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Arthur Goldstein has taught in the New York City public schools for more than 30 years. His blog is NYC Educator. He has been a frequent critic of the disruption and turmoil of the past fifteen years in the schools.
Michael Bloomberg is everywhere I look. A few weeks ago I went to see NYS Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa at George Washington Campus, nee George Washington High School. “Campus” means it’s been broken up into four smaller schools. If your test scores weren’t high enough for Mayor Mike, you got broken up. If they were good, like in my school, you got filled to 300% capacity.
Two miles south of my school is the Jamaica Campus, a building that looks exactly like the George Washington Campus. It used to be Jamaica High School, and it had, for my money, the smartest and best UFT chapter leader in New York City, James Eterno. It had a long history, and photos in the halls of the doughboys who’d attended, of the bowtie clad principal on the David Susskind Show, and a million things in between. Michael Bloomberg closed it based on false stats. James sent the corrected stats to then-Chancellor Joel Klein, and as far as I know, they’ve never even been disputed.
Michael Bloomberg renamed the Board of Education the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). He controlled the majority of votes on the PEP, and when a couple of his appointees disagreed with him, he simply replaced them. Despite Patrick Sullivan’s persistent voice of sanity, they approved every school closing, every new school, every charter that Michael Bloomberg wanted. Mayoral Control is very much favored by prominent reformies like Bill Gates because it sidesteps all that messy, time-consuming democracy stuff.
Bill de Blasio wants mayoral control too, though I have no idea why. At first I was glad to see mayoral control in the hands of someone who appeared not to be insane, but I was quickly disappointed. Once de Blasio decided not to approve a few Moskowitz Academies, Andrew Cuomo moved to change the law. Now de Blasio had to pay Eva’s rent even if he doesn’t want her school. It was like the spirit of Michael Bloomberg had taken over Andrew Cuomo, who took to calling himself a “student lobbyist.” (Curiously, he hasn’t bothered lobbying for the billions of dollars the state owes NYC from the CFE lawsuit.)
Every time I look at the car I bought in May 2014 I think about Michael Bloomberg. By 2009, just about every union but teachers got an 8% raise. After a few years it adds up. In fact, by that time that raise would have more than paid for that car. But Mayor Mike passed it off to Bill de Blasio, who isn’t paying until 2020. The Mazda dealer was a nice guy, but would not agree to wait that long.
Many of Michael Bloomberg’s friends and cronies still sit at Tweed. Even Chancellor Carmen Fariña once worked for him. In fact, her predecessor, Dennis Walcott, was an alumni of my school. Our principal named our college office for him and now I feel like I have to wash my whole body with Brillo pad every time I set foot in there.
Mayor Bloomberg, with what was in effect mayoral dictatorship, used our city as a laboratory for reforminess, and used our children as guinea pigs. He gave no-bid contracts to all his pals, and if they left young children outside waiting hours for buses freezing days, well, too bad for them. He spent 95 million dollars on a computer system no one used. He boasted of being a regular guy, taking the subway to work, but had two SUVs pick him up at his townhouse because he didn’t like the stop closest to it.
But where we really feel his presence is in the tests. They are everywhere, and they mean everything. And though much of the state is rebelling against them, NYC lags far behind. Why? Because Michael Bloomberg set up a system, and this system has everything to do with Michael Bloomberg and nothing to do with community.
In Michael Bloomberg’s NYC, if you want to send your kid to a particular middle school, it may use test grades as criteria for admission. So if you opt your kid out of a test, too bad for you, and too bad for your kid. The city turns the wheel of fortune, and wherever your kid lands, that’s it.
This is in stark contrast to the rest of the state. Where I live, in Freeport NY, my kid goes to the same middle school no matter what grade she gets and whether or not she takes the test. We have a community, and we have a community school. Not only that, but we, the community, elect our school board and have genuine input into how it is run.
Michael Bloomberg wanted what he wanted, and he had all that money, so he was entitled to it. Old-fashioned democracy wasn’t efficient enough for him. Better that he should make all decisions, and if the voters twice voiced their preference for term limits, he’d change the law and buy himself another term anyway.
Thank God his polling must have revealed all his money couldn’t buy the presidency. Only one question remains.
What on earth do we have to do to exorcise his reformy ghost from New York City once and for all?