Tag Archives: Michael Bloomberg

Some Fun at Parent-Teacher Conferences

This week, schools in New York City will have the first parent-teacher conferences…or as we in the faculty lounge like to call them: “The Crying Game.”

This cartoon showcases not only parent denial, but also teacher intransigence.  Lets hope our conferences this week are more productive.

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Lords of Lilliput: History’s Greatest Tiny Tyrants

“Short people got no reason to live.” ~ from “Short People” (1977) by Randy Newman

History has proven Randy Newman dead right: short people are the scourge of civilization.

Though many of our most terrible rulers could tower over us, some humanity’s greatest horrors were perpetrated by those whose size gave them a serious chip on their shoulder. One less elf or Oompah-Loompah crack could’ve made the difference between prosperity and despair.

Wars, revolutions, famine, mass genocide, executions, murder, torture, destruction, rape, pillage—its amazing what can be accomplished by someone no bigger than a garden gnome with a serious ax to grind.

We all know the guy who has a complex named after him (more on him later), but here is some other historical tyrants whose small stature belied a fearsome cruelty:

Alexander the Great

Conquer Persia, Egypt, the Near East up to India—what else can a little prince with serious parenting issues do? Alexander had serious problems as a kid: a dad that wouldn’t accept him as an heir, and a mom that could put Gypsy Rose Lee to shame. Little Alex (we know he was short, exactly how short is uncertain) decided to channel his aggression by crushing the Persian army, leading his Macedonians to the Indus River valley, and spreading Greek culture and values along the way. It was a lot to pack in 33 short years.

Genghis Khan

At 5’ 1”, Genghis Khan was lucky he could even get on a horse. Once he got on, though, Genghis laid a path of rape, murder, pillage and destruction almost unparalleled in history. Probably starting with the fellow Mongols who kept with the short jokes, Genghis attacked anyone who got in his way: Chinese, Indians, Turks, Persians, Pashtuns, you name it. He never had trouble getting on the horse again—the pile of dead bodies gave him a boost.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Yep, the guy with the complex. Napoleon (5’ 6”), funny enough, was something of an international celebrity when he took over the French government in a coup in 1799. The honeymoon ended quickly, however, as his megalomanical zeal led him to crown himself Emperor of the French in 1804. It took a continent-wide coalition to finally bring down the pint-sized general—twice. After the first exile in 1814, Napoleon just didn’t understand enough was enough, and created another army only to be crushed at Waterloo in 1815. He would die in exile in 1821, and a psychotic condition was born.

Josef Stalin

Cruel from an early age, Josef Stalin grew (not much, only 5’ 6”) to be responsible for the deaths of at least 50 million people, mostly his own. First came his bloody path to power, isolating and murdering almost all the former cohorts of his predecessor, Vladimir Lenin. Then came a forced collectivization that caused a catastrophic famine, killing millions. The purges would send most perceived opponents either to a merciful death with a bullet or a miserable death in the gulags of Siberia. He treated women like garbage, his children like street dogs, his own cabinet like farm animals (I think Lavrentii Beria actually was one) and was still feared even through his death in 1953.

Fiorello La Guardia

You may have expected another New York City mayor here (don’t worry, he’s coming) but even our greatest leaders sometimes act in a tyrannical fashion. Legendary mini-mayor Fiorello La Guardia (5’ 0”) was no exception. Much of the sweeping reforms under his administration were done largely arbitrarily, and with good reason: the city council and Board of Estimate was still populated by Tammany Hall minions. He had a penchant for a violent temper and a tyrannical rule over his staffers. By the time he stepped down in 1945, many of his policies would lead to the budget crisis of 1975, when the city declared bankruptcy—proving that a little tyrant can do both good or ill.

Francisco Franco

In 1931, Spain kicked out its king and declared itself a republic. Francisco Franco (5’ 4”), an army officer in Spanish Morocco, was not cool with having people overshadow him, literally. Along with senior officers, he led a rebellion in 1936, and took over Spain in 1939 following a bloody civil war. Then Franco went buck wild on his enemies: concentration camps, forced labor, mass executions, persecution of leftists, intellectuals, Freemasons, ethnic minorities. He even had a fully-equipped Masonic temple built in his house just to fire him up! By his death in 1975, the new king, Juan Carlos, knew where the wind was blowing and worked to undo all the damage.

Kim Jong-Il

The current despot dictator of the paranoid police state of North Korea (5’3”) is descended from rather tall stock: the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, who was over 6 feet tall. Despite that height, Kim the elder made up for it in spades with his totalitarian control, lavish lifestyle and fanatical cult of personality. Young Kim had a wonderful example, and he took Daddy’s example to new heights: developing nuclear weapons while his people starved, alleged booze-fests and orgies with multiple women, continued totalitarian control with lots of surveillance, summary executions and a cult that might even rival his Daddy’s. NOTE: I think his official height also counts his hair.

Michael Bloomberg

No discussion of minute dictators can be complete without the current Lord Protector of the Big Apple. (By the way, his official height is 5’ 8”: that’s bullshit. I’m 5’9” and I tower over him.) Michael Bloomberg took over as New York City’s mayor in 2002, promising to continue the reform policies begun by his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani. He then proceeded to cut police patrols and city services (reversing a key part of Giuliani’s agenda), flood the government with consultants at exorbitant prices, neuter the City Council and rule the school system with an iron fist. The results are noticeably mixed, and no one can doubt Bloomberg’s nasty attitude and lust for power—a lust that culminated in changing the City’s charter allowing him to run for a third term in 2009. In his last term, Bloomberg has become even more tyrannical, especially as more accounts of malfeasance and fraud continue to surface. It’s a path of destruction that’s difficult to reverse.

There are many other diminutive terrors I probably neglected to menton…as well as those who can become tomorrow’s Stalin or Franco at any moment.

It just goes to show that a short joke can be a dangerous thing.

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Say it Ain’t So, Cathie! The 100 Days of Chancellor Cathie Black

Cathie Black Enters Tweed

“But what are kings, when regiment is gone,
But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?” ~ from Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe

As swiftly as it came, the reign of Cathie the First came crashing down today–and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

At 11:30 am, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Cathie Black had resigned as New York City Schools Chancellor, to be replaced by longtime Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.  According to the Mayor, the split was amicable, in that both agreed that they needed a new direction.  Yet privately, most believe that Bloomberg showed Cathie the door.

So what happened?  Obviously, Cathie never bothered to read the suggestions we gave her when she started.  She never had the support of the teaching corps, who saw her as a meddling interloper and empty vessel.  Furthermore, she never even tried to wade into the treacherous waters of negotiation and budget battles.

It was just that much easier to slug down appletinis with Graydon Carter and Anna Wintour under a tent during Fashion Week.

What followed through the next 100 days was an unqualified embarrassment.  A recent Marist poll showed an abysmal 17% approval rating.  After numerous faux pas and a series of bumbling media fiascos, the rats began to abandon the ship.  One by one the Deputy Chancellors, a veritable Praetorian Guard that shielded Black from the gathering storm, either resigned or were replaced.

It was only a matter of time.

So who was to blame for this 100-day nightmare?  Mayor Bloomberg, for one.  At least he cowboyed up and accepted “full responsibility.”   Like so many education reform bozos, Bloomberg thought that skirting certification and appointment protocols would produce a suitable Chancellor, only to fizzle in a sea of media flops and epileptic leadership.

The other ne’er do wells shouldn’t get a pass, though.   Joel Klein also gets some blame, since his insistence pushed Cathie Black into the Mayor’s eye, especially while he basked in Rupert Murdoch’s glow.  The City Council, who have been impotent for over a decade now, proved its rubber-stamp quality through a feeble attempt to block Black’s appointment.

Yet even the shenanigans of Bloomberg, et. al. would have gone for nought if it weren’t for the connivance of the New York State Education Department–acting with the blessing of the New York Board of Regents.  Predating our constitution, New York‘s education establishment was once one of the noblest, most august institutions of education in America.  That changed when the Education Commissioner, David Steiner, worked with Bloomberg to get Black a waiver from certification–since she had no qualifications whatsoever.

Our once great granite rock of education had become a filthy loofah, used by politicians and billionaire scum to scrape their underlings clean of hypocrisy and criminality.  Even though Commissioner Steiner’s job is now in jeopardy, Governor Cuomo should make a bold, radical decision and fire the entire Board of Regents in one blow.  Only thus would we have anything close to our education department’s former glory.

The Neighborhood’s last words are for our new Chancellor, Dennis Walcott.  You’ve been involved in public education for a fair amount of your life.  We look forward to working with you for the education of our students.  Please take a look at our suggestions we gave to Cathie–just avoid the sarcastic remarks.

Those remarks aren’t meant for you–yet.  You’ve been warned.

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How’s this for “Full Disclosure”? A Counterproposal for Publishing Teacher Data

It seems my worst fears have been realized, albeit in a delayed form.

Last year, like so many others, I sounded the alarm on the so-called “rotisserie league” system of teacher evaluation, using stats like baseball cards to determine effectiveness.  At the moment, I thought my lesson had been learned, at least when using Alex Rodriguez as an example.

(By the way, he again is a failure this season, according to NCLB standards)

The recent release of teacher data by the Los Angeles Times has shown the ghastly effects of such unscrupulous shaming.  Morale is at a new low.  Attrition is rampant.  Few would want to enter a school system where taking the courageous stand of teaching children with special needs could land you on the front page with a noose over your head.  Most shockingly, one teacher committed suicide over perceived low scores, even though colleagues and administrators alike touted him as an exemplary teacher.

Now, the grand poobahs in New York City want the same thing.

Last week, the UFT went to court to stop the New York City Department of Education from publishing Teacher Data Report scores for 4-8th Grade teachers in the city.  The TDRs, as they were called, were a program designed to show teachers—and only teachers—how their students have done over time via standardized testing and other assessments. 

The move is so controversial that even the CSA, the principals’ union, broke ranks with the DOE and sided with the teachers.  When the TDRs were implemented last year, principals explicitly told their teachers that the data would be for their eyes only.  Publishing these scores would not only undermine teacher morale, but also the integrity of administrators citywide.

Yet even with the injunctions, motions, stoppages, etc. teachers may probably still face the prospect of public data reports.

Harping about the validity (or lack thereof) of the data or the data collection will do little good.  Nor will the constant chirping of union reps and teacher advocates, since the education reform crowd has already labeled teachers as the enemy.

What’s needed now is a counter-proposal. 

If the city is going to publish teacher data, it must publish student and parent records alongside each teacher’s evaluation. 

If the city wants to make everyone accountable in education, then all the cards should be face-up on the table.  Let’s make data evaluation truly public—after all, we know all the intangibles and background that surround the stats in baseball, basketball, football, etc.  There’s the differences in field surfaces, in flooring, in wind directions, fan attendance: all of which add up to some effect on the overall performance of the individual athletes.

The same could be said for teachers.  If a teacher has a class that cannot read at their grade level, show the records that indicate their improvement, as well as any individual needs, problems, situations that help or hinder the classroom experience.  If a teacher misses some phony cutoff in test scores for bonuses or whatnot, make sure the record shows the anecdotals of the little bastards who never do squat in the room.

Parents shouldn’t be off the hook, either.  Alongside the data reports should be the page upon page of meeting notes with parents—parents who never show up for meetings, parents who get belligerent, parents who “yes” the teacher to death in order to get her off their back.  Yet also show that parents who genuinely try to help, but are often frustrated with the curriculum themselves.  The problem rarely just stops at teacher and student.

Thanks to privacy laws, this proposal will probably never see the light of day.  Yet what makes teachers so worthy of exemption from professional courtesy?

 It can’t be because of our status as public employees: no other public agency would allow such open pillorying of their staff.  Nor is it because of our special relationship with children: parents have an even more intense bond, yet their results are hardly scrutinized in public.

Perhaps it’s because the inhuman, artificial nature of data allows administrators to show that they care about children without ever being involved with children.  It’s like the old line about the imperious city planner Robert Moses, “He loves the public, but he hates people.”

Publishing student and parent data, while a pipe dream, can be an even better way to evaluate a teacher’s performance.  It provides a holistic, broad-based picture of the circumstances each teacher must deal with.  Then, and only then, should test data be considered.

After all, how can you score a baseball game if you haven’t watched a single inning of it?

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The Failed Rescue: The Potential Loss of Mayoral Control of Schools

New York's City Hall.  Only SOB's need apply.

New York's City Hall. Only SOB's need apply.

It takes a true prick to govern New York.  It also takes the truly prickless to remove the pricks that are needed to run things.

Our best leaders have been insufferable bastards.  Peter Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, Fiorello La Guardia, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg—all effective leaders, all of them assholes.  These men probably warrant a swift kick in the nuts, yet our city couldn’t run without them.  You cannot govern America’s greatest city by being a nice guy.

Yet what happens when that control goes away? 

We may see firsthand as the legislation to maintain mayoral control of New York City public schools is set to expire July 1.  With the New York State Senate in a circus-like deadlock over leadership, many important bills (the schools bill among them) have not been considered.  Let’s thank Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, Jr., for making New York government the butt of even more jokes for years to come. 

Forget the whores of Albany for a moment.  Once mayoral control—which was approved verbally by almost all city agencies and legislators, including the teachers union—were to extinguish, the school system would revert to the elected New York City Board of Education.  This board has not even been in existence in 7 years.  When will elections be held?  Will there be a new chancellor?  How will policies change?  Can this happen before the start of school in September?

Would we allow this with any other system than the schools?  During the constitutional convention of 1787, the Founders didn’t just say “We’re scrapping the Articles of Confederation, so everybody just sit tight and be good while we come up with something else.  Madison, write down the names of everyone not behaving.” 

However, dwelling on the transfer of power masks an important point.  Did we need to scrap mayoral control completely in the first place?  I’m not so sure—and this isn’t because I’m in love with our Mayor Napoleon (also Mayor Cromwell, Mayor Torquemada…insert moralistic blowhard here). 

History has shown that the ills of New York require strong medicine.  On the other hand, New Yorkers have the distinct inability to swallow the medicine that is best for them.

At the beginnings of the settlement, a crippled soldier, a minister’s son from the hinterlands of the Netherlands, was sent to save a colony on the brink of disaster.  Colonists in New Netherland hated Peter Stuyvesant—and were quick to shove him off once the English arrived in 1664—but his tyrannical rule was necessary.  New Netherland, later New York, became an orderly, thriving commercial enterprise.

The New York of 1783, after the Revolution, was a burnt-out mess.  While the patriot hot-heads were busy expropriating Tory lands faster than a Cuban workers’ committee, Alexander Hamilton was secretly working with both former Tories and Patriots to get the New York economy moving again.  Many local Sons of Liberty hated Hamilton’s “sleeping with the enemy,” but this compromise ensured that the city could recover financially and institutionally.

During the Great Depression, New York reached unemployment rates nearing 40-50 percent.  Fiorello La Guardia, a little “Republican” congressman who sounded more like Lenin than Reagan,  pushed to sweep away all the vestiges of the old patronage system created by New York’s longtime political machine, Tammany Hall.  Many immigrant neighborhoods, especially the Irish wards that still benefited from Tammany largesse, chafed at the imperious little “Eye”-talian with the bluster of Mussolini.  Yet the city government became a strong, more efficient entity thanks to La Guardia’s ham-fisted rule.

Now Michael Bloomberg follows in the irritating footsteps of other tyrants.  He took up the unfinished business left from New York’s last great dictator, Rudy Giuliani.  From 1994 to 2001, Giuliani managed an iron grip on the city.  He reorganized the police force, making it a force of both effectiveness and terror—depending on your skin color.  He cleaned up “seedy” neighborhoods so that tourists can come and gape in comfort at the tall buildings.   And, of course, 9/11 made him a hero. 

Yet for all these accomplishments, Giuliani could never subdue the many-headed Hydra that is the Board of Education.  Bloomy was happy to oblige.  With a pliant City Council (thanks to a re-written charter) and Albany on his side, Bloomberg crushed the old Board, replacing it with a rubber-stamp body called the Council for Educational Policy.  In short, the mayor now ran the schools, and he placed a Wall Street lawyer, Joel Klein, as his chancellor, with orders to clean the place up and make the kids learn again.

To be fair, something had to be done about the school system.  Graduation rates were abysmal.  Schools were dilapidated and dangerous.  The individual Community Boards could only agree on enriching themselves, and the elected Board of Education could only agree on making sure they got a taste of the spoils.  The system was a Byzantine mess where directives from one department were countered by directives from another.  Due to the elected nature of the Board of Ed, the mayor and schools chancellor were nearly powerless to correct the situation.

Begrudgingly, the Bloomberg era has achieved some notable successes.  Crime rates have continued their trends from the Giuliani era.  Smoking bans have made public places much more livable.  The school system has been reorganized as a more centralized structure, as more and more schools are added to the system.  Children are achieving higher and higher scores on standardized tests, and graduation rates show significant improvement.

This does not mean all is rosy in the Tweed building.  Bloomberg still believes that standardized test scores alone are an indicator of success.  Many think otherwise, me included.  He has too many consultants, “experts” and bean counters that obviously have never set foot inside a classroom.  Parents and community leaders clamor for their voices to be heard, or at least acknowledged, while our Lilliputian Caesar issues commands like an Eastern potentate. 

In short, the guy is not only an insufferable prick, but an unashamedly insufferable prick.  Yet can we do without his control of schools, especially in the near future?  No, largely because there never was, nor will there ever be, a viable alternative.

The original proposal before the Albany robber barons involved slight modifications on mayoral control, which would allow the input of parents and community leaders in decision making—the INPUT, not the control itself.  The centralization of power in schools requires the mayor make the ultimate decisions.   Yet checks on his power are necessary.  I, for one, would like a reworking of the city charter to reinstitute the Board of Estimate, the committee responsible for budgetary matters.  It’s a pipe dream, but it serves as an important check on Bloomberg’s power.

The complete dismantling of the system, though, is unfeasible and unworkable.  We cannot go back to a system that did not work in the first place.  It’s unfair to the students, irresponsible to teachers and administrators, and a slap in the face to a city that—like it or not—needs strong governance.

The only people acting in control, funny enough is the new Board of Education.  They voted to retain Klein as chancellor and almost-unanimously maintain mayoral control of schools.

Let’s hope the senate, too, comes to its senses and passes the mayoral control legislation.  It may need another hardheaded bastard to get things moving.

Governor Paterson, are you willing to be that bastard?

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Mortgaging Our Future: UFT agrees to cut Pension Benefits

Isn’t it great when politicians dress up a flagrant con job as a “cost-saving” measure?

As if teacher recruitment and retention isn’t bad enough in this city, along comes the cabal of Bloomberg, Klein and Weingarten–who sound like an ambulance-chasing law firm.  They seem to feel that its better to keep the talent we have than to appeal to new, fresh faces to energize the teacher corps.

Today’s Daily News details the last great giveback of the Randi Weingarten era at the United Federation of Teachers.  In exchange for two extra days of summer vacation, new hires will have their pension benefits slashed.  Instead of paying 5% of their salary for 10 years and then dropping to 2%, all new teachers will be depositing 5% into the pension fund for the entirety of their tenure.  Furthermore, new teachers will take longer to become “vested”–10 years as opposed to five–and will not be able to retire with full benefits until they have completed 27 years of service.

Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and UFT president Weingarten are thrilled with this “compromise.”  Bloomberg stated that “It will save us a lot of money over the long term – not as much right away. But we have to address the long-term problems now.” Weingarten was even more optimistic, calling it a “win for everyone.”

Really Randi?  Is it a win for New York City schoolchildren in the future who, because of these backslides in protection, do not have quality teachers who stay for any length of time?  Is it a win for prospective teachers who wish they could teach in our great city, yet are barred by a pension tier that treats newer hires as second-class employees?  Or is it more a win for you, so you can keep in the good graces of Ayatollah Bloomberg and his bean-counter clerics?

Speaking of the dwarf-in-chief, Michael Bloomberg has some nerve calling this a cost-saving measure.  He doesn’t see the long-term social costs in his policies, which lead to the very financial losses he’s trying to avoid.  If teachers cannot be retained or hired, staff are left undermanned and with inadequate training.  This, in turn, leads to ill-prepared children, regardless of what the Albany “cooked” tests have to say.  As they enter the workforce, these students will not be entering the fields that generate more income or business for the city.  Rather, many will enter the very same civil government positions that are the “cost cutting” in the first place.

This, of course, is an exaggerated scenario.  Yet it seems that for the sake of the balance sheet, we are mortgaging the strength of our teacher corps and the well-being of our students.  I really don’t care about two extra days–my principal will probably find a workshop to occupy that time, anyway.  What concerns me is the sacrificing of today’s teachers without thought of its consequence.  I’d rather have well-trained, knowledgeable teachers that can help students progress over a long period of time than two measly days. 

It is downright sickening that this has been crafted as a “win-win”, when there are clear losers.

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