Educating for Democracy: The People's Trial of Mayor Bloomberg

Educating for Democracy: The People's Trial of Mayor Bloomberg
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Shortly after Mayor Michael Bloomberg assumed control of the New York City school system, he presented his programs as a national leader in "educational reform." But there has been evidence in the New York public schools in the recent past of cheating on standardized tests by teachers and supervisors.

Moreover, the much publicized "success" of the mayor's program has been in part based on inflated test scores and the "dumbing down" of the tests themselves. Yet under the mayor's "leadership" Bloomberg continues to close down "failing" schools and replace them with charter schools causing wide-spread disruption to students, parents and veteran teachers. As a result of these closings, some of the most valuable and experienced teachers lose their positions and end up in "ATR" (Absent Teacher Reserve) where they are misused as substitute teachers with no permanent position since the principals are reluctant to hire high-salary veterans and prefer to employ cheaper, inexperienced teachers to meet their "bottom line." This is the business model of education that the Bloomberg Administration has imposed.

At a "trial" held at DC 37 of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sponsored by the Coalition for Public Education and hosted by Sam Anderson, a noted educational leader dedicated to wresting the school system out of mayoral control, testimony was given by dozens of parents, teachers and concerned educators describing the negative effect the mayor's "educational reform" has produced in what seems to be a part of a nationwide attempt to privatize the public schools, deskill teachers, strip them of their union rights, and firmly establish a two-tier educational system: one for the privileged and one for everyone else.

The all-day trial was adjudicated by such well-known legal authorities as Thomas Mariadson, of the Asian-American Legal Defense Fund, Esmeralda Simmons, of the Center for Law and Social Justice, Damon Hewitt of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and attended by City Councilman Charles Barron. Angel Gonzalez, a member of GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) described in detail the destructive effect of school closings in which a disproportionate number of Black and Latino students are pushed out of their neighborhood schools to accommodate charter schools. This process not only results in damage to the students but a disproportionate number of Black and Latino teachers end up as ATR's further diminishing the ethnic diversity of the system. Among other results of the co-location of charter schools in district schools is that they-the charters- cut back on needed programs in bi-lingual and special needs education.

Another aspect of the damage the Bloomberg administration has done to the NYC public schools was revealed by a teacher-parent whose daughter goes to Bronx Regional High School, the school attended by Nicole Suriel, the girl who was tragically drowned on a class beach visit last summer. The parent testified that he had repeatedly warned the school administration and Department of Education of neglect and indifference to student well-being at the school and blames the Administration for fostering this negligent attitude that resulted in the girl's death.

The teacher also reported the conditions at the GED Plus school where he teaches which is located at Bronx Regional High School. The school is intended to offer a chance for high school dropouts ages 17-21, to get their General Education diplomas. However, according to the teacher's testimony, the school has no library, no arts programs, no gym, no special literacy program, no ELL for students whose first language is not English, and 35 in a class.

There were many other charges of mismanagement of the public schools by the Bloomberg administration. These included the dismissal of a twelve-year special ed veteran when the DOE discovered she hadn't taken a foreign language course in college; the excessive number of summonses and arrests of students of color where not only security personnel but also regular police with firearms patrol the former Brandeis High School. It had once been one of the best high schools in the City but was closed down so that a charter school can be "co-located" at the facility on the Upper West Side where the workers and teachers will be non-unionized. The testimony throughout the time I attended presented a consistent pattern of inadequate attention to and neglect of schools that desperately need more support.

And while these schools are "failing," Councilman Barron reported that during the period of the Bloomberg administration's control of the schools the DOE budget has increased from $11 billion to $24 billion while only 23% of the students graduating from the public schools are prepared for college. With a great many of the services for the city schools now "contracted out," Barron wonders where so much of this money is going with so little effect on improving public education.

At the same time, as pointed out by Leonie Haimson, a nationally known parent-advocate and Executive Director of Class Size Matters, a clearinghouse for information on class size, the actual number of students in classrooms K-12 has increased under the Bloomberg administration, despite the fact that $650 million each year for the past three were specifically appropriated by the State legislature under the Contracts for Excellence law to reduce class size. Moreover, Haimson pointed out that several programs that have no research to support them are being vigorously expanded under the Mayor's watch: paying students for improving test scores and increasing the use of on-line (computer-based) instruction.

An alternative to such destructive practices was offered at the hearing in an ICOPE (Independent Commission on Public Education) video created by a group of high school students who actually asked other students what they felt would improve their schools. The video, based on a study called YRNES (Youth Researchers for a New Education System)
found that in addition to wanting to be treated with greater respect by teachers and other staff, about 80% of those students questioned expressed an interest in participating in leadership roles in their school. Perhaps if other school administrators, besides the Mayor, heeded the students' request, there might be some marked improvement in their performance in learning.

If the "Trial of Mayor Bloomberg" showed anything, it was that his programs were more expensive, more destructive, and more demoralizing with no significant improvement in learning outcome than prior to his administration. The sentence for what he's done is that he should be dismissed from his position as head school administrator so that more positive outcomes can be produced for our City's young learners: student, parent and teacher-based, not business-based education.

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