It’s not about respect

This week the New York Times published an article about Bloomberg’s attempt to run for a third term as mayor and the question this brings up about mayoral control of NYC public schools, which he has controlled since 2002. Many people were quoted on the issue in the article, including Geoffrey Canada, chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which runs its own charter school. Strangely, there was not one comment from an actual teacher (or anyone from the NYC Department of Education) in the article.

Instead, Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, spoke on behalf of teachers with regards to Bloomberg’s appointed Chancellor Joel Klein: “There are some very deep negative feelings about the chancellor from teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They don’t feel like he is on their side. So they see all of this in that lens. They are very concerned about not feeling any kind of respect from him again.”

I love my union for protecting my contractual rights as a teacher, but I must say I feel misrepresented by this quote. I feel neither respected nor disrespected by Joel Klein, because I have never met him, and therefore I do not see “all of this” in that lens. That lens sounds all too personal to me and not sufficiently professional. The debate over whether or not Bloomberg should get to run for a third term as mayor, or—more to the point—whether he and Klein should remain in control of city schools has little to do with whether or not, deep inside, either one respects teachers (though that could be an interesting conversation, some other time).

Joel Klein should not remain Chancellor of education, and Bloomberg should not remain in control of schools, however, and here’s why. While I believe that both Klein and Bloomberg honestly have sought to improve the city’s schools, neither is or has ever been an educator. Each man profoundly misunderstands the nature of teaching and learning, and this is evident in the policies that have come to define New York City’s public schools over the last six years. These policies all reflect one basic, failed, premise: if you test kids more, and hold kids, teacher and principals accountable for the results, then kids will learn more, and all schools will become quality schools. If only it were that easy.

Klein and Bloomberg have put taxpayer money into these policies, which employ companies to create high-stakes tests, practice/predictive tests, and test prep books; pay for the scoring of tests; fund data systems and people to analyze and present these to the public; pay children, their families, and their teachers bonuses for good test scores; and grade schools and hire and fire principals based on a variety of performance categories on the same standardized tests. Sadly, all of this does not amount to increased student learning. It amounts to teachers feeling pressured from all sides to narrow the curriculum so as to prepare students to take outdated tests that measure only those things that are easy to standardize—this means critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration are not measured, and therefore not valued.

There is little emphasis on quality instruction under this system. In fact, in the Empowerment Zone, where most schools elected to be after the mayor did away with regional supervision of schools, as far as I can tell the only requirement of schools in terms of instruction is to demonstrate improved test scores. Instead of consulting with educators or researchers who have dedicated their lives to education about how to improve schools, Bloomberg and Klein jumped quickly and whole-heartedly on the NCLB bandwagon of high stakes testing for all—and nothing more. To achieve their desired results, they’ve employed a business productivity model based on punishment and incentives. But children don’t learn like bankers bank.

In addition to the damage done by arranging our entire school system around high stakes testing, Bloomberg and Klein have failed to do many positive things for our schools. They have done nothing to improve class sizes in classrooms across the city, for which teachers and parents have advocated for decades. They’ve not supported or improved after school education, arts education, social studies and science education (which are practically nonexistent in many elementary schools), physical education, nutrition in schools, integration of technology into K-12 education, or the improvement of school building facilities. They have not created policies to support new teachers, improve teacher retention rates in high needs schools, or improve teachers’ access to resources needed for teaching. With impending budget cuts to city schools, because of the corrupt collapse of Wall Street, entire school communities are likely to feel even more strapped in all of these areas.

Klein and Bloomberg should move on—not because they’re not on the side of teachers, whatever that means, but because their oversight of New York City’s schools has been misguided and wholly inadequate. Perhaps their swift systems of accountability should be put to good use on Wall Street.

[Image credit: www.casita.us/images/ bloomberg-Klein-605.jpg]

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