an eyebrow. In fact, an online search of the city's Office of the Comptroller Web site reveals what appears to be a recent million increase in Wireless Generation's contract for administering its assessments--from $6.05 million to $7.55.
In a time of significant budget cuts on the school level, the DOE is spending even more on these onerous tests, which add more stress to students and most teachers have little use for. But they will be moneymakers for News Corp. and its new education services boss, Joel Klein.
As Klein cashes in, Cathie Black will try to further his agenda of privatizing schools, bashing teachers unions and leaving the vast majority of kids to underfunded and segregated schools.
But the opposition to Black is encouraging. We need to use this anger to build a movement that defends the idea that public education is not a business--and that our children are not for sale.